Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bush holds his course

By Jim Lobe
Asia Times

"WASHINGTON - Despite a growing and virtually universal consensus both in the US and abroad that the United States must engage Syria and Iran if it hopes to stabilize Iraq, US President George W Bush appears determined to ignore Baghdad's two key neighbors as long as possible.

But recent statements by Bush and other senior administration officials, as well as the departure of a key "realist" adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have fueled growing speculation that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney hope they can still prevail in Iraq without having to sit down with the two "evil-doers".

Indeed, that appeared to be the message Bush wished to convey on Tuesday at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Riga where he recommitted the US to support for Iraq's "young democracy" and vowed not to withdraw US troops "until the mission is complete". "He has no intention to change his policy in Iraq," Pat Lang, a former top Middle East analyst at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, concluded after reviewing Bush's remarks.........

While Gates, an ISG member until his nomination to replace Rumsfeld, and Rice are believed to support both ideas, they are strongly opposed by both Cheney and the senior Middle East director on the National Security Council, Elliot Abrams. With Rumsfeld's departure, their offices remain the last strongholds of neo-conservative influence in the administration.Their pro-Likud supporters in think-tanks and the media, notably the Weekly Standard and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, have carried out an increasingly intense public campaign against the ISG since Baker announced in mid-September that the group would meet with senior officials of both Iran and Syria.

But they may yet be hitting home with Bush, who apparently is not yet ready to accept the increasingly widely held view that Washington's position in Iraq and the region as a whole has become so weak that without some help from Damascus and Tehran, it will be unable to stop a full-blown civil war that could well spread beyond Iraq's borders.

That may in fact have been the conclusion of State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, a longtime Rice collaborator and influential "realist" strategist who, like Baker, has advocated greater flexibility in Washington's diplomatic stance on a range of issues, particularly in the Middle East and Northeast Asia. To virtually everyone's surprise, Zelikow announced this week that he would return to his teaching post at the University of Virginia on January 1."

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