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December 01, 2006

Shaken, not Stirred
Posted by Michael Signer

Secretary Rice was making the rounds last night and I watched her interviews with both Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams.  I haven't been able to find transcripts of either one (if someone has them, please email or post).  The interviews were extremely striking in the following respect:  the Secretary, in her view of Iraq vis-a-vis the Middle East, seems sincerely (rather than just politically) committed to what might be called a "shaken rather than stirred" theory of Middle East foreign policy. 

In both interviews, she described a process of uprooting Saddam, getting Syria out of Lebanon, committing to the two-state solution, a hard line with Iran, as part and parcel of a sort of general new approach to a region that she described as, heretofore, being in "stagnation."  I think she said something along the lines of, "Some people call it stability.  I call it stagnation."

I couldn't help but think how interesting, stimulating, and unsettling her dedication to viewing a situation as "stagnation" was.  Her metaphor was almost that of a political chemist.  Stagnation is bad because it is fetid, inorganic, almost decadent.  By shaking things up -- by turning the soil -- her conclusion (really a belief) is that something good will come of it, inevitably.

I like the Hegelian faith that out of synthesis emerges progress, and tend to believe this is true, in both a metaphysical and practical sense.  I have no great affection for the realist's central tenet that the amount of suffering and difficulty in the human condition is basically fixed -- that, no matter how hard we try, we are basically stuck.

But we also need to be very careful not to idealize the opposite -- that, for its own sake, perceiving stasis as stagnation and rooting out and and all systems resistant to our idealism is intrinsically good because the metaphysical engine driving human progress will, in the end, prevail. 

For instance (one argument among many), this won't work if what ultimately emerges in Iraq is just another strong man to hold together a failing state.  If we have to end up with a leader who maybe is a bit more conciliatory toward the United States but relatively brutal toward his own people, then it will be hard to sympathize with Secretary Rice's pollyanna-ish perspective on the felicity of uprooting "stagnation" wherever just, well, because.

But then it's hard for me to believe that Rice actually believes this.  As the neoconservatives have become more realistic, she herself (a died-in-the-wool realist who wrote a famous Foreign Affairs article yearning for a world of "great powers" again) seems to be becoming more neoconservative. 

And how topsy-turvy is that?


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SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it's a moment of challenge, it's a moment of testing and it's a moment also of enormous opportunity -- big historical changes like the ones that are happening now, particularly in this region. And if you just enumerate a couple of things: Syrian forces out of Lebanon, for the first time Lebanon not occupied by Syrian forces in decades; if you look at the situation in the Palestinian territories where, yes, an election brought to power Hamas, but Hamas has been unable to govern and the world is turning again to a democratically elected President of the Palestinian Authority who wants to make peace with Israel and the two-state solution -- to pursue a two-state solution; and perhaps most importantly an Iraq that has been liberated from a terrible tyrant dictator who invaded his neighbors twice, he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and on his neighbors, he's now gone, he sits in the dock awaiting sentences.

Look, these are huge changes in a region that's -- that the very stagnation in this region -- people call it stability, I call it stagnation -- the stagnation in this region had produced a circumstance in which the -- an al-Qaida and extremist forces were growing and growing and growing unchallenged really by healthy moderate political forces in places like Iraq and like the Palestinian territories. Those forces are now coming into their own. Yes, they have determined enemies. Yes, we are seeing a clarifying moment between extremism and moderation. That is bound to be difficult.

But if we do our work well, the opportunity to have a Middle East that is very different, with a Palestinian state that can live side by side with the Israelis, with an Iraq, a democratic Iraq in which Iraq can be a stabilizing force in this region, a Lebanon that can be a democratic and stabilizing force, I know that at this particular moment in time it appears to be a period of great challenge. But it's always out of periods of great challenge that opportunity comes. And that's how this President sees it. And I'll tell you something, Brian, I've just sat with Abu Mazen, just sat with Ehud Olmert, just sat with Nouri al-Maliki. That's how they see it, too. And we as the United States have to support those moderate forces in making that Middle East come true.

Rices's comments about al Qaeda in Iraq and Palestine are, of course, pure BS. More lies from the liars. She's just saying that a superpower needs enemies like the DEA needs pot smokers. Someone to prey on.

