Archives for July 2007

EDITORIAL: Beware of Americans bearing gifts

Beware of Americans bearing gifts

In suggesting how … a brand strategy might be applied to the United States, Business for Diplomatic Action’s chair, advertising guru Keith Reinhard, suggests a simple yet elegant promise: “We will help you.”

This little gem comes from, “Enlisting Madison Avenue – The marketing approach to earning popular support in theaters of operation,” a RAND Corporation report [PDF] for which the Pentagon recently paid a handsome $400,000.

My guess is that someone dropped a copy on Karl Rove’s desk and he passed it along to Frank Luntz with a simple request: Please distill these 211 pages into a message we can use. Word came back: Get Bush and Rice to use the word “help” as often as possible.

So, when Bush recently made a half-baked effort to warm up the Middle East peace process, he managed five helps in five sentences. Quite impressive!

… all responsible nations have a duty to help clarify the way forward. By supporting the reforms of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, we can help them show the world what a Palestinian state would look like — and act like. We can help them prove to the world, the region, and Israel that a Palestinian state would be a partner — not a danger. We can help them make clear to all Palestinians that rejecting violence is the surest path to security and a better life. And we can help them demonstrate to the extremists once and for all that terror will have no place in a Palestinian state.

Now, in the same spirit, Condi is touring the region and she’s intent on showing what a reliable helper the U.S. wants to be by handing out weapons like Christmas gifts.

What the administration is demonstrating — for the umpteenth time — is that the abuse of language has an effect: In short order your words come to mean nothing.

The only unambiguous message that this administration has managed to convey is that its word carries no weight. “Help,” “democracy,” “peace,” “progress,” — these have as much substance as bubbles floating in a breeze. They glisten, then vanish.


NEWS: White House isn’t backing Iraq Study Group follow-up

White House isn’t backing Iraq Study Group follow-up
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 12, 2007

Despite an overwhelming House vote last month to revive the Iraq Study Group, the White House has blocked reconvening the bipartisan panel to provide a second independent assessment of the military and political situation in Iraq, said several sources involved in the panel’s December 2006 report.

Co-Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, several panel members and the U.S. Institute of Peace, which ran the study group, were willing to participate, according to Hamilton and the congressionally funded think tank. But the White House did not give the green light for co-chairman and former secretary of state James A. Baker III to participate, and Baker is unwilling to lead a second review without President Bush’s approval, according to members of the original panel and sources close to Baker.

White House support is critical for any follow-up review. “It is not likely to happen unless the White House approves it,” Hamilton, a Democratic former congressman from Indiana, said in an interview. “The group can’t go ahead without its concurrence or acquiescence, as we need travel support and access to documents.” [complete article]


COMMENTARY: “The Bush administration is testing a new rationale for attacking Iran” – Stephen Kinzer

The new drumbeat on Iran
By Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian, July 11, 2007

Why attack Iran? War hawks in Washington are having trouble answering that question. Even their dire warnings about Iran’s nuclear program have not been enough to alarm Americans already weary of Middle East conflicts.

Now the war drums have taken on a different tone. The Bush administration is testing a new rationale for attacking Iran: We must strike because Iranians are killing our soldiers in Iraq.

This is not simply a charge made by one state against another in the hope that a misguided policy will be changed. It is also part of a calculated effort to find an argument for bombing Iran that Americans will accept.

The politically ambidextrous Senator Joseph Lieberman, a vigorous supporter of Israel and the Iraq war, floated the new gambit a couple of weeks ago. He calculated that Iran-trained units fighting in Iraq, and weapons from Iran or manufactured with Iranian help, have been responsible for the death of 200 American soldiers.

If Iran does not change course, he said, the United States should “take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq.” [complete article]


NEWS: New U.S. intelligence assessment casts doubts on Bush’s Iraq policy

New U.S. intelligence assessment casts doubts on Bush’s Iraq policy
By Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, July 11, 2007

The Shiite Muslim-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has made only “halting efforts” to end the power struggle fueling the war between Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities, a new U.S. intelligence report said Wednesday.

Even if the bloodletting can be contained, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders will be “hard pressed” to reach lasting political reconciliation, the report stated.

The report, reflecting the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, cast new uncertainty about the chances of success for President Bush’s plan to contain the war through the deployment of an additional 28,000 U.S. troops, mostly in and around Baghdad.

The conclusions also appeared to be bleaker than a White House assessment produced by the top U.S. officials in Baghdad, which found that Iraqi politicians have made satisfactory progress on some of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress in May. [complete article]


NEWS: The impossible task set for an embattled government

The impossible task set for an embattled government
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, July 11, 2007

The benchmarks the Iraqi government is meant to achieve in exchange for US support were never realistic and have more to do with American than Iraqi politics.

The weak and embattled Iraqi government is supposed to make changes which the US at the height of its power in Iraq failed to make stick. At stake are policies deeply divisive among Iraqis that are to be introduced at the behest of a foreign power, the US, in a way that makes the Iraqi government look as if it is a client of America.

One US benchmark is for the elimination of militias and an end to sectarian violence. But the Shia-Kurdish parties that make up the ruling coalition almost all have their own powerful militias that they have no intention of dissolving. In much of southern Iraq the militias and the local police forces are the same. In almost all cases units of the security forces are unwilling to act against their own community. [complete article]