Ehud Olmert, banking on the Cheney Nyetniks outlasting Jim Baker and the rest of the Iraq Study Group, has rejected the causal connection drawn by the ISG report between Mideast instability and the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict. It is a truth almost universally accepted (except among neocon and nationalist Israeli circles) that the continuing bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians deeply exacerbates Arab hostility toward the U.S., which is seen as the guarantor of Israeli security. But not so Mr. Olmert:
“The Middle East has a lot of problems that are not connected to us,” Mr. Olmert said at a press conference in Tel Aviv. “I am not convinced that this report foists all of the U.S.’s troubles on Israel’s shoulders.”
Olmert is, of course, disingenuous in that last comment since the Report does not “foist all of the U.S.’ troubles on Israel,” but it sure does foist some of our problems rightfully on Israel’s intransigent positions vis a vis its neighbors.
President Bush’s muted reaction to the Report today indicates that, just as with the 9/11 Commission report, he’d like to bury it as soon as a decent interval has elapsed. He has done everything to renounce it but saying so in explicit words:
He called the report “very constructive” and “worthy of study,” but said that neither Congress nor the administration would accept all of the panel’s proposals. His policy going forward, Mr. Bush reiterated, would rely not just on the study group’s recommendations but on those being formulated by the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council.
True to form, he’s attempting to bury the findings amid conflicting policy directives from multiple agencies that would be likely to contradict the ISG report. Sounds like the WMD fiasco all over again. You don’t have to disprove your opponent. You merely have to bury unwelcome political statements or developments in a blizzard of conflicting opinion.
The hopelessness and futility of the ISG’s efforts to turn around the ship of state on this issue can be seen in this exchange between Bush and a reporter at the Bush-Blair news conference:
When a British reporter asked him whether his choice of words showed that he was “still in denial about how bad things are in Iraq,” Mr. Bush made his feelings clear.
“Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talk to the families” of those who have died. “I also believe we’re going to succeed. I believe we’ll prevail,” he said.
“One way to assure failure is just to quit, is not to adjust, and say it’s just not worth it,” he added. “If we were to fail, that failed policy will come to hurt generations of Americans in the future.”
Actually, Bush is right. “One way,” (the only way actually) “to assure failure IS not to adjust” your policy. To continue down the garden path of denial and obstinacy which has somehow gotten you this far. “Neck deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool says to push on,” to quote Pete Seeger’s prescient lyrics.
And for anyone who doubted that the U.S. is dictating Israeli policy toward Syria, check out this telling admission from Olmert:
“The opinions I heard from the president and from all senior administration staff on the Syrian issue are such that he did not see a feasibility in talks on the American-Syrian track or on the Israeli-Syrian track,” Mr. Olmert said.
The Bush administration says Syria is aiding the insurgency in Iraq, while Israel says Syria assists Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, all radical Islamic groups in conflict with Israel.
The Syrian actions do not “create a picture of the possibility for talks in the near future,” Mr. Olmert said.
Of course, if Israel truly saw it in its interest to talk to Syria it would without hesitation as the former has often pursued policies inimical to previous U.S. administrations. In this case, perhaps, the agendas of both countries are aligned (or I should say “misaligned” since the rejection of Syrian engagement is deeply misguided as the ISG notes).
Bush himself confirmed the unrealistic nature of his expectations regarding Iran and Syria with this statement:
“If people come to the table to discuss Iraq they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country.
“And if people are not committed,” the president added, “if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”
Israel and the U.S. have the same exact approach to diplomatic negotiations. Place conditions on the behavior of your enemy which they must meet BEFORE you will even agree to meet them. It doesn’t matter that in the past you have often negotiated with enemies without such preconditions (North Vietnam comes to mind). If you really want to destroy the chance for engagement, you ignore past history and focus on creating circumstances that will foil an undesirable outcome, in this case talks with Iran and Syria.
Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton are no fools. They know that Bush has dumped them. That’s why they’re appealing to Congress for “very vigorous oversight of the war effort” (Hamilton). It’s really up to Congress, I’m sorry to say. Sorry for two reasons: one because it means that Bush is an entirely hopeless proposition, an irrelevancy from here on to the end of his term; and second, because I have profound doubts about whether Congress is up to the task of providing such vigorous oversight. Pelosi and Reid, prove me wrong, please.