The rest of this long analysis of Rice's mid-east diplomacy tour is at this site.
I found this analysis very interesting. I had a more positive view of Rice's attempts at diplomacy. At least she is trying! The analysis is quite sharp though.
Condi's Free Ride
The Fantasy of American Diplomacy in the Middle East
By Tony Karon
They must serve up some pretty powerful Kool Aid in the press room down at Foggy Bottom, judging by U.S. media coverage of Condi Rice's latest "Look Busy" tour of the Middle East.
Secretary of State Rice's comings and goings have long been greeted with a jaded disdain by the Arab and Israeli media. As Gideon Levy wrote plaintively (and typically) in Israel's Haaretz last August,
"Rice has been here six times in the course of a year and a half, and what has come of it? Has anyone asked her about this? Does she ask herself? It is hard to understand how the secretary of state allows herself to be so humiliated. It is even harder to understand how the superpower she represents allows itself to act in such a hollow and useless way. The mystery of America remains unsolved: How is it that the United States is doing nothing to advance a solution to the most dangerous and lengthiest conflict in our world?"
The fact that -- this time -- Rice professes to be advancing just such a solution has hardly convinced Middle Eastern scribes. As Beirut's secular, liberal Daily Star put it in an editorial on Monday, "Already this is Rice's fourth Middle East tour aimed at reactivating a stalled peace process, but so far the only measurable progress she has achieved has been racking up extra mileage on her airplane."
Mainstream U.S. media outlets were alone in their willingness to swallow the preposterous narratives offered by Rice's State Department spinners on the significance of her latest diplomatic efforts. For months, we have been reading a fantasy version of American diplomacy in which Rice was at the center of a realignment of forces in the Middle East, building a united front of Arab moderates to stand alongside the U.S. and Israel against Iran and other "extremist" elements. Last week, we were asked to believe that Rice was now about to head back to the region to choreograph a complex and dramatic diplomatic dance that would include such "challenges" as "trying to get the Saudis to talk to the Israelis." Perhaps none of her aides bothered to let her in on the open secret that the Saudis have been doing that for months -- and not under the tutelage of, or at the prompting of, the Secretary of State either.
On the eve of her departure, the Washington Post informed us, Rice would remake the peace process via a new math: 4+2+4. This was cute jargon for grouping various discussions among the Israelis and Palestinians, the "Quartet" (the U.S., the European Union, the UN, and Russia), and an "Arab Quartet" comprising Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. By Monday, only three days later, however, the new math had mysteriously disappeared -- as if Rice had suddenly entered a world of innumeracy -- replaced by "parallel discussions." With the Israelis unwilling to talk to the Palestinians about the "contours of a Palestinian state," each side was instead to discuss such things separately with Rice in a kind of diplomatic confession booth.
For anyone disappointed by the sudden demise of "4+2+4," Condi assured all involved that "we'll use many different geometries, I'm sure, as we go through this process." A day later, the trip's crowning achievement was reported by the New York Times: "After three days of shuttle diplomacy between Israeli and Arab cities and a late night of haggling, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that she had persuaded Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold talks twice a month." But not, it turned out, on the "final-status issues" -- the contours of a Palestinian state. They would simply chat to "build confidence," while, presumably, regularly reentering her confession booth.
As Lebanon-based Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri put it,
"To overcome the chronic stalemate of bilateral Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, [Rice] is now expanding this into a trilateral failure, as the principal parties who won't talk to each other only to talk to her. It's hard to decide if this is a comedy or a horror show."
It may be a sign of the contempt with which the Bush administration treats the American media that Condi expects such a Pollyannaish pantomime to be reported as if it were history-in-the-making. And it may be a mark of the naiveté with which much of the U.S. media has, over these last years, chronicled Condi's adventures that, in fact, it is reported as if it were history-in-the-making. The Secretary of State has not only chalked up the miles in the air recently, in media terms here in the U.S., she's invariably been given a free ride.
Whose Diplomacy Is This Anyway?
