Condi and the enchanted circle


‘You have marshalled great coalitions that have liberated millions from tyranny. Coalitions that are now helping the Iraqi and Afghan people build democracies in the heart of the Muslim world And you have worked to widen the circle of prosperity and progress on every corner of the world. I look forward to pursuing your hopeful and ambitious agenda.’ US Secretary of State nominee, Condoleezza Rice, to her patron, George Bush.

Is this woman in total denial, or been living at the bottom of a well for the past four years?

The second Bush presidency, it would seem, is going to be the same as the first, only more so. This time round the new Bush cabinet will have no room for whimpy nay-sayers like Colin Powell, only true believers, so there’ll be total agreement on everything the President wants – and the people driving this ship of fools will continue to live in a world quite different from the one outside the magical walled city of Washington.

You don’t have to believe what the Bush critics say about his ambitions, and his desire to be surrounded by yes-persons. You just have to watch these big players actually mouth their fantasies live, on television. The only question is whether they believe what they say any more. Probably they do, because they believe they’re guided by God – in which case, it would seem, God needs a new interpreter.

For example, President Bush to Condi. ‘Condoleezza Rice will take office at a critical time for our country. We’re a nation at war. We’re leading a large coalition against a determined enemy.’

In fact, America is leading a tiny coalition against a determined enemy. Originally about twenty countries lent their names to the Iraqi adventure, but only two, Britain and the US, put in major forces that have stayed in the field. There is a handful of Australians (less than a thousand in a force of about 150 000 Americans and Brits) still in Iraq and then a ragtag collection of small countries who were trying to ingratiate themselves with the US for the most part. These, like Spain, have either pulled out entirely, or reduced their numbers to the point where they are a presence in name only.

So what about these democracies in the heart of the Muslim world? Afghanistan first. They’ve had elections there, and the US-backed President Hamid Karzai’s safety can’t be guaranteed beyond suburban Kabul. The traditional warlords are back exercising their brutal control in the provinces, and the Taliban is rebirthing in its traditional strongholds in the south west of the country. The only area of growth and expansion is in the field of opium growing. The Taliban suppressed it, but since the Americans ‘liberated’ Afghanistan, opium production has spread to every province, income from production equals sixty per cent of the country’s GDP, and, according to the director of the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime, ‘Afghanistan is moving from having a narco-economy, to being a narco-state.’

Meanwhile, over to the west, the millions ‘liberated from tyranny’ in Iraq, cower in the ruins of Fallujah, flattened courtesy of the American military and air force, or they walk the streets of Baghdad and northern cities terrified that the next passer-by will be a suicide bomber, and the next car a bomb about to explode. Or as other democrats do in those cities, they fight to the death against Mr Bush’s liberators. As the Australian international jurist Geoffrey Robertson told the ABC last week, far from being liberated, ‘Iraq is a moral wasteland.’

Condi and George are not the only Americans living in a parallel world. John Ashcroft, the Attorney General in the first Bush administration, resigned last week (therefore, co-incidentally, reducing the number of really spooky Attorney Generals in the US-Australian alliance by fifty per cent). In his departing message to his boss, he wrote, ‘I take personal satisfaction in the record which has developed. The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved. The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts.’

This is pure fantasy. Outside of North Korea, Tibet and a few failed states in Africa, it is hard to imagine a country more fearful and terrified than the US. Any recent visitor will tell of the long waits in queues at airports while every passport is examined page by page, of creeping through metal detectors, barefoot and holding up trousers because belts with metal buckles have to be removed. Of the see-sawing up and down the colour scale of security alerts, of the President travelling in his own country in vast motorcades packed with heavily armed security agents, like some old style South American dictator. Of the White House itself, virtually walled off from its citizenry.

America today is like a much whipped dog that cringes when its master merely raises his hand.

Osama bin Laden doesn’t have to explode as much as a firecracker within the United States to fray American nerves and drain off millions of dollars spent on increased ‘security’. He just has to have a low-level agent send out a garbled message through an Islamic website which may hint at an attack somewhere in the US. And the Security Alert, at the cost of millions of dollars, is raised from yellow to orange or red. Fighter jets are put on standby, extra security forces sent to airports and border posts, the White House roof groans under the weight of added special forces hit men. There are times when a conspiracy theorist could be excused for thinking that maybe Osama and the Department of Homeland Security have an arrangement. The Big O has his rep polished across the Islamic world for the cost of a phone call, and thousands of security agents across the States draw handsome weekly cheques for the cost of running around in circles.

But enough of this mockery. What does the appointment of Condoleezza Rice mean, and what are the challenges she will face?

First of all, George Bush gets a yes-woman who will agree with everything he says – in fact, she probably put a lot of her words in his mouth in the first place. We are not talking here about an outsider with a reputation for independent thinking, someone who questioned at least some elements of Bush policy from beyond the enchanted circle. We are talking about a woman who is in intellectual love with George Bush, who spent the last four years working just down the hall from the Oval Office, agreeing with and advising him that he should; invade Iraq, attack and then virtually abandon Afghanistan, ignore the reports of weapons inspectors that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, ignore international accords like the Kyoto Protocol, alienate European allies by not supporting a UN lead strategy for Iraq, and unreservedly back Israel with weaponry and UN vetoes as it smashed into Palestinian camps, murdered (as state approved policy) its opponents, and finally drove its infamous wall through the Palestinian heartland.

So it’s hard to see Condi doing anything different in her new role (unless of course, God tells her boss to change his ways). As Secretary of State she faces problems everywhere (from say, mass murder in Darfur to real atomic weapons in Pyongyang), but there are three giant tasks. In no special order they are (1) trying to get the Israelis and the real Palestinian leaders to talk about the creation of a Palestinian state with secure borders (2) getting out of Iraq, where the mighty US is sinking like a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a Jurassic swamp of hatred and growing military resistance (3) restoring good relations with continental Europe, as much as anything so that she can deal with problems (1) and (2).

To solve any of the above Condoleezza Rice will have to change from the woman who two or three years ago in Foreign Affairs wrote, ‘A Republican Administration will almost certainly be internationalist. It will also proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community.’

The problem is that the US ‘national interest’ these days would appear to be, ‘Screw you all (but not you Tony, Ariel or John).’ However we should all be optimists, and so in the next few months, after she gets approval from the Senate, we should hope that Condi might amaze us when she announces her travel plans.

Who knows, she might say she wants to go to Europe to talk to Chirac and Schroeder. And announce she’s going to the UN to tell Kofi Annan about the talks she had about Iraq with Jacques and Gerhard (and maybe Vladimir). And she’ll say she would be willing to talk to respected Palestinian leaders like say, Marwan Barghouti, now doing time for murder in an Israeli jail, and the suicide bombing Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades’ candidate for the PLO leadership.

If she’s read her history, she’ll know that the British decolonised by talking to terrorists like Jomo Kenyatta, and brought peace to Northern Ireland by talking to terrorists like Gerry Adams.

We know she can read – in several languages. So let’s wait to be amazed. It can’t hurt that much.

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