Friday, January 19, 2007

A Fool's Errand

Damn boy, for a psychologist (or psychiatrist or whatever the hell he is) Bagnews can sure get a little ruthless with his powers of observation.  I read him everyday, but haven’t seen anything as cold-blooded as his recent post, Condi’s Middle East Scrapbook: The January ’07 Inserts.  And the fact that he’s not particularly rude and allows the pictures to do the talking just underscores how cold-blooded the whole thing is.  

And we can add to that his Huffington Post entry: Condi’s “New Horizon” , in which he so deftly states:
Because, when it comes to Ms. Rice, there is no operative or working strategy, no sign of formulation in progress, nothing.  Just pictures.  And sound bites.  And they aren't even her sound bites!


And this can be combined with the clip I saw on Colbert last night of Donald Trump (of all people) also dishing out on Rice, by pointing out that she was merely going to the middle-east for photo-ops and hand-waving, rather than engaging in necessary negotiations.  And for all of Trump’s flaws and egotisms, the guy knows negotiation and knows he’s not seeing it now.  And for Mr. Pizzazz to be criticizing someone for lack of substance…ouch.

Diplomacy for Dummies

And the thing is, for all people have talked about how bright Condi is, I’ve just never seen it.  What I’ve seen is a tenacious person with a good memory for intelligent-sounding phrases, who knows some basic techniques of office politics and power plays, but little else.  And even there, she’s been constantly upstaged by Cheney and Rumsfeld, who are two of America’s toughest empty suits.  

But I’ve never seen anything from her to indicate that she was truly intelligent; if, for no other reason, an intelligent person would have done much better at her job and would have been able to outmaneuver Cheney.  As things were, she was denied her proper role as National Security Advisor, instead being relegated to being Bush’s Foreign Policy Nurse Maid; rather than acting as the nexus of America’s intelligence community.  And even as Secretary of State, she seems dead in the water.

But this goes beyond her and includes Cheney and the rest of the whole aggressive conservative movement that tried dooming things for Reagan the way they’ve doomed things for Bush.  Sure, they’ve always thought negotiation was a sign of weakness, but it was always assumed they did this as part of a strategy.  That’s always what they wanted people to believe.  That they could be master diplomats if they chose to, but they chose not to, because they thought diplomacy was for losers.  And that’s still the stance Cheney takes.

But the truth is much more simple: They suck at diplomacy.  They can’t negotiate.  They don’t know the basics of it, and aren’t even sure how it’s supposed to work at all.  And this is the real reason they never trusted it.  Not because it was always being misused, but because they never understood how it was supposed to work in the first place.  The only game they know how to play is hardball, and if that doesn’t work for them, they imagine that everything else must be hopeless.  And with them in charge, it is.

It’s like a caveman trying to use a buzzsaw.  Sure, it’d help them greatly if they could use it, but they’d probably hurt themselves right off the bat and insist that it was evil.  And that’s exactly what these morons do.  They don’t see the limits of their abilities and just imagine that the tools are dangerous.

Cowboy Diplomacy

And sure, this is probably also Bush’s fault, because he’s such a schmuck on this front too.  He likes to see himself as the Cowboy President or whatever, and thinks diplomacy’s for losers.  But he really wouldn’t be too hard to work around, if they could actually get things to work.  They could explain it to him in posse-talk, I’m sure.  Or perhaps show him a clip of The Magnificent Seven, and he’d start to understand the importance of working with others.

But they can’t, due to their own shortcomings and blindspots.  Rice hops around the middle-east and somehow just expects diplomacy to happen.  As if it’s all photo-ops and sound bites.  And it’s not.  Those are the trappings of diplomacy, but they aren’t even a significant part of it.  It’s like an alien race trying to duplicate Christmas by wrapping empty boxes and can’t understand why it seems so pointless.

But she doesn’t know what else to do and she’s unlikely to have any underlings who can help her out.  The Bush Admin is full of idiots who have been raised to believe that diplomacy can’t work and is a fool’s errand, and all the real diplomats would have left or been pushed out long ago.  But they know all the action’s in the middle-east and that people seem to get excited when they travel there and talk to important people; so they keep doing it, hoping that it will finally work out for them.

And so there she is, hopping around.  Meeting with diplomatic minds far superior to her own, who must be wondering what the hell she’s doing there and when she’s finally going to get down to business.  Because in the dog-eat-dog middle-east, you’d have to be fairly diplomatic to rise to the top and stay there; while in the American conservative evolutionary chain, it only took the ability to appear tougher-than-thou.  

And that’s all they really see when it comes to diplomacy: More posturing, more bullshit, and pointless speechifying.  And that’s why when they send Condi to the middle-east, yet again, it really is just a fool’s errand.  And in that regard, they sent the right person for the job.


adam said...

