What, with all the talk about congressman Mark Foley and his IM trysts with young male pages, it's difficult to hear the gunfire from Baghdad these days. While we wait to see whether the House GOP leaders send fat old Dennis Basstert off the glue factory to save their own sorry asses there's a war going on. (Actually two wars. . . or is it three?) As bad as this scandal might be for the GOP in the upcoming elections, however, I'm sure there's a sigh of relief at the White House. Karl Rove is probably thinking right now: 'Maybe if the media keeps obsessing about Foley and the Amish until November, no one will notice the body count in Operation Together Forward.' Because we all know Iraq is the third rail for W. & Co and any news is good news as long as it's not about Iraq.
If, by chance, you've been focused on the Foley escapade to the exclusion of all else, here's a round-up of the news in Iraq over the past three days: As usual, dozens of bodies are continuing to pop up all over Baghdad, many from recent large scale military-style abductions; the court trying Saddam Hussein is afraid to release the verdict of his previous trial for fear of stoking even more sectarian violence; car bombings, suicide bombings, mortar attacks, IED attacks and gun battles rage apace around the city; and since Saturday, hundreds of Iraqi civilians have died along with 17 US troops; 8 on Monday alone. This is the highest total of troops killed in a single day since late August. (You see, we are making progress!) The NYT reports that "four soldiers died in a roadside bomb attack; the four others were killed by small-arms fire in separate incidents."
I'm sure all these stats and deaths are being closely followed by what I'm now calling Rummy's "Fruit Bowl Rubric. This referees to a paragraph in Bob Woodward's new book "State of Denial" in which Rummy tells the shocked reporter that this latest upswing of 900 or so attacks a month is due to "categorizing more things as attacks." Rummy tells Woodward that now, "a random round can be an attack all the way up to killing 50 people somewhere. So you've got a whole fruit bowl of different things - a banana and an apple and an orange." There's no word yet on what Rummy is calling the deaths of the four soldiers who died in the IED attack; was it a banana or were the four killed in the small-arms fire incidents an orange? Who knows, but you can be assured Rummy is on the ball.
After all, he's in charge right? No? Woodward writes that he told Rummy of the Robert McNamara quote that, "Any military commander who is honest with you will say he's made mistakes that have cost lives," and then he waited for Rummy's response."
Rummy: "Um hmmm....
Woodward: "Is that correct?"
Rummy: "I don't know. I suppose that a military commander . . .
Woodward: "Which you are . . ."
Rummy: "No I'm not."
Woodward: "Yes, sir"
Rummy: "No, no well . . ."
Woodward: "Yes, yes. It's the commander in chief, secretary of defense, combatant commander. . . "
Rummy: "I can see a military commander in a uniform who is engaged in a conflict having to make decisions that result in people living or dying and that would be a truth. And certainly if you go up the chain to the civilian side to the president and to me, you could by indirection, two or three steps removed, make the case." [Newsweek]
At which point Woodward fell off his chair and called loudly for the man with the butterfly net. Actually that didn't happen, but talk about denial! This Rummy character won't even admit he's responsible for running the pentagon at this point. Farid Zacharia was right, he is a potted plant!
In all seriousness, this is the man most responsible for the horrific mess we find ourselves today in Iraq and Afghanistan and he's playing semantic games with Bob Woodward. This man's hands are drenched in rivers of American and Iraqi blood and he's denying that he even knows who's in charge. If the president was anyone else besides George W. Bush this man would be out of a job and looking for a lawyer. The inmates have truly taken over the asylum. Unfortunately, all the other inmates are too busy watching "Entertainment Tonight" to notice.
Condi's big adventure:
Condi Rice is off on another trip to the Middle East, this time to show her concern for the Palestinian people. The last time she made the trip, she was just back from a hot piano playing gig in Kuala Lumpur where she was desperately trying to keep the war between Hezbollah and Israel going. Something tells me Abu Mazen having Condi over for a cup of tea and sympathy isn't exactly going to endear him to his people. Hamas is bad enough, but at least they're not dining with the devil.
Since she and W. decided to punish the Palestinian people with crushing sanctions for choosing Hamas in free and fair elections last January, the situation in the territories has gone from desperate to Darfur. Now, she's back to visit the scene of the crime. "The Palestinian people deserve calm," she says as Hamas and Fatah fight in the streets over the last few scraps of food. Why do I get the feeling not too many Palestinians are really going to appreciate her visit?
What exactly does she think she's going to accomplish anyway? What is this all about? Since when does anyone outside of the White House think W. & Co. really care about what's going on in Palestine? If they were really interested in finding a lasting peace settlement they would have done something about it five years ago. Instead, they decided that anything Clinton did they would do the opposite. If Bubba worked his fingers to the bone to try and negotiate an enduring peace deal, they would issue platitudes, call Sharon a 'man of peace' and do little else. (By the way, whatever happened to the idea that the road to Middle peace led through Baghdad?)
In the absence of any American involvement over the past five years we've gone from dealing with Arafat to dealing with Hamas. Arafat wasn't prince charming but he was a Palestinian, he was a realist, he was his own man and what he said went. By contrast, now you have a bunch of religious whackos running the show. They're fanatically devoted to destroying Israel, they're amazingly boneheaded and no one knows who exactly is calling the shots. Is it Syria, is it Iran, who knows? How do you deal with these people?
Now, here comes Condi come-lately saying Israel should open up a few border crossings and Hamas in turn should surrender before negotiations can even begin. I'm not a Hamas fan -- in fact, I think they've been an unmitigated disaster for the Palestinians -- but in the real world no one should expect them to just lay down their arms and recognize Israel, which is the Condi's starting point for any change in the situation. It's not going to happen. Again we see the same old Bush administration state of denial. 'We just best scenario everything, threaten everybody and things will work out.'
Not going to happen.
This approach has worked out well in other places, too. Taking the "diplomatic route" with Iran, offering talks on suspending their uranium enrichment program, but only after they suspend it, has really produced positive results. Calling North Korea the 'axis of evil' and threatening them has sure kept them from throwing out the IAEA inspectors and building bombs which they didn't have before.
And now North Korea says it's going to test a bomb and Condi says such a move would be considered "provocative." I'm wondering what precisely she plans to do about it if they go through with a test. Is she going to threaten to play piano for them or make them watch one of her workout tapes? I don't see many other options, because our military is on the brink of extinction, we don't talk to the current government in South Korea and the Chinese aren't particularly helpful when it comes to North Korea. Or anything else for that matter, beyond lending us money.