Column One: Condi's echo chamber

Rice left many Israelis and supporters of Israel scratching their heads in disbelief this week.

glick long hair 88 (photo credit: )
glick long hair 88
(photo credit: )
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left many Israelis and supporters of Israel scratching their heads in disbelief this week. Rice arrived in Israel in a week marked by Fatah-incited violence against Israel and Israelis, both in Judea and Samaria and within sovereign Israel. On Monday, a well organized group of hundreds of Arab thugs threw rocks at Jewish motorists in Jerusalem. A dozen hoodlums nearly lynched two municipal inspectors when, after blocking traffic on Salah a-Din Street with burning tires, they stoned the inspectors' vehicle and began shattering their windshield with a metal pipe. The two escaped by the skin of their teeth. Outside Hebron, an Israeli was attacked by yet another mob and escaped alive only by opening fire at his assailants. In another incident, Fatah forces murdered a Palestinian and seriously wounded an Israeli outside of Hebron. The US-financed group claimed its operatives lured the Israeli to the scene. In Ramallah and Hebron, thousands of Fatah members rallied in support of Hamas and its missile offensive against the western Negev. Israeli Arabs also escalated their verbal and physical assaults on Israel and Israeli Jews, in a series of demonstrations that culminated in a mass demonstration in support of Hamas that took place on Tuesday evening in Umm el-Fahm. In Judea and Samaria, Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas referred to the IDF's operations in Gaza as an attempted "holocaust." He praised terrorists, suspended negotiations with Israel and reiterated his refusal to recognize Israel. His deputies and associates echoed his incendiary remarks and also spoke in support of armed attacks against US forces in Iraq. Then there is Egypt. Last Monday, two days before Hamas escalated its missile offensive against southern Israel, Egypt released 21 Hamas terrorists from custody in el-Arish. Twelve of the men had reportedly been detained while carrying weapons and attempting to cross into Israel to carry out terrorist attacks. On Monday, they were escorted to Gaza by scores of Egyptian security officials and handed over to Hamas. One might think, in the face of Fatah's obvious support for Hamas's efforts to destroy Israel, that Rice might have begun to question her devotion to Palestinian statehood and support for Fatah. It might have made her question her refusal to support an Israeli bid to retake control over Gaza's border with Egypt. Indeed, in light of Iran's deep involvement in Hamas's missile offensive, it might have even occurred to Rice that an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza would weaken Iran and so put a damper on its efforts to take over Lebanon and Iraq. But none of these developments had any impact on Rice, or for that matter on her boss President George W. Bush. Ignoring Fatah's obvious involvement in terror and increasingly overt support for Hamas's missile war against Israeli civilians, Bush overrode a congressional ban on the transfer of $150 million to Fatah. Similarly, in her visit to Egypt this week, Rice announced that the administration was overriding a congressional decision to block the transfer of $120m. to Egypt due to its refusal to prevent Hamas weapons smuggling operations from Egypt. In her joint press conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Rice acted as though nothing notable had transpired over the past two weeks. Rice announced that the US will be giving $148m. to UNRWA in 2008 - this despite the fact that UN refugee camps in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria and Jordan are all hotbeds of terror recruitment, training and indoctrination. She ignored Hamas's widespread popularity in Palestinian society, called for Israel to step up its humanitarian aid to Gaza, and defended the Palestinians as victims. As she put it, "Hamas... in effect, holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands." Ignoring Abbas's open support for Hamas against Israel, Rice claimed that he had agreed to return to the negotiating table and insisted that the only way to end violence is to establish a Palestinian state. She then intimated that in the midst of Fatah's open support for Hamas's Iranian-supported open war against Israel, she expected Israel to take action to demolish the communities its citizens have built in Judea and Samaria, claiming, "We do need to have improvements on the ground. We do need to have the parties meeting their road map obligations." SOME ISRAELIS and supporters of Israel attribute Rice's irrational championing of Palestinian statehood to anti-Israeli bigotry. These voices cite Rice's penchant for drawing parallels between white supremacists in the pre-Civil Rights movement era American South and Israeli soldiers carrying out counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria. By repeatedly invoking this morally and factually perverted comparison, they claim that Rice exposes a deep-seated animus towards the Jewish state and its citizens. But there is another possible - in fact more likely - explanation for Rice's behavior. It is quite possible that Rice has simply isolated herself from all information and all persons bearing information that might force her to change her policy course. In an investigative report on the Hamas takeover of Gaza last June, Vanity Fair reporter David Rose recalls Rice's reaction to the terror group's electoral victory. Speaking to reporters at the time, Rice said, "I've asked why nobody saw it coming. I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guard