As usual, I like this insight, but I'd add a twist to it:

I've been on a West Wing kick lately, and as I was watching a Season 2 episode last night (negotiating with an African president for AIDS medication) it struck me that I can't really envision the Bush Administration doing real diplomacy, because I can't see them tying together all the necessary elements.

What I mean by that is that diplomacy often requires a lot of carrot-and-stick games, negotiating on many, many different fronts in order to come to a comprehensive solution. The Administration isn't constrained by an inability to understand all the moving parts as much as they're so politically-driven that they can't upset the delicate balance anywhere. Their ideology binds their politics so tightly that they don't really have any carrots to deploy, because they'd risk pissing off some part of their psychotic constituency.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Sorry Adam, but I'm just not buying it. Because these people have been doing this same stuff since back in the Reagan days and even going back to Ford's presidency. They just don't like diplomacy. We're talking about people who were angered by Reagan's visit to Moscow, because they thought it was too soft on the "Evil Empire". Yet that was a smart move and probably should have happened sooner. And they were always against any nuke agreements with the Soviets. Like I said, for them, diplomacy's for losers.

And beyond that, these people respect no balance at all. That's part of their problem. They think they can promise everything to everyone, and that there is no limitation to what they can do. The only reason they don't try to woo us is because we're the evil ones that they use to woo their base. So they need to offend us. Unfortunately, that won't work as a longterm plan, as they're now seeing.

Beyond that, they firmly believe in doing everything in private, and if there's one thing that can be done in private, it's negotiations in the middle-east. Because many of these regimes are unlikely to want people to know what they're agreeing to. Because many of their people truly hate America and Israel, and could get really upset if it was known how much their country was helping us. In fact, that's a post I'm working on right now: A reminder that leaders can only lead if they stay within the expectations of their followers.

And I think it's too easy for the Bushies to convince their base that any successful negotiations prove that Democracy Is Winning. Not because it's true, but because they're so desperate to find a win.

Thus said, I've never seen an episode of West Wing, so it's possible they've covered territory that could convince me otherwise. But I doubt it. But if you can suggest some specific areas that could become imbalanced by negotiations, I might reconsider.

adam said...

Again, let me say that I think there's some truth to what you said.

But I think you'll agree with me that even Reagan and Bush Sr. were pragmatists, to some degree. They talked a tough game, but they certainly weren't above making some concessions somewhere to get what they wanted.

I think that stands in stark contrast to the people who are running diplomacy today. They're not just intransigent or trying to project a tough-guy image. With the exception of Bush, who's clearly a nitwit. So the question is: why are these people doing something so clearly moronic? I mean, not just bad policy: moronic.

You point to the answer, I think: they really have promised everything to everyone. They are constrained at absolutely every level from making concessions.

If you want a concrete example, the first one that comes to my mind is HIV assistance to Africa. But I need to go and update myself on that one to see if they're still conditioning all AIDS assistance on abstinence-only education or whatever other hare-brained notion the religious right has in its head.

Great weather we're having, no?

Doctor Biobrain said...

Adam, you ask why these people are doing such moronic policies, but have already answered your own question. They don't do diplomacy. These are the people who denounced Reagan for his diplomacy with the Soviets. You went ahead and made my point, so why bother giving them credit by looking for other explanations when the obvious one is right in front of you.

And I still don't know what you're talking about regarding them being limited from diplomacy. Because the nutjobs are in charge. The people wanting to tie AIDS assistance to abstinence-only education are in the Whitehouse. It might not be Bush, as I'm fairly sure that even he doesn't really know what he stands for. But they're all over the administration and in top spots. They're the ones advising him. That's not a nod to the Dobsons. That's exactly what they want. And when it comes to moronic foreign policy, that's Cheney's trademark going back to his days in the Ford Administration.

And again, it would be very easy for them to negotiate privately in the middle-east and never tell anyone what they gave-up. But they don't want to. And it was the same way in the Reagan days. As this NY Times op/ed suggests, the neo-cons wanted to win the Cold War, while Reagan wanted to end it. And that's why they opposed Reagan's diplomacy with the Soviets and thought it was foolish.

And now, it's those same neo-cons in charge of things. And they were as wrong about the Soviets as they are about the middle-east. Reagan's diplomacy did help end the Cold War, while the neo-cons (especially Cheney) just couldn't even realize when it was over. Even after the wall fell, they were convinced that it would only be won by military might. And even now, they insist that it was Reagan's aggressive stance that defeated the Soviets, while ignoring his diplomatic efforts that they had criticized. It was James Baker and his people who pushed for diplomacy with the Soviets, and it was his commission who suggested we work with Iran and Syria now. And it's Cheney and Condi who are insisting that such diplomacy is impossible.

Unless you've got some argument to suggest that they've suddenly changed, I think we're stuck with concluding that they don't understand diplomacy.