March 23, 2004

That's Not The Real Story

Steve Weisman writing in the NYT:

"In a startling sequence of events unusual even for the ups and downs of Middle East policy, the administration began the day by avoiding direct criticism of Israel after the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.

Instead, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said in a morning television interview that Hamas was a terrorist organization, that Sheik Yassin had been involved in terrorist actions and that it was "very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region."

Only later in the afternoon did the administration shift tone and criticize Israel's action as harmful to the cause of bringing peace to the region.

"We're deeply troubled by this morning's events in Gaza," said Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, adding that all sides, including Israel, should now "exercise maximum restraint" and "do everything possible to avoid any further actions that would make more difficult the restoration of calm."

An administration official acknowledged that a change of tone was chosen only after a torrent of criticism erupted throughout the Arab world, and was then joined by condemnations from the European Union and Britain, Washington's closest ally in the Iraq war." [emphasis added]

Oh Steve, one is wearily tempted to say, there was nothing "startling" or "unusual" about this story.

The real story is that this Administration has been riven by internecine warfare from Day 1 re: the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

No coherent policy has emerged partly because of this virtually incessant bureaucratic battling.

And because, more specifically, we don't have a NSC advisor who is capable of exerting enough pressure to proactively broker disputes (like, say, a Brent Scrowcroft did) as among Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and, er, a more powerful than is typical Veep.

In fairness to Condoleeza Rice (who, incidentally, has been meeting a lot of Israelis recently), the battling between State and Defense has been particularly vicious. And not just on the Arab-Israeli issue (see also NoKo, Iran).

But this White House--so often hyper-disciplined and "on message"--drifts about without direction on the Middle East peace process.

When a Secretary of Defense, with impunity, can refer to the "so-called" Occupied Territories--one is forgiven if confusion about U.S. policy in the region results.

Such statements, after all, call into question the fundamental "land for peace" framework that has underpinned our diplomacy in the region for decades.

This is where a Brent Scrowcroft would have picked up the phone and told the Secretary of Defense to get back on the plantation.

But, alas, Condi doesn't really have the muscle to make such calls.

The latest result of all this pitiable policy drift?

Sheikh Yassin's assassination wasn't condemned by the United States.

It was only condemned by the State Department.

The White House (wink wink) doesn't really find the killing "deeply troubling." (Would they Arafat's assassination, one wonders?)

That's no way to run a disciplined, serious foreign policy on an issue of critical import to the United States.

Put another way, at least settle on one policy for the entire Administration and go with it in organized fashion.

The policy drift hasn't worked. It has failed. Miserably.

Isn't this clear to all?

Note: I'll have more on all this, including a discussion as to why I don't find the Arafat as UBL (Yassin as UBL is a different matter) analogies persuasive, late evening London time).

Posted by Gregory at March 23, 2004 09:50 AM
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