Apr 12th, 2004

Dr. Rice's Alienation from Reality

Well, I did it - I read the entire transcript. I sat down with a cup of coffee and read through everything that Dr. Rice said to the 9/11 commission in her extraordinary testimony.

And while my doctors assure me that I may yet recover, I find that I'm more concerned about our foreign policy at the moment. And that's because it's my opinion that Dr. Rice - the person who our President often turns to for advice in running that policy - is living in Moo Moo Land.

Now, a lot of people are making a big stink about the (un)amusingly titled report that apparently wasn't too important, even if it really was(n't). But while we could go back and forth on that for a while - especially now that it's been declassified - it was something else she said that really set me off. And that's this:

"One of the most difficult problems in the Middle East is that the United States has been associated for a long time, decades, with a policy that looks the other way on the freedom deficit in the Middle East, that looks the other way at the absence of individual liberties in the Middle East. And I think that that has tended to alienate us from the populations of the Middle East." (emphasis added)

I suppose that if you live in a total vacuum, with only the latest Bushisms going into your head and out of your mouth, this might sound plausible. But speaking as an American who lives in the Middle East, reads its newspapers and talks with its people, I have to cry foul. This is so far off the mark it's not even funny.

Why have we been alienated from the populations of the Middle East? It has nothing to do with our lack of support for their own, personal freedoms. This is about as far from their minds as a lack of Islam in our own, daily affairs is for most Americans. Everyone over here grumbles when the police get uppity, the government changes its mind overnight and dissidents go to jail, but resolving these matters is not at the forefront of their attention, right now.

What is? In a word, Israel. Every time you turn around you hear something - often one-sided and almost-always blown out of proportion - about what Israel's done, or is doing, or plans to do. The vast mass of folks in the Middle East consider Israel to be a regional threat and an occupying entity, if not the hand of the Devil in action.

And our long-term support of Israel remains the chief, number-one bugaboo in their eyes. So long as we are supplying that state with weapons, money or support, the vast majority of folks in the Middle East will not be kindly disposed towards us. That is the base, bare reality, here.

Past that, our recent actions in Iraq have charmed and gladdened no one - no one at all. We are not being seen as liberators or saviors, but as another occupying army. I'm sure some of the folks in Iraq are singing a different tune, but the sound isn't carrying too far past the borders. Maybe we had to fight this war, but we don't look so good for having done so, and that's just the way it goes.

And, more recently, we've driven another wedge between ourselves and the folks by doing exactly what Dr. Rice was going on about. Our attempts to encourage democratic reform in the Middle East is being seen as an attempt to create an American Empire.

Even if you discount that notion - as you should, since it's nonsense - the question remains as to who we are to tell them how to live their lives? It's not being greeted with encouragement, hope or a newfound sense of purpose, but resentment, resignment and the stoic fatalism this area's renowned for.

Basically, we're handing them fruitcake and wondering why they're turning up their noses.

But this isn't just bad policy based on seriously-faulty perceptions, it's bad strategy as well. I'm not so sure the Middle East would be a better place if Democratic reform was introduced, and I've spoken before of how they might actually vote in more hard-line individuals if they had the choice.

You see, it isn't just good, happy and pro-Western dissidents that the secret police are arresting and holding without trial in their undemocratic dungeons. It's also the firebrands who hate their governments for being much friendlier to the "west" than the people would like them to be. These firebrands are willing to kill and die to protest this state of affairs, and if they aren't constantly skull-smacked they'll mob together, go on the rampage and try to form a radical Islamic state.

(This is what's happening in Iraq right now, in case you wondered why that sounds so eerily familiar.)

So why is it that Dr. Rice - who is by no means stupid or foolish - is saying such stupid and foolish things? Has she been forced to talk Bushit in order to keep her job, or has she bought into the spectacle because, as in-denial of the facts as it is, it at least offers some hope?

To be honest, I really don't know. But this scares me a hell of a lot more than the notion that Bush might have had some inkling of an Al-Qaeda attack on US Soil well in advance of 9/11. We can condemn a lack of foresight in hindsight, but hindsight is always 20/20; We need people with clear insight in the here and now, and it doesn't look like Bush's #1 advisor has it.

"Nothing there / No information left of any kind / Lifting my head / Looking for the danger signs"

Crosseyed and Painless
- Talking Heads

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