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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

a serious moment

I was really struck by this photo, which graced the cover of Tuesday's New York Times, showing Ariel Sharon, Condoleeza Rice and James Baker attending a memorial of the late Yitzhak Rabin in Israel.

There's something in that picture...in Rice's face, jaw set, eyes hidden behind rockstar sunglasses...and how she is flanked on either side by two men who've played hard-ball power politics for decades: Ariel Sharon, peering beneath his furrowed brow and, always conscious he is being observed, gesturing and thinking...and James Baker, completely hidden behind a permanent dimplomatic mask, an impenetrable sphinx.

Of course, that photo sends a powerful message to the world. Rice was in Israel to do serious business. The fact that she brought Baker with her meant that the full weight of the U.S. military-industrial complex...the old guard...was with her. That trip to Israel was important; and I would guess that U.S. plans and actions regarding Syria were part of that, as well as many other matters at hand in the Middle East.

Taking account of Rice's high profile trip to Israel...and President Bush's "freedom push" on his trip to China, his tweaking of the Chinese leadership, I think of this passage from Jeffrey Goldberg's Brent Scowcroft piece in the New Yorker:

When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from the father, he said, "I don't want to go there," but his dissatisfaction with the son's agenda could not have been clearer. When I asked him name issues on which he agress with the younger Bush, he siad, "Afghanistan." He paused for twelve seconds. Finally, he said, "I think we're doing well on Europe," and left it at that...[snip]

Rice's conversion to the world view of Goerge W. Bush is still a mystery, however. Privately, many of her ex-colleagues from the first President Bush's National Security Council say that it is rooted in her Christian faith, which leads her to see the world in moralistic terms, much as the President does....snip...

Rice's split with her former National Security council colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant. Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first Bush Administration were there. The conversation, turning to the current Administration's impending plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said, irritably, "The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up." The remark stunned the other guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was flummoxed by Rice's "evangelical tone."

Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for Rice. He did note, however, that her "expertise is in the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle East."


As I wrote yesterday, even at the highest levels of power, the personal, and personalities, still matter a great deal. In this case, it seems that Scowcroft, perhaps as a stand in for GHW Bush, has received his reply. Rice and the President are pushing hard in Asia and the Middle East. They are taking moralistic stands...they are going to continue to, in Rice's words, "clean things up."

Now, this is a serious moment. The war in Iraq is going worse than poorly. The Bush administration is faced with an ongoing investigation that is dredging up damaging details, details that may ultimately threaten Vice President Cheney. The Senate is moving; it's in flux. The President can't count on it. Given that, I think one of the reasons that Scowcroft and Wilkerson spoke out...(those kind of things never happen 'by accident' and they always mean much more than what they seem on the surface)...is that George W. Bush represents more than just himself. Very powerful interests are invested in this President, and those interests are not happy. That debate in the Georgetown restaurant in 2002 wasn't about Iraq, it was about the best way to maintain power.

In that sense...these big global moves are more than simply "personal responses" to a former National Security Advisor, and a former President who happens to be this President's dad. I think those moves also represent a use of power to encourage some behind-the-scenes interests to align themselves behind this President, to join him in his crusade, and in crusades to come. You see, the surest way to insure someone's commitment to you is to get them to sign on your mistakes.

That is exactly what this President has done in Iraq, it's actually his lifelong modus operandi and it may well be what he and Rice are up to now around the world. Something wicked this way comes. That's why James Baker flanked Secretary of State Rice when she went to Israel. The behind-the-scenes broker will, I'm sure, report back to his friends in the U.S.

When I look at that photo again, and consider the human cost...in lives and in opportunities...embodied in the politics of those three figures. When I think of how, all three of those figures....Rice, Sharon and Baker....have survived in the political landscape by doing what had to be done to maintain and hold power, regardless of its cost for others. It's striking...and chilling. There is an evil there...and it has to with when a moral absolutism, whether as a pose or an inner delusion, is used to serve the needs of power.