In reality, if significant diplomatic maneuvering is currently underway in the Middle East, it is the work of the Saudis. The Saudi royals had grown so alarmed by the passivity and incompetence of the Bush administration -- and by the rising influence of Iran as well as Islamist movements in the Arab world (whose popularity and credibility is boosted by their willingness to stand up to Israel and the U.S.) -- that it launched an uncharacteristically robust diplomatic campaign on a number of fronts. The Condi-spun media tends to explain this as the Bush administration coaxing Riyadh's royal wallflowers onto the diplomatic dance floor. The Saudi efforts are, however, so clearly at odds with administration policies and desires on key issues that this characterization is impossible to sustain.
As Washington pressed for the isolation of Iran, Riyadh -- supposedly the leader of a new Axis of Moderation being constructed by Washington -- spent the winter vigorously engaging Tehran at the highest level. The purpose was to begin to calm Shiite-Sunni tensions across the region, aggravated by the catastrophic situation in Iraq, and to bring Lebanon's warring factions back from the brink of confrontation. While the U.S. press was generally reporting that the Saudis were entering a period of muscular confrontation with Iran, that country appeared to be searching for mechanisms to manage Saudi/Iranian differences based on a mutual recognition of each other's regional roles. Not exactly what George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Condoleezza Rice seems to have had in mind.
Then came the Saudi attempt to bring the warring Palestinian factions together in the Mecca Agreement. Here, the Saudis brokered negotiations to draw Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party into a unity government with Hamas -- even as Washington continued to warn Abbas against doing so. Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, has rarely exhibited any independence from Washington. His willingness to take this step offered a clear signal that the Saudis were orchestrating things on the Israeli-Palestinian front with little patience for indulging Bush administration fantasies. The U.S. had, of course, been seeking the literal overthrow of Hamas since it won legislative elections in 2006 -- something the Saudis recognized as infeasible, given that Hamas is, at this point, far more representative of Palestinian sentiment than Fatah. Saudi leaders were also aware that Washington's campaign to isolate Hamas in the Arab world left it little option but to seek Iranian patronage.
In reality, the Bush administration seems increasingly at odds with the consensus among the Arab moderates it claims to be leading. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, in particular, appears to have sent a signal of this in cancelling -- with little explanation -– a special state dinner that was to be hosted by President Bush on April 17th. Then, at Wednesday's Arab League Summit in Riyadh, the King followed up by demanding an end to the crippling financial siege of the Palestinian Authority imposed by the U.S. and denouncing the American military presence in Iraq as an "illegitimate foreign occupation." This is strong stuff from the Saudis.
Rather than a patient plan crafted by the U.S. Secretary of State as some miraculous alchemist of grand strategy, the latest flurry of activity reflects the maturing of a range of crises in the Middle East that have festered dangerously, while Condi fiddled. These include:
* The fact that the Bush administration has only exerted itself -- and then just symbolically -- on the Israeli-Palestinian front when it was desperate for favors from allied Arab regimes on other fronts, notably the roiling crises in Iraq and Iran. With the U.S. struggling unsuccessfully on both fronts, its vaunted ability to influence events in the region is in precipitous decline.
* The fact that the Arab regimes most closely allied to the U.S. face mounting crises of legitimacy at home, damned not only by their authoritarianism, but also by their paralysis in the face of U.S. and Israeli violence against Arab populations. Delivering the Palestinians to statehood is now seen by those regimes as essential to their own domestic political survival.
* The fact that an Israeli government, which came to power promising peace through unilateral "disengagement" from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, having fought a disastrous war in Lebanon and facing a never-ending struggle in Gaza, is seemingly disengaged from itself, its policies in tatters. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is drowning in a sea of corruption, scandals, and recriminations over the strategic and tactical incompetence he demonstrated in last summer's Lebanon war. With his own approval ratings at an astonishing 3%, he desperately needs a new idea to persuade Israeli voters that there's any reason to keep him in office.
* The fact that the Palestinians are experiencing an unprecedented humanitarian and political breakdown. All factions of the Palestinian government share an overwhelming incentive to get the financial siege lifted from battered, strife-torn Gaza. President Abbas' political future and legacy rest solely on completing the Oslo peace process; while for Hamas -- at least for its more pragmatic political leadership -- allowing President Abbas to pursue that course (particularly when it carries pan-Arab blessing) makes a certain sense. Hamas's political choices have always reflected a keen sense of Palestinian popular sentiment. By maintaining a distant and ambiguous stance towards Abbas's diplomatic efforts, it can plausibly deny complicity if the outcome proves unpopular on the Palestinian street.