Against all odds, the MIddle East gets worse


A popular axiom in one of the support groups defines the hazard of the driven, out-of-my-way ego that refuses to be deterred by frantic warning flags when they are raised by common sense.

“Insanity,” the axiom tells us, “is insisting on making the same mistake over and over and over and expecting a different result.”

Which re-introduces us to the regime of George Bush and his deadly sandbox in the Middle East. The poster for all of this is the cover of a recent issue of Newsweek magazine. In exchange for the privilege of sitting in daily with the president on his appearance at the G8 Summit and then in his flying warroom when the Middle East exploded in flames and dismembered bodies, Newsweek chronicled Bush’s movements. On its cover the magazine reveals George Bush in a pose conveying the picture of a global leader carefully parsing multiplying calamities, a thinking man. It described the forward suite of Air Force One as “a private sanctuary where the president can sleep, exercise and lead the free world from 30,000 feet.”

That might have represented a small save for the free world. It could have been worse with Bush on the ground.

Newsweek employs a stable of able reporters and has been relatively even-handed in reporting the last three years’ misadventures, crimes, evasions and broad-daylight ineptitude of the Bush administration. So this was not necessarily a sweetheart treatment of what was happening in Lebanon and Israel. The provocation of the war obviously came from Hizbullah. Not much argument there, except from Hizbullah. What would follow, Newsweek asked. “Incursion? Invasion? For an estimated 500,000 Lebanese residents ordered out of their homes and onto roads turned into shooting galleries by Israel’s American-made F-15s, F-16s and Apache attack helicopters,” it reported, “the semantic differences where not important.”

So the carnage in the Middle East spreads. It is fed by hatreds and revenges, by the insistence of all of the warmakers that history is on their side and they are fighting demons; it is manipulated by the godfathers of Hizbullah, Iran and Syria, and by its enablers, the Bush Administration in Washington.

Into the chaos flew Condoleezza Rice as the designated healing angel to stanch the spreading slaughter with promises of humanitarian aid. What she didn’t offer was any immediate sign of unleashing the vast resources of the United States of America to save innocent lives. It could wait. The lives were expendable, part of the strategy.

But now came a eureka moment of Condi’s photo op sideshow, her first discovery in the blood and dust and debris in Lebanon: The demolition and death were part the birth pangs of democracy!

This might have been a revelation to the world, except that it had been hearing the same kind of language for three years from the rescuers of Iraq.

The behavior is the same. George Bush is essentially the same. This is a limited man who brought some clubby impulses into the White House but virtually no clues to the world outside of the baseball stadium in Texas. The trauma of 9/11, which he might have prevented with more diligent reading, any reading, of at least one intelligence report on Qaeda’s intentions, transformed his role and his reach. His shrewder handlers grabbed the opportunity. Dick Cheney declared Iraq to be an unconscionable threat to America and the world. The plans and the runup drums for war followed quickly. Bush adopted Churchillian postures and went one step beyond by enlisting God. Millions of the most devout cheered and bombs fell.

They’re still falling. If the wingnuts have their way they will next fall on Iran. The concept is simple. The military strength of America and the naked will of driven men can bend six billion people into compliance with a reckless vision of America as the uncontested Power of One. Those illusions and the behavior they spawned made the Bush government contemptuous of the basic rules of civility in a dangerous world. In this country the strategy was to keep the voters fearful and in the dark; to marginalize a compliant Congress by privately re-writing the laws it wrote; and to turn over the government’s economic decisions to corporate power, as in insurance, drugs, oil and military spending.

The way to explain three years of chaos in Iraq was to call it progress. The denial process went like this: We know how to fix it in the Middle East and don’t believe all of those inflated numbers about tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis dying in the middle of a three-year civil war. What civil war? What militias?

The American troops are still there, and will stay there. The Middle East is on fire from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Washington’s response is to find better matches. It didn’t have to come to this. From the beginning, when he was embraced with good will in the months after 9/11, Bush stood in a position to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He could have united most of the world after Afghanistan.

Inside of 18 months, he divided it, entranced by his self-designated role as a wartime president, the ultimate decider. It got him re-elected. He might have grown, should have grown. And now his mismanagement and cowboy poses have produced something close to endless war. But the farcical tipoff of George Bush’s growth was the accidental airing of his conversation with Tony Blair in St. Petersburg.

This was the same Tony Blair who was eagerly conscripted by George Bush to be at his side in Washington when George needed a reassuring second to his assessment of the threats to world peace posed by Iraq. He need a plausible voice to help justify the coming war, a voice reasonably comfortable with the English language. Tony delivered. He was confident, eloquent and persuasive. Bush marveled at his skills. It was a pleasure listening to Tony, the effortless and supportive Prime Minister, laying out the agendas with a voice that evoked the hypnotic fluency of Laurence Olivier, with all of the English and style that the English do best.

That was Tony Blair when Bush needed him.

Three years later at the G8, when Blair volunteered to be an intermediary in the incendiary crisis in the new Middle East war, Bush brushed him away like a mafia don telling a numbers runner to buzz off.

“I could talk to…” Blair said hopefully.

Bush interrupted. “Condi’s going to go pretty soon.” Meaning no. End of Anglo-American diplomacy. Exit Blair. But it was one more beginning for the same old, the discredited over and over and over again syndrome. We’ve got the hammer. Use it. Sympathize with the innocent victims but get bigger bombs.

All of it will be different, except the result.