Monday, October 30, 2006


Fareed Zakaria has an assessment of the tragedy that Iraq has become, and suggests some ways that we could make a smaller disaster out of a potentially huge one.

This is where he loses me, though:
There is one shift that the United States itself needs to make: we must talk to Iraq's neighbors about their common interest in security and stability in Iraq. None of these countries—not even Syria and Iran—would benefit from the breakup of Iraq, which could produce a flood of refugees and stir up their own restive minority populations. Our regional gambit might well lead to nothing. But not trying it, in the face of so few options, reflects a bizarrely insular and ideological obstinacy.

Unfortunately, there's a strong possibility that these changes will not be made in the next few months.

Not only is it a strong possibility that Bush will not change policy towards Iran and Syria in the next few months, even if he made a complete 180 degree shift in policy toward those countries tomorrow, I doubt that his two remaining years in office would be enough time to repair the diplomatic damage that his incompetent execution of ill-conceived policies and his endless trash talk has done.

But as news coming out of Bush's meeting with the fluffer brigade indicates, a policy shift is simply not in the cards. Reading the transcript, I see that I was perhaps over-hasty in my earlier characterization of Bush's understanding of his own policies as being "about as complex as a crayon drawing." With crayons you can still make out eyes, ears, and mouth. Bush seems to be working more with splotches of paint, noting that that one there looks like a spider, and we should kill it. And this one? This one looks kind of like a monkey, and monkeys are funny. But we should also kill the monkey.

Here's Rami Khouri, a journalist of whom I strongly suspect George W. Bush has never heard, on the growth of extremism in the wider Middle East:
[I]n the United States one hears of Hizbullah and Hamas described in the public realm almost always only as terrorist groups. The problem with this one-dimensional focus on the anti-Israeli resistance and military aspects of these groups is that it ignores everything else they represent. The recent war between Hizbullah and Israel, in part a proxy battle between the United States and Iran, revealed that Hizbullah taps into sentiments and political forces across the Middle East that are very much wider and deeper than only its successful quest to drive Israel out of Lebanon.

Whether one likes or dislikes Hizbullah, or admires or fears it, it seems abundantly clear now that its wide support throughout the Arab-Islamic Middle East and other parts of the world reflects its ability to tap into a very wide range of forces, sentiments and political movements. This is noteworthy for two reasons: Such forces and movements have never before come together as they did in the support that Hizbullah enjoyed in recent months, and collectively they represent a significant new posture of resistance and defiance of the United States and Israel that continues to reshape politics in the region.


It remains unclear if this represents a fleeting flash of emotions, or a historic new shift of political direction in the Middle East - a new regional Cold War in which Arabs, Iranians, Islamists, nationalists and state patriots join forces to confront the Israeli-American side with its handful of Arab supporters.

What is very clear, though, is that Hizbullah's political standing in the Middle East represents political forces and sentiments, and national issues, that far transcend the acts of terrorism of which it is accused, and that seem to totally define its perception here in the United States. It is a shame that a global power like the United States should allow itself to have such a provincial view of things in the Middle East. The toll of imperium is deep and blinding indeed, for dead Arabs and blinkered Americans alike.

When the only choice offered is between crusade and jihad, it doesn't take a 90 year-old orientalist to figure out what a majority of the people of the Middle East will choose.

Given this administration's inability to face reality and its complete lack of self-criticism, I think we've got to come to grips with the idea that we're not going to see any significant improvement in Iraq, or in the region, until we have a Democrat, or at least a not skull-clutchingly stupid Republican, in the White House, and the policies and ideology of the Bush administration repudiated.

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