November 6, 2007

Some Respect for the Lady

Hatched by Dafydd

This David Samuels article from FrontPage Magazine takes a couple of small steps forward to rein in the hysterical Condi-bashing by so many conservatives; but it takes one giant leap backwards by perpetuating the most irritating part of the media charade: Accepting as uncontested fact an anti-Condi whispering campaign orchestrated by a "respected left-wing [Israeli] journalist" with a class interest in portraying Condoleezza Rice as biased towards Palestinians.

(Hat tip to Soccer Dad, who e-mailed me the link after reading our last foray into this realm: Time to Fisk - er - Power Line?)

Here is the part that is reasonable and perceptive:

At the same time, it is also important to remember that Condoleezza Rice is not a talk show host but the U.S. secretary of state -- which is not a job that leaves very much room for personal moments. Her private rhetoric (if “off the record” conversations with foreign politicians and journalists can even remotely be considered private) is simply rhetoric -- that is to say, words intended for a purpose. Every word she speaks embodies the political will of the most powerful nation in the history of the planet – a nation currently having a bit of trouble in the Middle East.

Rice is a skilled political tactician who is fantastically loyal to President Bush, who has repeatedly declared his intention to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza before he leaves office.

This echoes the point we ourselves made three days earlier:

Honestly, we don't know what Condoleezza Rice thinks about, e.g., the Israeli-Palestinian "roadmap" nonsense, except that clearly it doesn't bother her enough to cause her to resign from the administration. It's possible she's 113% in synch with President George W. Bush's enthusiasm about a Palestinian state living "side by side" with Israel and at peace. But it's likewise possible that she thinks it's doomed to failure... but since that's the foreign policy the president wants, she may believe strongly enough in the unitary executive that she's willing to push hard even for something she opposes.

To put this as bluntly as I can, this is not Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's personal foreign policy. She is not a latter-day Svengali, mesmerizing George Bush (playing Trilby O'Ferrall?) with her eyes; she's not a zuvembie, casting a voodoo spell to suborn the president's will to her own, turning him into the walking dead.

She is ably and honestly representing the foreign policy of President George W. Bush, which is precisely the duty of every cabinet member; if a secretary can no longer represent and further the president's policies, because he (or she) disagrees so strongly on a moral or political level -- then he has the duty to resign.

Those are the only two choices... be the mouthpiece of the president, or go find another job. The only thing we know about Dr. Rice's personal position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that she doesn't disagree with Bush so strongly that she feels compelled to resign. Nothing more. As we also said, sometime after January 20th, 2009, we will likely find out her own position on a whole host of issues -- when she runs for office, writes a book, and/or gives post-administration interviews.

But here, illustrated better by this David Samuels article in FrontPage than I've ever before seen, is the essentially absurd dichotomy of all this speculation. How does the vague and unsourced Benn accusation here:

Though Benn never cited any source for his description of Rice’s deep personal identification with the Palestinian national cause, he has interviewed Secretary Rice before and obviously felt his source was good enough for print. He went on to "guess" that Rice’s feelings were based on the similarity between the separation fence and checkpoints in the West Bank and the Jim Crow laws that prohibited blacks from exercising their most basic civil rights. For good measure Benn also threw in the suggestion that Rice often confuses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Martin Luther King...

...And here:

Benn’s off-the-record/on-the-record “hint” that Rice might be personally sympathetic to Palestinians has naturally excited Jewish right-wingers, who fear a sell-out at the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis, just as it pains left-wingers, who worry that she might think that they, too, are racists, the worst sin in the liberal “Al Cheyt...

...Abruptly transmaugrify, without visible evidentiary means of support, into the utter certainty of this:

While the intent of Aluf Benn’s “guesses” about Rice’s innermost feelings about the Palestinian cause is clearly incendiary, I have little doubt the secretary and her aides have whispered sweet nothings into the ears of Israeli and Palestinian politicians and even to Aluf Benn himself, suggesting that she can empathize with the Palestinian sufferings under Israeli occupation by virtue of having been born black in Alabama...

...And this?

At the same time, it seems highly unlikely that Secretary Rice’s sudden empathy for the Palestinian cause is anything more than a tactical maneuver....

The paradox of Rice’s conduct...

Yet there is still something disturbing about the remarks Rice is reported to have made, however direct or vague they might have been, and however tactically clever they might seem to their author. Offhand analogies between Palestinians and Southern blacks or Israelis and Southern whites make a mockery of real pain and suffering by ignoring the specificity of actual historical experience. Comparisons of Palestinian “freedom fighters” with the American civil rights movement would merely seem ridiculous (imagine the membership of Hamas and Fatah joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome”) if they were not also part of a bullying assault on historical specificity that has come to characterize much recent political discourse in America....

Condoleezza Rice, the political science professor and provost of Stanford University, would likely judge such bullying and divisive rhetoric harshly, as the product of a second-rate mind afraid to engage in reasoned discussion and debate. When she returns to private life, she will feel ashamed of herself.

