Monday, July 31, 2006

Midwife Condi

I was backing my car into the garage last Friday, July 21, and as usual my radio was tuned to NPR's "All Things Considered." Condoleezza Rice was explaining to a news conference the purpose of her forthcoming visits to Tel Aviv and Rome. She was firm on her central point: her purpose was not to obtain any old cease-fire that might come undone in a week or two. No, it must be a "permanent" cease-fire that addressed, dealt with, and eliminated the "root causes" of violence in the region "so that a real and endurable peace can be established." Nothing less was really worth discussing.

What stopped me from switching off the ignition key and getting out of the car was her next sentence. "What we're witnessing here is, in a sense, the birth pangs of the new Middle East, and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we're pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old Middle East."

Up to that moment, I had wondered for a week how fully Ehud Olmert had briefed Bush about the scale of his astonishingly ferocious response to a cross border raid by Hezbollah that had resulted in the death of three Israeli soldiers and the capture of two (some reports said eight dead, but the other five were tank crewmen who had been blown up by a mine when they crossed into Lebanon in hot pursuit). Had Bush said, "OK, Ehud, whatever you say"? Had he had some misgivings in the seven days following during which much of Lebanon was destroyed?

I sat stunned by Rice's statement. No past utterance by this woman had quite prepared me for this one. What the rest of the world saw as a horrific problem to be addressed urgently, the destruction of much of Lebanon by the Israel Air Force, Rice saw as an essential step toward the solution of the underlying problem, which was, of course, Hezbollah's possession of Katyusha rockets. Destroy Hezbollah by the application of overwhelming Israeli firepower and the delivery of that new Middle East, that smiling baby of hope, would be well underway. The deaths of three hundred Lebanese, and now, a week later, five hundred? Birth pangs. Really unfortunate. As Dubya always says, "Our hearts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones."

Anyone, I thought, could see that the birth pangs statement was dynamite. It gave it all away. Neo-con fanaticism was unmasking itself for all the world to see. Three years of war in Iraq leading to debacle and more than fifty thousand Iraqi deaths had done absolutely nothing to diminish the Bushite faith in shock and awe, victory through firepower, benevolent ends achieved through Blitzkrieg.

Well, here's what stunned me. In the next two days, scarcely anyone paid any attention to that statement! The Saturday New York Times in its lead story on Rice's press conference and diplomatic mission omitted mention of the birth pangs statement. So did the Los Angeles Times in its otherwise detailed coverage of the press conference. So did the Saturday Guardian. I thought perhaps the Guardian had gone to press before the news conference, but wait, they always update their web page, don't they? (seconds after a World Cup victory, full coverage of the match appears). Nor did the statement make the Observer, forty hours or more after she'd uttered it.

I said "scarcely" anyone mentioned it. All honors, then, to Maureen Dowd, who did in her Saturday column, "Condi's Flying Dutchman," which quoted Rice and commented, "Yet everything in the Middle East seems to be reeling backward, and neocons are once more mocking W. as a wimp who should blow off the State Department and blow up Syria and Iran."

If it hadn't been for Maureen, I might have persuaded myself that I had been deluded in thinking I'd heard what I did hear.

The first journalist other than Dowd to take note of it was the superb Rami Khouri, editor of the Beirut Daily Star, who began his Monday commentary by noting that Rice had "described the massive destruction, dislocation, and human suffering in Lebanon as an inevitable part of the 'birth pangs of a new Middle East.'"

"From my perspective here in Beirut," he went on, "watching American-supplied Israeli jets smash this country to smithereens, what she describes as 'birth pangs' look much more like a wicked hangover from a decades-old American orgy of diplomatic intoxication with the enticements of pro-Israeli politics."

Then came good old Fred Kaplan of Slate, who zeroed in on the birth pangs statement on Monday as "the killer sentence, the statement that explains so much about what's gone wrong with American diplomacy and not just in the Middle East." He was stunned not just by the "blithe arrogance" of the statement, but the "stunning confidence in this belief--held so deeply that they're willing to push ahead with their vision even at great sacrifice of political stability and human life."

Then on Monday, Condi made a surprise visit to Beirut (two days after the NY Times reported "U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery For the Israelis; Request Is Seen as Sign of Longer Campaign"), and the nice lady brought with her a gift of $30 million in humanitarian aid and medical supplies. (This reminded me of something forty years ago. Vietnamese hospitals were full of burn victims as a result of massive napalm raids on villages. Lyndon Johnson proudly announced that the U.S. was sending a crack team of plastic surgeons to Vietnam, witness to the "big heart of America".)

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer cartoonist Phil Auth depicted midwife Condi in her blood-spattered Middle East delivery clinic.

On Friday, at the ASEAN conference, Condi played a Brahms sonata and called it a "prayer for peace."

Lest anyone should think for a moment that the American intoxication with pro-Israeli politics is in any sense partisan, the House of Representatives a week ago passed a resolution fully supporting anything Israel should think to do, 410-8. It was said to be to Nancy Pelosi's credit that before the Democrats signed on to it, she insisted that it include language condemning excessive loss of life. Here's how the resolution did that: The House "recognizes Israel's longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and welcomes Israel's continued efforts to prevent civilian casualties."

And does anyone suppose that Hillary Rodham Clinton would be less adamant than Condoleezza Rice in defending Israel's right to defend itself? Perhaps Dick Morris's dream match for 2008 will happen. Mujer a mujer: Condi against Hillary. The black witch versus the blond bitch.
POSTSCRIPT: I didn't end my Midwife Condi tirade in quite the manner I'd intended to. In my impatience to get to a conclusion (and to my mean joke about Condi and Hillary---oh, did I chortle over "the black witch and the blond bitch"!), I omitted the last delicious bit about "birth pangs." While responsible journalists of the Western World seemed to think it no more than an embarrassing slip of the tongue best ignored, the Arab media saw it for what it was.

Thus Monday's Times reported that in its coverage of the 3,000 lb. bomb dropped on that house that killed sixty people inside, Al Jazeera simply panned its cameras over the carnage minute after minute after minute, silently. Then a reporter doing a standup "sarcastically" said, "Welcome to the new Middle East."

That's as good as Ed Bradley's last stand up from Saigon in 1975. On the top floor of the American embassy, the stairs to the roof and the waiting helicopter behind him, lit from behind by the door open to the sky, Bradley said, "Behind last, the light at the end of the tunnel."

One last comment on birth pangs. In his Times column last Friday, July 28, Tom Friedman wrote, "Condoleezza Rice must have been severely jet-lagged when she said that what's going on in Lebanon and Iraq today were the 'birth pangs of a new Middle East.'" Actually, she said it of Lebanon, not of Iraq. That she might have been jet-lagged makes no sense since she said it forty hours before stepping on a jet. How typical of this frivolous man to blow it off with a stupid joke!

I wanted to get to Hillary because of the way she "swift-boated" Jonathan Tasini (his term, fully justified) her challenger in the New York primary who has no chance and gets very little ink (one piece in the NY Times this summer), an utterly decent guy who denounced her for her full-throated support for Olmert's savage war, and called for a cease-fire. Her spokesman called Tasini's criticisms "Outrageous" and "beyond the pale." Interesting metaphor to employ against an Israeli-born American Jew, don't you think?