Monday, April 21, 2008

Grading Condi

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Sunday called Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr a coward who's hiding in Iran and praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki for his recent offensive against Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the southern port city of Basra.
The March 25 government offensive sparked an uprising by Sadr's militia, and on Saturday, one day before Rice arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit, Sadr threatened an all-out war against the Iraqi government.
The Sadrists have angrily accused Maliki's U.S.-backed government of trying to undercut their movement prior to provincial elections in October, when they will likely win many of the Shiite southern provinces from their Shiite rivals in Maliki's government. If Sadr's militia, conservatively estimated at some 60,000 men, were to rise up, it could mean the end of the drop in violence in Iraq and an inter-sectarian war that could make it more difficult for the U.S. to withdraw any further troops from Iraq.
Thousands of government soldiers already have deserted in Basra and in Baghdad's Sadr City, refusing to fight the Shiite militia. Some deserted because of threats to their families, others from a moral objection by the mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces to fight their Shiite brothers.
Iraqi government officials have told McClatchy that Maliki, who gained wide support from Sunni officials for taking on the Mahdi Army, went into the fight with no preparation and now is in a battle that he can't extract himself from. U.S. support for Maliki puts U.S. forces on one side of a bloody intra-Shiite showdown.

The above is from Raviya Ismail's "Rice praises Maliki after Sadr calls for an open ended war" (McClatchy Newspapers). Condi gave several speeches. The US State Department's e-mailed three this morning. Let's start with her remarks in the press conference yesterday with US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. I think the following best represents how Condi spins in that. She's asked about last Tuesday's violence which really doesn't fit with the pretty picture the White House paints:

Well, there are going to be days when the extremists manage, despite the fact that they clearly are weakened, particularly in terms of their relationship with the population, there are going to be days where they manage to pull off a cowardly attack against innocent people. That is, unfortunately, going to happen. I would note that some of the violence is related to the -- is a byproduct of what was a very good decision by the Iraqis to not let Basra continue to be under the control of criminals and militias. And that, I think, is what has given the sense to the Iraqis that they have a new political opportunity, a window of opportunity, because I don't think you would have seen the kind of unity among the forces, the various political forces that you've seen today. But they really united around the Basra operation and I think they now see an opportunity to conclude a number of other elements of national reconciliation, to get the elections planned, to move forward on those elections. And they're also, quite rightly, proud of their security forces and the way that they've performed. And so that's why I think there is tremendous political -- you know, tremendous political opportunity here. They have to seize it. But there will be times when the extremists manage to pull off a car bombing or a suicide bombing against innocent people. Unfortunately, that will be the case.

Translation, Condi said there'd be days like that, there'd be days like that, Condi said, Condi said. Condi said there'd be days like that . . .

She claims, in the press conference that she knows Moqtada al-Sadr is "sitting in Iran." (Will she next press either temple and deduce where Osama bin Laden is sitting?) But she does something smart for her own strategy here, "His followers can go to their deaths, and he'll sit in Iran." That's really the card the White House should have been playing for months now. I'm not endorsing that, I'm just giving her credit for doing one thing right from the White House point of view. The White House wants to take al-Sadr's power from him. Her statement there is the sort of statement the White House should be making all the time. They do also run the risk of taunting him to respond. But if they want to take away his power, the easiest way is to underline daily, to residents of Sadr City, et al, "Hey, you're going through all this suffering and where's your leader?" That's not agreeing with the White House on my part, that's noting their goal has been to take away al-Sadr's power and every statement they've made and action they've taken has only increased his power. With that one statement, Rice did what the White House should have been doing all along to achieve what they wanted.

In response to the New York Times' Erica Goode's question, Condi then declares there will be $100 million in reconstruction to both Basra and Sadr City ($100 million each). She actually should have made that in context of the 'where's your leader' but equally true is that the White House and the puppet government have promised reconstruction so many times before (and never delivered) that it probably doesn't mean a thing at this point.

She's asked about the failures prior and what the difference is and she blows it completely (from the White House point of view). The correct propaganda from her lips would have been, "There have been problems, huge problems, before but what's happening in Basra and Sadr City is a new day and" blah, blah, blah "so therefore, reconstruction finally has a chance to really take place." She semi-gets there in her final two sentences. Those should have been her opening ones and she should have then expanded.

(If you can't tell, I'm reading a section, offering a critique and then moving on down.)

She fumbles a question clearly fed to her which really gets to what multiple members of Congress (Democrats and Republicans) raised in the week prior to the Petraeus & Crocker pony show as well as during that week which is there is no diplomatic surge and what exactly does Condi Rice do? Her response to the question implies nothing (she's just reviewed election plans).
Her statements are passive, nothing in them indicates leadership and nothing in them suggests that she's leading a diplomatic effort. She held some meetings, they talked about reconstuction, blah, blah, blah. Nothing any different from what she could have said last year or Colin Powell could have said in 2003 or 2004.

To a follow up on what she's doing (the question is not phrased as such), she offers, "Yeah, we talked mostly about what I would call technical matters" and the response you hear is America snoring. Does she do anything? From her statements, she's doing the same thing this trip that she's done before, over and over, and the American people know nothing has worked. For someone trying to sell the administration's policies, she's doing a very poor job and only affirming the American people's belief that the administration is at a stalemate and refusing to accept reality just because they don't want to be the ones left holding the bag -- instead they want to push it off on the next administration.

The only new thing she has to push is the Status of Forces Agreement. It's a hideous proposal and the administration wants to circumvent Congress. They have claimed that it's not a treaty but it clearly is and it commits the US military, as Senator Joe Biden has repeatedly pointed out, to take sides in the sectarian conflict in Iraq. She should be (from the administration's point of view) selling that and she's not even able to do that. She's all over the map with her comments on that, she's not introducing the topic, she's allowing it to be raised. She's really ineffectual.

