View Full Version : U.S. Stance Delights Neo-cons, Dismays Moderates

07-31-2006, 09:35 PM
US stance delights neo-cons, dismays moderates



A growing number of moderate Republicans and former Bush administration officials are alarmed by what they call Condoleezza Rice's "uneven-handed diplomacy" in the Middle East. Critics include Richard Haass, head of policy and planning at the State Department during the first Bush term and Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state.

However, after months of disillusionment, America's neo-conservatives have fallen in love again with the Bush administration because of its support for Israel's bombardment of Lebanon.

Neo-conservative criticism reached a peak after Ms Rice, secretary of state, offered conditional talks to Iran in late May on its nuclear programme. But their attacks on Mr Bush ceased after 12 July, when Israel launched its military campaign against Hizbollah.

"This is exactly the right strategy, which you could call 'Don't just do something, stand there [while Israel continues its military campaign]'," said David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, who helped draft the president's 2002 'Axis of Evil' address.

"What we are seeing are precisely the same divisions as we saw over Iraq with the neo-conservatives rallying behind Mr Bush and almost everyone else feeling rising panic at the direction of American diplomacy," said Francis Fukuyama, a former neo-conservative.

American public opinion is evenly divided on the merits of Israel's response to Hizbollah's raid. But almost two-thirds say that the US should play a neutral broker role between Israel and Lebanon, according to a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll. This has found an echo among some Republicans.

"The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to be isolated," said Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, in a speech at the weekend. "The war against Hizbollah and Hamas will not be won on the battlefield."

In spite of the American public's scepticism, Mr Bush is largely insulated from a political backlash by the muted stance of the opposition Democrats, who are nervous of being painted as weak on national security in the build-up to mid-term elections in November. Last week Hillary Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, scolded Nouri al-Maliki, the visiting Iraqi prime minister, for having criticised Israel.

"His refusal to denounce Hizbollah and his condemnation of Israel send exactly the wrong message about the importance of fighting terrorism and bringing stability and peace to the Middle East," said Mrs Clinton. "[He should] recognise the right of Israel to defend itself from terrorist aggression."

Criticism of Mr Bush by Washington's generally bipartisan think-tanks has grown shriller in recent days, particularly in the wake of the Israeli strike on Qana that killed dozens of civilians. It has focused on two areas: Washington's support for Israel's military campaign and Ms Rice's refusal to consider talking to Syria or to Iran.

"It is absolutely baffling to me and almost everyone I know – Republican or Democrat – how Ms Rice and Mr Bush think this strategy will achieve their objectives," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former head of the National Security Council. "The Bush administration is allowing itself to be suckered into believing it can achieve political goals through military means. They seem to have learned nothing from Iraq."

Mr Armitage, the last senior US official to talk to the government of Syria in 2004, said he "completely disagreed" with Ms Rice's des-cription of the conflict as the "birth pangs of a new Middle East". He said: "The administration has an irrational fear that talking is a sign of weakness. It is the best way of gathering information and influencing events."