Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The muddled Middle East

I'll open this post with David Gregory, which would infuriate the Right if I had any readership at all:
Just back from the White House press conference with Nouri Al-Malaki and I'm struck by a couple of things: It was the Iraqi prime minister's first ever visit to the White House and yet the White House allowed just two questions from the American and Iraqi press. So many issues remained unaddressed. It would seem to me that the president would want a fuller airing of his views on a subject severely undermining his political status at home and U.S. policy abroad.

Here's what I would have asked: "Mr. President, you argued before the war that invading Iraq would bring stability to a vital region of the world and would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. Yet today, sectarian violence in Iraq is killing 100 civilians a day in Baghdad; Democratic reform has produced Hamas and Hezbollah; U.S. policy has also created a defiant, resurgent Iran. Do you acknowledge fundamental misjudgments about the war and what do you do about them now?"

I sure would like to know the answer to that question.
Gregory knows the reason why there were only two questions. Lord knows how long those two heads of state could last in the same room if what Edward Wong reported today is correct, the New York Times:
The requests will include asking President Bush to allow American-led troops in Iraq to be tried under Iraqi law, and to call for a halt to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, according to several Iraqi politicians, and to a senior member of Mr. Maliki’s party who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.

Mr. Maliki is also expected to demand more autonomy for Iraqi forces, though he will not ask for a quick withdrawal of the 134,000 American troops here, the officials say.


Mr. Maliki and other top Shiite leaders also want to maintain strong ties to Iran, whose influence is rising across the Middle East, officials say.
The New York Times on the results (the little we know): "Bush and Iraqi Leader Remain Far Apart on Lebanon"

The two leaders' approach seems to differ from long-term optimism as compared to short-term fears. The Times of London:
WHEN Tony Blair called the fighting in Lebanon a catastrophe yesterday the response of his Iraqi counterpart was blunt.

The Israeli onslaught was, in fact, beyond catastrophe and would only boost extremism in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki said on his first official visit to London. He said that the broader effect of the two-week-old war would spur “a great push towards fundamentalism and extremism” in the region.
There is a complicated U.S. plan for the region, which TIME details on their website. The magazine concludes:
So, while the framework of a deal may be emerging, getting all the principal players on board to close it will be one of the major diplomatic challenges of our time.
The proposal begins only after a cease-fire, which leads me to believe that either Israel or Hezbollah will have to give up. Neither seems likely in the next few days, or even weeks.

The Christian Science Monitor notes the awkward posture of the administration:
The Bush administration's principle of avoiding the international players it finds most objectionable is facing in the Middle East what may be its biggest test.

It is a diplomatic practice that the Bush administration has used elsewhere, but without clear results thus far, analysts say.

Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, is a skeptic. "To imagine you could somehow subcontract to someone else the contacts and pressuring with a party you consider crucial but at the same time disagreeable or objectionable is not a good" approach, he says .

He says the Bush administration has used the same diplomatic model in other cases: toward North Korea, "burying any contact in the six-party talks while counting on China to use its influence, even though our interests are not the same" as Beijing's; and toward Iran, "where we've subcontracted diplomacy to the Europeans because we won't talk to Tehran."

Now the United States is saying it won't talk to Syria, "so we're trying to find someone to delegate that to," says Ambassador Freeman. "We have to realize, however, that it is extremely unlikely that even our friends the Saudis would be as vigorous in defining and defending our interests as we would be."
While this rather patient approach to a potential regional war wanders along, the situation in Iraq is quite dire. The president today, via the Washington Post:
President Bush said today the U.S. military will move troops to Baghdad from other parts of Iraq in an effort to quell the rising sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.

"The violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and therefore there needs to be more troops," Bush said at a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is on his first visit to the United States since becoming prime minister.
There is an alternative plan in the news today, also from the Post:
Hakim's contention that neighborhoods should form their own defense committees -- his fourth step -- is shared by many Iraqis who feel they cannot rely on their country's security forces or foreign troops to protect them. Others, however, have expressed fears that the people's committees would amount to nothing more than de facto militias in a country where militia attacks have caused much of the bloodshed.

Militias associated with Shiite parties -- including the armed wing of Hakim's Supreme Council, known as the Badr Organization -- have been widely accused of mass killings and kidnappings of Sunni Arabs. Iraqi police forces, which answer to the Shiite-led Interior Ministry and often work closely with the party militias, also have been blamed.
Then there is also the Turkish/Kurdish issue, the Washington Times:
What is more puzzling is the U.S. insistence that Turkey should deal with the Iraqi-Kurdistan regional government on the PKK matter. In the U.S. federal system, if a foreign country claims to be victim of a "terrorist" attack originating in any part of the United States, Washington takes the responsibility. Therefore, the U.S. insistence on doing things the other way around in Turkey is equated as supporting an independent Kurdistan.

If there is any mistake, though, this week's meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be a golden opportunity for them both to send a strong message in the fight against PKK terrorism. After all, Turkey is the only country in the region that has imported terrorism from Iraq. And its patience is time well spent in clarifying the parts of the big picture going forward. Mr. Bush has said that every country has the right to defend itself. And it is never late to start doing so.
This is quite the full foreign policy plate. That was exactly the warning raised by a number of experts in 2002, 2003, 2004 and so on.


Blogger DocGooden'sCat said...

I am infuriated. We're freeing people in Iraq! and Rick Santorum has found the WMD!

10:33 PM  

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