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Friday, May 04, 2007

An Artifical Foreign Policy

Recently Ambassador David Satterfield, Senior advisor to the Secretary of State and Coordinator for Iraq, was asked a question by a German journalist on the "Ask the Ambassador" web page of the U.S. State Departments official web site where responses are given to written questions from international correspondents:

"Do you think it will be possible to leave a stable Iraq within the next two or three years?"[03/23/07]

The Ambassador's answer was the usual ho-hum glibness that passes for foreign policy out of the Bush WH for the past 4 years:

"We do not intend to leave Iraq until it is self-sufficient and secure. The timeframe depends largely on the Iraqis, themselves. The government of Iraq has outlined a path towards self-sufficiency and we are doing everything we can to help them meet their goals."

Alright, let's forget for a moment that the Iraqi Parliament has recessed itself until July and discuss something called the ICI. Today, Secretary of State Condelizza Rice was in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for the International Compact for Iraq Conference. A United Kingdom based web site through the University of Birmingham and the University of Bristol: intute social sciences describes the ICI [International Compact for Iraq]:

"[.....] is an initiative of the Government of Iraq which has support from the international community. It seeks to encourage cooperation with international bodies [60 to date to be exact] to encourage the economic, political and social development of the region. The website provides information on the aims of the programme and its activities. It includes press releases, declarations and an online library of associated speeches, full text documents and reports. These provide insight into the progress of the reconstruction of Iraq in the post Gulf war period."

The original document in question detailing the ICI is 60 pages long. It usually resides at its own web site, but as of this evening that account for some reason has been suspended. I find this extremely curious. This morning I was actually in the site perusing it for about 15 minutes before I had to leave. What was striking about the parts I was able to read was it's stunning lack of detail about just what the international community was committing to.

Today's press conference in Sharm el-Sheikh was played back this evening on C-Span. From what I could watch not only was the Iraqi Parliament recess not asked about from any of the journalists present, the redoubtable Ms. Rice never even brought it up. When asked about a timetable for the ICI, it's implementation or benchmarks measuring effectiveness Rice gave the same old bromide, recycled with a couple of new words, for the pass four years when asked about U.S. military presence on the ground, [paraphrasing here] "You can't let artificial timetables impede the progress currently being made in Iraq today. We have to let the Iraqi's complete the process [emphasis mine] for stability. The process takes time."

The UN sponsored ICI, which began to come together last July, was launched with a press conference back on April 20th. According to the UN the ICI was described as a process of a larger initiative: '[.....] "aid for trade,” a strategy to enable developing countries to take a greater role in the international trade system.' The ICI was also described as an international effort to aid Iraq through a compact: "The Compact is a five-year national plan that includes benchmarks and mutual commitments from both Iraq and the international community, all with the aim of helping Iraq on the path towards peace, sound governance and economic reconstruction. "

The only thing "new" about this initiative is that it is supposed to have been introduced by the Iraqi's themselves. It's curious that on the eve of this all important conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt so critical to Iraq's future their Parliament's answer to this international commitment is a two month recess. So much for benchmarks. You have to give the Bush WH this much, the high camp factor for what passes for foreign policy seems to be achieving new heights on a daily basis. The imagery and visualizations offered to the global diplomatic community with each Bush press conference and Rice appearance on the international stage only serves to underline the surreal quality they project. This is especially so after Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, gave a blunt assessment to the same group of journalists that questioned Ms. Rice later that day by asserting that Iraq's problems stem from the fact they are an occupied country with a foreign army that is a continuous cause for the escalating sectarian strife. Ms. Rice blew off the question from the press when asked about it and continued to repeat the same thing over and over in the press conference: the US is there by invitation only. Soon after that the press conference degenerated into a discussion about non U.S. - Iranian relations. Only after Ms. Rice was drawn off the subject of Iraq did she seem animated and engaged. Otherwise she looked bored and flippant when discussing Iraq's problems.

As the latest Bushian set of reasons for continued American military presence evolves via the newest phrase du jour to date evoking the rejection of "artificial timetables" it is becoming more and more apparent each day there is no foreign policy - only a holding pattern of sorts. The UN commitment at this point is problematic at best because of the lack of security on the ground throughout Iraq. At this point implementation of the ICI is impractical. The risk factor for the other countries involved in this so called compact is negligible since the U.S. military is the one taking all the risks and responsibility for security. As the Iraqi Foreign Minister has already demonstrated with his bluntness regarding his feelings about American military presence the U.S. government finds itself in a catch 22 position regarding Iraqi sovereignty. Forcing their hand would only undermine the latest justification of our presence. Iraq's neighbors get to look properly concerned and engaged while the UN gets to look relevant. Meanwhile U.S. troops get caught in the middle while nothing happens and Bush waits our his term so he can claim he never "surrendered." This artificial foreign policy seems to serve only one purpose - preserving some notion that Bush has regarding his legacy. Unfortunately for the grunts on the ground it comes at the highest price imaginable - their lives.