by Hamas's strong showing." What is remarkable about this statement is what it says about the insulated nature of Rice's world. Indeed, it is a veritable echo chamber. In Israel, this writer, as well as The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh warned that Hamas was likely to win those elections. So did esteemed Israeli diplomatic and military leaders like former UN ambassador Dore Gold, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon and many others. In the Bush administration, David Wurmser, who at the time served as Vice President Richard Cheney's Middle East adviser, similarly warned that Hamas would likely win. Other senior voices in the administration voiced concern as well. Some three million Israelis who opposed the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip warned repeatedly that the withdrawal would serve to empower Hamas and other terror groups. Withdrawal opponents also warned that if Israel ceded control over the international border with Egypt, the border would become a terror highway, and that Katyushas would rain down on Ashkelon. But Rice ignored all these warnings and either ignored or sidelined those sounding them. Reveling in the warm embrace of State Department careerists like R. Nicholas Burns, David Welch and others, Rice helped to torpedo UN ambassador John Bolton's Senate confirmation hearings. Other dissenters met similar fates. It is not only toward Israel and the Palestinians that Rice insists on operating in a policy vacuum. Her stewardship of other central issues is also marked alternately by a studied silencing of dissenting views and outright neglect of US national interests in favor of a perception of "progress" that doesn't exist. State Department policies toward North Korea and Iraq are glaring examples of this overarching trend. The Washington Post reported this week that the State Department toned down its human rights report on North Korea. The report claimed that Glyn Davies, principal deputy assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, e-mailed Erica Barks-Ruggles, deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, last Friday asking for changes in the language on North Korea. The e-mail suggested that "given the secretary's priority on the six-party talks, we can sacrifice a few adjectives for the cause." Those six-party talks ran aground on December 31 when North Korea failed to abide by its commitment to fully disclose its nuclear inventory and its proliferation activities. In light of this state of affairs, Jay Lefkowitz, Bush's special envoy to North Korea on human rights, told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington last month that the six-party talks had failed, and that the US should reconsider its policy toward North Korea. Rice's response to Lefkowitz's argument was marked by mean-spirited hysteria. Rather than contend with the substance of his argument, she belittled Lefkowitz. "He's the human rights envoy," Rice told reporters. "That's what he knows. That's what he does. He doesn't work on the six-party talks. He doesn't know what's going on in the six-party talks and he certainly has no say in the six-party talks." One of the oddest aspects of Rice's diplomatic activities is how little time she devotes to Iraq. Iraq, after all, is the face of Bush's foreign policy and in the final analysis, Bush's legacy will be determined not by what he does to Israel or the Palestinians, but by what sort of Iraq he leaves behind. Yet apparently Rice couldn't care less about Iraq. In a scathing memo sent last month to US Ambassador in Baghdad Ryan Crocker, Manuel Miranda, a senior Republican attorney who spent the past year overseeing the embassy's office of legislative oversight, noted a complete disconnect between the US military's valiant efforts to cultivate the formation of a secure, democratic Iraq and the State Department's incompetence in advancing this central US policy. Miranda described a puerile embassy staff, bereft of institutional memory from year to year, which ignores Iraqi society and treats the democratization drive as an annoyance rather than as the central objective of US policy in Iraq. In his words, "In this excuse-making culture, the State Department has been an albatross around the neck of the coalition command." As Miranda put it, "This past year, the State Department and the embassy have been led by two misguided premises: First, the obsessive aim that the embassy be turned into a 'normal embassy,' and, second, that the State Department cannot be faulted for the things that the government of Iraq is not doing." The fact is that this is Rice's policy. It was Rice who, in November 2006, began claiming that Iraq's failure to transform itself overnight into a properly run federal state was solely the responsibility of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Miranda noted that rather than cultivate a habit of liberalism by reaching out to Iraqis as the military does, the State Department has sufficed with training law enforcement officials and kibitzing with lawmakers. In his words, "With a few exceptions by the military and a few other recent efforts, we have ignored the Iraqi Bar, the twenty-six [Iraqi] law schools and the development of the culture [of liberalism] beyond the areas associated with arrest and prosecution." WITH ONLY 10 months left in office, unless Bush swiftly forces Rice to change course, these and other policies pushed by Rice in spite of their obvious failures will either blow up in her face, or in the face of her successor. And of course, it isn't only her legacy that will be harmed by her irresponsible insulation. The lives of tens of millions of people will be imperiled by her hidebound policies.