There is a behind the scenes battle going on in the hidden corridors where things get done and decisions get made. Iraq isn't just a failure for Bush; it's a failure for the military-industrial complex as a whole. To say the word "Iraq" is to know that it rings of Somalia and Viet Nam. That failure, and the scandals surrounding it, threaten to blow the lid off a cabal that has had its fingers all over our government for a half-century. The Fitzgerald investigation, changing tides in the Senate, and a political groundswell away from the GOP in 2006 deeply threaten that cabal, and the tidy coincidences that have propped it up.

This is a serious moment not simply because the powers that be are deciding how they will make sure that doesn't happen...but also because they are struggling within themselves over how. That the Vice President feels secure enough to continue to push for secret torture centers says to me that we should never underestimate this crew.

Baker, Rice and Sharon may have appeared to commemorate Rabin as a 'man of peace'; peace had nothing to do with it.

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4 Comments:

  • K/O - another very interesting and remarkable piece.

    Whatever's behind the scene is mysterious in its detail, but perhaps not in its essence.

    You're so right. These are all only people with petty personal and larger ideological motivations, all mixed up in a peculiar brew.

    Rice is very hard for me to understand. Some people take the position that she's unintelligent. But I think that's clearly wrong. And despite everything she's participated in, it's hard for me to think of her as evil.

    To me, Rice seems very isolated, as well as divorced from herself. Maybe if she could just allow herself to be who she actually is, she wouldn't be so invested in convincing herself that she really believes all this crap.

    (P.S. - it made me sad that you felt discouraged. Don't be. You're an extremely unique and human voice in a blog world that really needs you.
    I love your writing. And if more people knew about it, and had an opportunity to read it, they'd love it too.)

    By Blogger pdxleft, at 11:22 PM  

  • Thanks k/o. I love reading your essays. I just returned from two years in Peace Corps, so I have no cash, only respect for you. Please keep up the good work.

    By Blogger Maggie Pax, at 9:11 AM  

  • Thoughtful post Kid. But I'd like to point out the fallacy of judging competence and intelligence from and image. This is beyond dangerous it will get you in a lot of trouble. Humans have been sight hunters since we came down from the trees and evolved to run down our prey.

    This means our visual system dominates the neural hierarchy of our entire brain. Images have a direct, hard-wired impact on the decision making process.

    It didn't make us smarter.

    Let's take Dick Cheney as an example. To look at him he gives the impression of great gravitas. Everything about him, his clothes, the way he stands, the way he holds his head has been carefully worked out to reinforce this impression when he appears on screen. Even his gestures have gotten the treatment; notice how he holds a microphone next time you see him use one.

    In fact he's one of the stupidest people in government. If you disagree with this you don't really know Dick

    As an exercise let's imagine what the three folks in the picture you referenced might be thinking.

    Sharon:

    A broch! Sitting next to the schwartzer again...

    James Baker III:

    Poppy owes me big time again for babysitting Junior's sex toy.

    Rice:

    Blankness, nothing...except the distant sound of a sand fly buzzing.

    Some may say I'm being silly or stupid but my little satire has about as much likelihood of being true as any opinion which is formed solely on the image people project of themselves.

    You are defined by what you do; not what you look like. This knowledge has been displaced in America today where we are bombarded by swarms of images every waking moment. Images created and refined to influence our behavior on very basic levels by industries created to do just that by expending billions of dollars to attain their goal.

    If we "view" this same picture in the light of what we know about these people's words and actions in the world we come to a different understanding of who they might be.

    Sharon:

    Racist thug intent on his own self-aggrandizement.

    James Baker III:

    Hatchet man for the American oligarchy.

    Rice:

    Prostitute.

    By Blogger A. Citizen, at 6:28 PM  

  • Unhappily, the picture link no longer seems to point to the picture you describe. I arrive at one of Rice looking away from Putin's proferred hand while Bush is reaching out to someone else -- frankly a weird pic. ??

    By Blogger janinsanfran, at 11:03 PM  

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