Friday, December 15, 2006

Condi Rice Says No Talks With Syria or Iran

Condoleezza Rice announced today that the Bush administration will not negotiate with either Iran or Syria, thus rejecting one of the Iraq Study Group's key recommendations -- because (a) the U.S. might not like the price tag; and (b) negotiations aren't necessary to get Syria and Iran's help, because if they want to help, they will help without diplomacy:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the United States seek the help of Syria and Iran in Iraq, saying the "compensation" required by any deal might be too high. She argued that neither country should need incentives to foster stability in Iraq.

"If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporters and editors. She said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq.

Rice also said there would be no retreat from the administration's push to promote democracy in the Middle East, a goal that was de-emphasized by the Iraq Study Group in its report last week but that Rice insisted was a "matter of strategic interest." She reiterated her commitment to pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis -- a new effort that President Bush announced in September but that has yielded little so far.

"Get ready. We are going to the Middle East a lot," Rice said.

Kevin Drum quite rightly calls Rice's rejection of diplomacy "an argument for never negotiating with anyone":

Conservatives often accuse liberals of elevating negotiation into an end in itself. It's a fatuous charge, but its mirror image isn't: as a matter of principle, contemporary conservatives really do seem to have broadly rejected even the concept of negotiating with our enemies. I guess you could armchair psychoanalyze this belief forever, but I imagine it's mostly caused by a fear that they might actually succeed. Take a look at Iraq: in the end, it acquiesced to every American demand in 2002 and 2003, and that just made it harder to gain support for the invasion we wanted.

It's no wonder Bush hates the idea. He's probably afraid the same thing might happen with Syria.

Or maybe he thinks life is a fairy tale, where no one needs incentives to do the right thing. Matthew Yglesias says it's time to grow up:

Sitting around in the Situation Room and deciding that other countries just should do what we want them to do so there's no need for diplomacy is insane. The way the world works is that if you want some countries to do some things, you need to discuss this fact with them, ascertain what their actual views on the matter are, see what they would want you to do in exchange, and then make a decision. Rice rejected this option "saying the 'compensation' required by any deal might be too high." Get that again. She won't talk to Syria and Iran to explore options because the price might -- might -- be too high. Why not find out?

Matthew also points out the "toxic" combination of promoting democracy and rejecting negotiation:

The interaction of this "they should do it anyway" view with the democracy view is especially toxic. Promoting democracy, in this context, means putting an anti-Iranian government in Baghdad, putting an anti-Syrian government in Lebanon, and overthrowing the regimes in Damascus and Teheran. Let that be as desirable as you like, but it's obvious that neither Syria or Iran is going to help us bring stability to anything as long as that remains the medium-term objective of our policy. Most insanely of all, given the circumstances insisting on "the administration's push to promote democracy in the Middle East" isn't going to actually promote democracy in the Middle East. It's just going to ensure that Iraq slips ever-deeper into chaos and that we more-and-more lose our grip on the situation.

Amid all the insanity, though, at least we can count on the media to underwhelm us:

... It's been a rather bizarre week for the Iraq Study Group's report. A mere few days ago, all of Washington was buzzing about the politically irresistible proclamation that the Bush administration must bring in Iran and Syria while committing itself to a gradual drawdown of US troops. The outcome? The Bush administration has firmly rejected talks with Iran and Syria and is inching towards a build-up of troops. In other words: screw off, James Baker.

At this point, however, shouldn't the media be freaking out? Bush has contravened the bipartisan sanctity of the ISG, ruled out the treasured solutions of every pundit whose paychecks aren't signed by Murdoch, and promised to do precisely what the American people overwhelmingly voted against in November. The obstinance of this crew has emerged an almost transcendent quality -- and yet you still have Tom Friedman begging Bush to become an environmentalist, David Ignatius suggesting he talk to Syria. When will the media realize Bush doesn't care what they think, cease talking about what he should do, and begin, relentlessly and mercilessly, talking about what he is doing?

Maybe when we find out what happened to that democracy package we shipped to Iraq. It never got there, and we haven't seen it since.

Oh, and by the way -- that other key recommendation from the ISG? Also blown off.

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