Are Rice's comments so different from Michael Signer's City on a Hill? -- "As the world’s superpower, we must fully engage in the world, actively leading and shaping it, if we are to improve it. . . As Truman once told Henry Kissinger, in response to a question about what he wanted to be remembered for, 'We completely defeated our enemies and made them surrender. And then we helped them to recover, to become democratic, and to rejoin the community of nations. Only America could have done that.'"

The neocons (and the new 'progressive' neocons) look at Iraq and they see a defeated Germany and Japan becoming democratic. The (true) conservative crowd sees Vietnam instead. Pick your model. I go with 'Nam.

Rice has for a few years now defended the creative destruction theme of the neoconservatives. She is one among many who argue that the US for years pursued "stability" in the Middle East, but that recent events have proved this approach didn't work.

But this version of US history is a myth. The United States did not uniformly support stability in the Middle East in the postwar period. It pursued its interests. That means it pursued stability when stability served its interests, and it pursued instability when instability served its interests. It strengthened and stabilized the regimes its friends, and weakened and destabilized the regimes of its enemies.

Did the US work to stabilize the previously stable and popular Mossadegh regime? Or did it depose him?

Has it worked to "stabilize" the situation in Palestine by consistently supoporting the UN 242 and the post '67 war status quo, or has it instead supported 40 years of progressive Israeli colonization and destabilization of the Palestine territories.

Did it stabilize Arafat's rule of the PLO and PNA, or help the Israelies destroy his rule and sow division and dsicord in the Palestinian community?

Did the US seek stability in Lebanon when Lebanon was pacified by Syrian occupation? Or has it not sought over many years to provoke sectarian and ethnic conflict in Lebanon, pitting its friends against its enemies?

Has it sought to stabilize Iran since its revolution, or has it instead sought to provoke a destabilizing counter-revolutionalry movement?

Did the US stabilize and solidify the Nassar regime?

Has the US sought a stable Libya, or did it not bomb Syria and for many years send clandestine operatives into Syria to destabilize and topple its government?

Did the US seek stability in Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded at the request of the government of Afghanistan to suppress a civil war and armed insurgency? Or did it instead work clandestinely to provoke a Soviet intervention by sowing violence and chaos, and then work to undermine Soviet efforts to stabilize the country?

One may agree or disagree with any of these policies, but it is a canard to say that the US has consistently followed a policy of promoting stability in the Middle East.

Stability is a relative term and never identical to "stasis". The equation between stability and stasis is a major theme of Ledeen-style neoconservative thought. But change occurs ceaselessly - there is never stasis. The only question is whether a change occurs gradually in the context of conditions that fall short of chaos and outright war, or occurs in massive catastrophic and violent convulsions.

This Ledeen fascination with creative destruction is not coincidently linked with his admiration of Italian fascism, with its love of "speed", "dynamism" and aggression.

Condi has a dream--"Iraq can be a stabilizing force in this region"

UNHCR, as Cluster Coordinator for displaced groups inside Iraq, estimates some 425,000 Iraqis to have been recently displaced. In addition, some two to three thousand Iraqis are leaving per day via neighboring countries as the extent of the tragedy becomes obvious. UNHCR estimates that there are at least 1.6 million Iraqis internally displaced with at least another 1.6 – 1.8 million in neighboring states. The figures in the immediate neighboring countries are still imprecise but UNHCR estimates that there are some 700,000 Iraqis in Jordan, 500,000 – 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 20,000 to 40,000 in Lebanon, 54,000 in Iran and tens of thousands more within the region and further afield. Beyond the mass exodus, which has already occurred, population movements show no sign of abating. The needs of IDPs, returnees, refugees and their host communities are dramatic and to a large extent unmet. The new waves of sectarian violence and the deteriorating humanitarian situation have equally affected the refugee communities – some 50,000 - inside Iraq.

Thank you, George. You've failed at everything else, and now this. All the international treaties you've abrogated, all those vetoes of anti-Israeli resolutions, only you and Condi could believe that Iraq will be a "stabilizing force in this region" if only we disregard the 650,000 dead and the 425,000 displaced, plus all those mutilated women and children, and more to come.

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