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A Hopeless Mission For Rice

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
by Vladimir Simonov
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jan 26, 2007
Has U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noticed that she is becoming irrelevant? The task that was set in the Middle East to that fragile lady who loves to play Mozart in the evenings would baffle even the Supergirl. She had only seven days to convince the regional leaders, from Israel to Egypt and the Gulf countries, that the new Iraq strategy of President George W. Bush was viable, that it had not isolated Bush in the United States or from his closest European allies, and that Iraq is not another Vietnam.

To believe these three things, one has to be as innocent as a baby with an old man's amnesia.

Earlier this month, Bush presented his new strategy for Iraq, which consists of old tactics that have been shattered in a head-on collision with Iraqi reality. He offered a desperate cure for a desperate disease, that is, allowing reinforced American forces to use violence to quench Iraqi violence.

But can a force of 21,500 Americans, including 17,500 to be dispatched to Baghdad, stop the sway of terror? Will this effort "succeed when previous operations to secure Baghdad did not," as Bush himself said in his address to the nation? A force of 140,000 Americans has been trying to ensure security in Iraq for four years. According to Bush, this time the United States will "have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared" of terrorists and insurgents. The cavalry will come to the rescue, as usual.

"In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence," Bush said. This will not happen this time. A tight fist of three forces - American infantry, the Iraqi army and Iraqi police -- will be brought against all armed resistance groups regardless of their sectarian or political affiliation.

Had Rice included Baghdad in her Mideast tour and exchanged views with people in the street, she would have seen that Bush's hopes were doomed. Iraqis would have told her that the latest Iraqi government, although seemingly dependent on Washington, is dominated by Shias, and that factions in the government still control respective paramilitary groups.

These forces ruled that two of Saddam Hussein's accomplices -- Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Iraq's former intelligence head and Hussein's half-brother, and former chief judge Awad Hamed al-Bander -- be hanged. The execution, which was carried out contrary to the appeal of President Jalal Talabani to postpone it until a calmer period, reaffirmed the great influence of the ruling group.

Would the ruling Shiite groups permit the routing of their co-religionists for defending the interests of their community in explosives-filled vehicles rather than in parliament? Rice is unlikely to have an answer to this question.

In this sense, the new American strategy in Iraq promises not better chances of victory, but more blood and violence.

The Middle East mission of the secretary of state was impossible also because she sees the region only in black and white, just as her boss. They believe that there are friends in the region, with whom they can talk, and enemies, with whom they need not talk, and that the latter should be intimidated or even delivered a blow.

It appears that the White House has launched an information offensive to precede a military campaign against Iran, and possibly Syria. When putting forth his new Iraqi strategy, Bush not only ignored the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission on including Iran and Syria in the diplomatic settlement, but also complained about and issued threats to those crucial regional players. Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and Rice later took up their boss's intimidating tone.

Bush even accused Iran of "providing material support for attacks on American troops." He was probably referring to the transfer of weapons from Iran to Iraq. The trouble is that Washington sometimes uses the same methods to advance its interests in the red-hot Middle East. According to RIA Novosti information, it has recently permitted arms deliveries to the Palestinian militants who are loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate leader of the Palestinian National Authority, in order to strengthen his standing against Hamas.

But what is permitted to a global power spreading democracy is not permitted to a country from "the axis of evil."

Abbas refused to exchange his principles for arms. At his meeting with Rice last Sunday, he questioned her attempts to revive the roadmap plan of a peace settlement in the Middle East based on the idea of a gradual establishment of a Palestinian state.

"We have reaffirmed to Ms Rice our rejection of any temporary and transitional solutions, including the 'State with Temporary Borders' principle," the Palestinian leader said. "This variant doesn't look realistic to us."

Meanwhile, Washington started translating its verbal threats to Iran into action. On Jan. 11, U.S. Special Forces used helicopters to storm an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil and take six consular workers for questioning who had not obtained a diplomatic status since the restoration of Iran-Iraq diplomatic relations in September 2004. But a diplomatic status would not have helped them anyway. Now only Washington can say if the Special Forces found innocent PCs or brand-new portable grenade throwers in the consulate.

Is this a rehearsal of a U.S. military raid against Iran? With this burden of aggressive sentiments that preclude the participation of the region's main players, Iran and Syria, in the Iraqi settlement, Rice's Middle Eastern mission was doomed to failure.

But then, perhaps the mission was designed only to imitate diplomacy? I can believe that.

(Vladimir Simonov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.)

Source: RIA Novosti

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Washington (UPI) Jan 26, 2007
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