By Ray McGovern
"But the world desperately needs an "E" for EXIT from the march of folly toward a wider Middle East war that is increasingly likely to result from plural US foreign policy fiascos - in Iraq, Israel and Lebanon, for starters; in Syria and Iran for the next stage. Fortunately, Webster's does allow the insertion of an "E" and that's precisely what we must now do. We need to make a prompt exit from the endless string of fiascoes that have the Middle East marching to calamity.
If we do not take a sober look beyond the carnage of the last few weeks and weigh the reaction of still others in and outside the region, I fear there will be no exit. Perhaps it would be wise to start with a brief review: Who led our march into this modern-day Valley of Death?
There is a certain poetic justice in the fact that Rice, now secretary of state, is reaping the whirlwind. She has been trapped in the extremely awkward position of having to say "No" to a cease-fire to stop the burgeoning violence, and then being mocked by the Israelis who openly violated the cease-fire they had promised her.
Still an innocent abroad, Rice has loyally played piano accompaniment for the neo-con hit song, "Reshaping the Entire Region." She has, for example, described the violence in Lebanon and Israel as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." On Friday, President Bush declared, "This is a moment of intense conflict ... yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for broader change in the region."
Bush's remark elicited uncharacteristically acerbic ridicule from Richard Haass, who served under Bush as head of policy planning at the State Department. (Yes, this is the same Haass who in July 2002 begged Rice for an appointment with the president, whom he wanted to warn of the folly of invading Iraq. Rice reportedly told him, "The decision's been made; don't waste your breath.") Referring to Bush's remarks on Friday, Haass, now head of the Council on Foreign Relations, laughed at the president's optimism, according to a report by Peter Baker in yesterday's Washington Post. "That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time," said Haass. "If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"
It is far from funny. Rather, it is amateur-hour again at the White House, with Rice acting as the president's personal secretary under instruction to do what Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neo-cons tell her to do. The results have been entirely predictable. Seldom before has Washington been so widely seen to be joined at the hip to an Israel on the rampage. Seldom has US stock in the region sunk to such depths as it did last week, with civilian casualties in Lebanon piling up (literally) and with Rice joining Israel in rejecting appeals for an immediate cease-fire on grounds that it must be "sustainable." Policy and performance alike have been myopic in the extreme, and have resulted in an embarrassing US setback from which it will take decades to recover. The ramifications are region-wide."