This is an old bugaboo of mine: The interlocutor begins with "it mighta happened," soon talks himself into "it prob'ly happened," and ends by working himself into a veritable frenzy of "it rilly did happen!" -- while never presenting a scrap of evidence beyond the sonorous sounds of his own sweet soliloquy.

And then to cap off this eye-popping extravaganza of phantasmapalooza, the Samuels piece thuds back to earth with this final and self-referential awakening from the dream:

That said, I don’t see the slightest bit of evidence that the secretary of state actually believes Mahmoud Abbas is Martin Luther King in disguise, or that she has flashbacks to her childhood in Birmingham every time she sees the Separation Fence on her way to Ramallah. But a whisper or two can’t hurt, right?

No, Mr. S., it can't; nor is there any way that a put-upon Secretary of State -- "an accomplished black woman with a Ph.D. in political science, who plays the piano, who grew up as a little girl in the South and lost a friend when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the churches in Birmingham" -- can respond to such churlish insolence and impudence, such an attack on her basic honor, integrity, and decency, without seeming the fool for getting into a literal "he said, she said" back and forth with some lefty reporter about who knows better what is really in Condoleezza Rice's heart.

Good Lord, everyone; get a grip: We do not have any believable evidence that Dr. Rice ever said any such a thing. So let's stop the show trial and confine ourselves to complaining about what we do know... which is that the president's policy (not Condi Rice's policy) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from demanding that the Palestinian-Arabs live up to their earlier agreements -- an essential component of Bush's own "Roadmap to Peace" -- to now offering them inducements and enticements, compromises and concessions merely to blight Annapolis with their presence.

But that is Bush's fall from grace, not Condoleezza Rice's.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 6, 2007, at the time of 7:27 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I fail to see how this anyone's fall from grace. Every president for as long as I can remember has tried to bring peace to the middle east. It is one of those situations for which there are no answers, easy or otherwise.

Bush did tell Arafat to take a hike and was roundly criticized for it by the left. Now the right is after him and Rice for trying to put down a roadmap to peace.

My understanding is that the roadmap is to some extent a product of the Quartet, not just the United States.

And to be truthful it is not a crime to feel some sympathy for some people in the occupied territories. The dysfunction of their society, the tendency to radical and violent behavior as hurt them as much or more than anyone. They are incapable it seems of getting out of their own way. And that dooms the future generations, the children born and bred in that society of a decent future.

And besides, how many of the conservatives who are critical of Condi Rice and George Bush live here in the United States? It is easy to talk tough when you are removed and the whole thing becomes an exercise in political debate.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 4:23 AM

The following hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist

Dear Sirs,

There those who believe, as do I, that one of the major impediments to resolving the Palestinian/Israeli situation is Arab intransigence. This has been extremely useful to them as it has provided a great distraction for their own populations.

It now seems that they are greatly concerned with the growth of Iranian influence, as they should be. They see a very dangerous encirclement: Syria, Hezzbolah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, etc. It is possible that they now judge that this is a greater danger than domestic unrest no longer distracted by Israel. If so, the maneuvering by the Bush administration may not be as Sisyphean as perceived by its critics.


The above hissed in response by: Roy Lofquist [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 8:20 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/07/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 9:33 AM

The following hissed in response by: BD

As I think back on the days before Dr. Rice was sworn in as Secretary of State, I recall comment that she was being sent to State because (a) she agreed with the President on policy; and (b) her fierce loyalty to the President was being counted on to enable her to resist State's "clientitis" culture. In short, Dr. Rice was supposedly sent to State to begin cleaning up the mess(sort of like Porter Goss to CIA, but I digress).

While I don't "know", my suspicion is the President has abandoned any hope of changing the culture of the State Department in return for being able to finish out his term without them going into open (for DC, that is) rebellion.

IMO, the President compromised with the culture because doing otherwise would have doomed any potential for a satisfactory outcome in Iraq, etc.

He's made that sort of compromise numerous times since we went into Iraq. IMO, it's discouraged his supporters & emboldened his enemies - - - and it's yet to be seen whether it buys him the time to get Iraq finished.

The above hissed in response by: BD [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 12:08 PM

The following hissed in response by: Colin

I agree with Terrye that this doesn't signify some sort of fall from grace. There are a couple of scenarios that could be applicable here. One is that Bush, after pushing so hard against Arafat, really does believe that Abbas is a different sort of creature, and pushing ahead with a peace conference without the troublesome influence of HAMAS distorting the whole thing, could actually lead to a positive outcome (for the West Bank, at least). Slim chance of this happening? Sure, but it is still within the realm of possibility that this could occur.

