By Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of The Clinton Wars (THE GUARDIAN, 27/07/06):
Once again the Bush administration is floating on a wave of euphoria. Israel’s offensive against Hizbullah in Lebanon has liberated the utopian strain of neoconservatism that had been traduced by Iraq’s sectarian civil war. And the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, has propelled herself forward as chief cheerleader. “What we’re seeing here,” she said, “are the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” At every press conference she repeats the phrase “a new Middle East” as though its incantation is magical.
Her jaunt to the region is intended to lend the appearance of diplomacy in order to forestall it. As explained to me by several senior state department officials, Rice is entranced by a new “domino theory”: Israel’s attacks will demolish Hizbullah; the Lebanese will blame Hizbullah and destroy its influence; and the backlash will extend to Hamas, which will collapse. From the administration’s point of view, this is a proxy war with Iran (and Syria) that will inexplicably help turn around Iraq. “We will prevail,” Rice says.
The administration has traditionally engaged in promiscuous threat conflation – al-Qaida with Saddam Hussein, North Korea and Iran in “the axis of evil”, and now implicitly the Shia Hizbullah with the Sunni Iraqi insurgency. By asserting “we” before “will prevail”, Rice is engaging in national interest conflation.
According to the Rice doctrine, the US has deserted its historic role as ultimate guarantor of Israel’s security by acting as honest broker among all parties. Rather than emphasising the importance of Lebanese sovereignty, presumably a matter of concern to an administration that had made it exhibit A in the spread of democracy in “a new Middle East”, Rice has downplayed or ignored it in favour of uncritical endorsement of Israel’s offensive. Rice’s trip is calculated to interpose the influence of the US to prevent a ceasefire and to give Israel at least another week of unimpeded military action.
To the Bush administration, the conflagration has appeared as deus ex machina to rescue it from the Iraqi quagmire. That this is patently absurd does not dawn on those who remain in thrall to the same pattern of thought that imagined the invasion of Iraq would be greeted with flowers in the streets of Baghdad. Denial is the basis of repetition.
This week has seen the publication of Fiasco, by Thomas Ricks, the military correspondent of the Washington Post, devastating in its factual deconstruction. The Iraqi invasion, he writes, was “based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history”. The policy-making at the Pentagon was a “black hole”, and resistance by the staff of the joint chiefs to disinformation linking Iraq to 9/11 was dismissed. After the absence of a plan for postwar Iraq, blunder upon blunder fostered the insurgency.
In one of its most unintentionally ironic curiosities, the Bush White House has created an Office of Lessons Learned. But the thinking that made possible the catastrophe in Iraq is not a subject of this office. The delusional mindset went underground only to surface through the crack of the current crisis. There are no lessons learned about the blowback from Iraq; about Iraq’s condemnation of Israel and its sympathy for Hizbullah; or about the US unwillingness to deal with the Palestinian Authority that made inevitable the rise of Hamas; or the counter-productive repudiation of direct contact with Syria and Iran.
Indeed, Rice is ushering in “a new Middle East”, one in which the US is distrusted and even hated by traditional Arab allies, and its ability to restrain Israel while negotiating on behalf of its security is relinquished and diminished.