Sunday, December 12, 2004

Bush Wants El-Baradei Out

The Bush administration has been listening in on Mohamed El-Baradei's phone conversations with Iranian diplomats in an attempt to find damaging information it can use to remove him from his position as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Bush people say El-Baradei has had the job too long, and that he's too lenient with Iran. But the larger reason, of course, is that El-Baradei pointed out that the emperor had no clothes on when Bush used bad intelligence to justify invading Iraq; and that he went against Washington's wishes with regard to handling Iran. It's not a mere difference of opinion about whether to deal with Iran's nuclear program diplomatically or militarily. It's more fundamental than that. Pres. Bush does not brook opposition to his wishes or preferred policies, either within his administration's own ranks or in the rest of the world. For El-Baradei to have supported a diplomatic approach when Washington very clearly wanted a military approach is unacceptable; it's interpreted as open defiance, and superpower empires don't like open defiance.

Even so, the Bush administration may find the road to ousting El-Baradei a very steep one. First, El-Baradei is genuinely liked and respected in the United Nations and among European leaders, both personally and professionally; and few if any heavyweights in Europe or elsewhere will be willing to support giving him the heave-ho, even to get in good with the U.S. Second, none of the people Washington has approached so far to take El-Baradei's place have agreed to do so -- probably at least in part because he is so well-liked and respected. Third, despite desperate and untiring attempts to dig up dirt, the Bush administration has been able to find exactly nothing in El-Baradei's record that is unethical or that would undermine his ability to do his job. And fourth, if Washington pushes this too hard, it may backfire and cause even more animosity, because it seems so obvious that Bush is motivated by a desire for revenge and not by anything about El-Baradei's performance that is objectively problematic.

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