Monday, December 18, 2006

The Secretary of State's Us vs. Them Worldview

This piece by Fred Hiatt is a reaction to Rice's on-the-record meeting with the WaPo editorial board last week. The transcript reveals is a long, often thoughtful exchange, but as you read you understand that Baker and Hamilton and the ISG might as well as been talking to the wind.
As Rice reveals, the administration remains committed to, indeed obsessed with a bimodal view of the Middle East where it is us vs. them, good vs. evil, terrorists vs. moderates, democrats vs. dictators and so on. Were the region only so simple.
One example illustrates why this sort of approach is sophomoric: the March 14 group in Lebanon.
When as many as a million people formed a sea of humanity is Beirut a month following Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination the month before on February 14th, 2005, between a third and a half of the demonstrators were followers of General Michel 'Aun and his movement. In contrast, most of those people are not supporting the Siniora government now, but they comprise the orange component of the peaceful demonstrations that that have been ongoing since Dec. 1. So, to cast the Lebanon situation as the March 14th group vs. the bad guys either reveals that Rice is at best self-deceptive and at worst seriously misreading the structural linkage between Christian and Shi'i supporters of the opposition. Might it not be useful to ask why the 'Aunists, the leftists, Hezbollah and Amal are standing together. Are they all just useful idiots, pawns of Syria and Iran? Or, could there be other considerations, government ineptitude, corruption, political dissatisfaction, not to mention a high degree of anger?
Moving to the east, one issue that Rice was not pressed on during the editorial encounter was whether the course of action she is defending in Iraq merely lends further incentives for states such as Iran to undermine the U.S. position in Iraq? That, of course, is the fallacy of the stop-gap solution of putting 20k more soldiers on the ground, an idea that seems to be gathering momentum in Washington, judging from ample press reports. Unless you can also stem the level of external support, you are simply playing into the comparative advantage of your geopolitical opponent.

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