Secondly, something Robert Kagan said in reference to the Iranians may be at play here. While the right is up in arms with the way the Administration has been going through the diplomatic kabuki dance at the UN in regards to Iran, Kagan said that this strategy may simply be an effort to "give futility a chance". Do everything you can in order to cover your backside before moving onto the more aggressive options available. This same dynamic may be at play in Annapolis. We put a lot of stock in Abbas. If he is unable to come to an agreement at the conference, we may need that diplomatic "failure" as cover for abandoning him.

This conference, if it is a failure, may be another example of "giving futility a chance". It may be a black eye for the Administration, but it may provide the excuse necessary (at least in regards to our allies in the region and Europe) to abandon Abbas like we did Arafat.

The above hissed in response by: Colin [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 1:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: DS

Thanks for posting on the long op-ed I wrote about Condoleezza Rice that was republished in FrontPage. I think that you are a little too hasty in accusing me of making unsupported logical leaps.

In the space alloted me in the article that was republished in FrontPage, I am careful to distinguish between two distinct possibilities:

A. Condoleezza Rice has said things -- either directly to Aluf Benn or to a political source he trusts -- that cite her own personal experience as a black girl in the South as a proof of her empathy for Palestinian suffering in the West Bank and Gaza.

B. Condoleezza Rice means what she says, in a heartfelt, deeply personal way.

I strongly believe that A is true, while I think that B is nonsense. I think the reasons are quite clear from the text of my article, which was intended as a commentary on Rice rather than a close reading of Aluf Benn's column in Haaretz. But since you asked:

1. Aluf Benn is a very reputable Israeli journalist who operates at a very high level in his profession, has interviewed Rice a number of times and has never been accused of fabricating a story before. Accusing Benn of this kind of conduct would be like accusing Thomas Friedman of making up one of his columns from scratch. Benn is not a random blog poster, but one of the five top political reporters and commentators in Israel, and I see no reason to doubt his reporting. When I say that Benn obviously felt his source was good enough for print, that means I wish he shared his source's name with his readers -- but I believe that what he presents as fact is true.

It is not at all clear to me that causing a fuss about Rice among fervent right-wingers would in any way further Benn's own political agenda. I am inclined to believe that the opposite is true. Benn's story is confirmed by the right-wing journalist David Bedein -- which argues against the idea that this story was fabricated to serve a left-wing agenda. Undermining Rice at this moment seems like the agenda of the hard right.

2. Benn himself clearly distinguishes the nugget of reporting that he presents as fact (Rice made a comparison between Palestine and the American South), and his further "guesses" about Rice's "personal feelings" -- which I label as "incendiary," and which are probably unsupported by anything besides Benn's imagination (although its always possible that Rice said those things, too).

3. I have interviewed Rice several times and she made a point of discussing the subject of race or the experience of her girlhood in Alabama each time, without my prompting her. She also discussed the subject of race in detail at a number of off-the-record meetings and dinners with journalists that I attended with her in Jerusalem. I therefore have little doubt that Rice said SOMETHING similar to what Benn reports at the beginning of his article, because Benn is a careful and honest reporter, because the comments she supposedly made -- however direct or vague -- would be entirely appropriate to her current role, and last but not least, because, in my own experience, she often seems to mention race and her childhood when asked to provide proof of her empathy with people in the Middle East.

From your post, you appear to believe in an entirely different possibility -- Possibility C -- namely, that Aluf Benn made up his entire column and the sources behind it as part of a left-wing plot to make Condoleezza Rice look bad. Based on my experience with Rice, and my knowledge of Benn and his reporting, I feel confident that the first paragraph of his column -- before he starts guessing -- is based on a solid source, and is therefore worth treating as fact.

Now comes the part that seems to have you especially confused: While I am confident that Rice did say something similar to what Benn suggests that she said, I also see no reason to believe that ANYTHING Rice says as Secretary of State -- direct or vague, or couched in the language of her deepest personal feelings or her personal biography -- has any necessary relation to how Condoleezza Rice actually feels inside.

Think it over: There is no logical contradiction here -- only the complexity of the relationship between a person's private feelings and their public role. Taking the first part of Benn's column as fact, I believe that Rice, the political operator, made a moral mistake by using the rhetoric of her "personal feelings" and her biography in a way that helps to support and shallow and invidious comparison between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the black struggle for civil rights in the American South. What concerns me about this rhetoric is precisely the fact that it is being used in a tactical way by the US Secretary of State. While I don't know or particularly care about Rice's own personal feelings, I also find it unlikely -- given her previous comments and history -- that she actually believes any of the things that Aluf Benn suggests that she does, no matter what she or her aides might whisper to politicians and reporters.

"The paradox of Rice's conduct," by the way, very clearly refers to the relation between her philosophical belief that events are decided by a long-term historical forces rather than individual interventions, and her current role as an activist secretary of state trying to broker a peace deal at an unpromising moment.

I would encourage you to read more carefully in the future, to avoid logic-chopping, and to be more judicious in your citations of other people's work.

The above hissed in response by: DS [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 7, 2007 1:46 PM

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