"We talked about more" she says on neighbors getting involved (of course she doesn't mean Iran) and the only thing this press conference is going to result in is Americans wondering why tax payer money was wasted to send Condi to Iraq when all she did was gab? She emerges from her trip with nothing and she's not even a good enough liar (a la Henry Kissenger) to give the illusion that she's emerged from the trip with anything.

Repeating, the above criticism is not in support of the administration's illegal wars or their goals for the illegal wars. The critique is based on the fact that Condi Rice is supposed to be selling the illegal war and, in her role, she's doing a very poor job. Maybe she's lost her enthusiasm for it, maybe she's just the most ineffective Secretary of State the country's had, maybe she just had a really bad day? I don't know. I only know that question after question, statement after statement, she did nothing to (a) increase her own standing in the eyes of Americans or (b) offer any reason to the think "Now, the administration knows what it's doing."

They clearly don't but the whole point of a trip like this is to convince the American people otherwise and even the devoted, the last holdouts, will be scratching their heads over that press conference.

Okay, we're on to their second mailing. Here Condi's speaking in the Green Zone at the US embassy and we'll zoom in on this:

And for our men and women in uniform, for our Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service, the many other government agencies that are here, our coalition partners, I know you’re a long way from home and I know it’s been a tough period of time over the last several weeks as Iraqis have fought to take back their country from criminals and from those who would cause harm to innocent civilians. I know that it’s sometimes been that the Green Zone itself has been attacked, that you’ve gone through difficult times. And I just want to thank you and I want you to know that you’ve been in our thoughts and prayers every day.

Not good enough. The State Department is in revolt against Condi and you're going to see that more in the coming months. Currently, she and those under her are trying to sell the employees of the department on taking Iraq assignments. Those who serve and are serving in Iraq (in the State Dept) are very vocal to their peers about how unappreciated their work is and how there is no clear goal. It's that as well as the violence factor that has so many reluctant to take part (some also object privately to the illegal nature of the war). Condi's not Secretary of Defense and she's not speaking to a batallion. She's addressing State Dept employees and, yet again, they're taking a back seat to the military. She does that just with her sentence construction. This should have been her rally the troops speech and, in this case, the troops are those serving in the State Dept. They feel they have no leadership at the top and Condi immediately opening with the military (that she doesn't oversee) only confirms that.

If you're supervising the bottling line at Pepsi, you don't gather your employees under you and start off by thanking marketing and advertising. It's basic. She goes on to give what can only be described as an acceptance speech with thank yous here and there and everywhere and none have weight and anyone hearing the speech as it was given or reading later that works in the State Department would wonder if any of their work is at all appreciated because it's given as much weight as civilian contractors and the person delivering the food. She is the head of the State Dept and her first task is to convey the appreciation to State Dept employees working in Iraq. She fails.

Her first speech was with President Jalal Talbani and it appears written ahead of time (it has key points and is more focused). She gets the order right, as Secretary of State, in this sentence: "I'm now going to go over to our Embassy and have a chance to thank some of the American civilian and military personnel." the "and thank you again for a great meal" appears to be her only off the cuff remark.

Final grade: F.

Condi had a purpose within the administration which was to give the appearance that something different is taking place. It's not taking place, granted. But her job is to sell the belief that it is and she failed. As Secretary of State, she had the task to convey to those serving in the State Department that their work matters and that it is appreciated. Instead, she's tossing out thanks to all and not even thanking those working under her first. It was awful, it was appalling and since she may have to soon "draft" State Dept employees for Iraq assignments, it is a huge, huge mistake on her part. The trip was a complete bust on every level.

Turnign to campaign policits, the Senator who refused to oppose Condi's nomination to Secretary of the State Dept, Barack Obama came under fire from Senator John McCain yesterday. Juliet Eilperin (Washington Post) reports:

Obama's relationship with Ayers, McCain told Stephanopoulos, "is open to question. . . . Because if you're going to associate and have as a friend and serve on a board and have a guy kick off your campaign that says he's unrepentant, that he wished bombed more -- and then, the worst thing of all, that, I think, really indicates Senator Obama's attitude, is he had the incredible statement that he compared Mr. Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist, with Senator Tom Coburn, Senator Coburn, a physician who goes to Oklahoma on the weekends and brings babies into life -- comparing those two -- I mean, that's not -- that's an attitude, frankly, that certainly isn't in keeping with the overall attitude."

The remarks took place on yesterday's This Week (ABC) and the best Bambi's campaign can do is cry "not fair!" Not fair? When they connect Ayers to Dohrn (the leader of the Weather Underground) and start playing her speeches in commercials, what does Bambi plan to do? Dohrn's the leader, she was always the leader. Ayers is married to Dohrn. It is not going to make for a pleasant campaign should Bambi get the nomination. Bambi's remarks were idiotic. He had one of two ways to go: Immediately apologize or mount a defense. The latter might or might not have played well. But he did neither and offered evasions. Susan Rosenberg or Linda Evans can't be held responsible for Dohrn's remarks. They can say, "I was a member." Ayers wasn't just a member, he was in a relationship with the leader and they are married to this day. So when Dohrn's communiques are played non-stop in commercials, it will have a huge effect. If you're unfamiliar with her public statements declaring war on the US, you can listen to Pacifica's From The Vault Women's History Month special from last month. (And, as we noted in the roundtable, the host/announcer gets Bernardine's name wrong it in it and calls her "Bernadine" repeatedly.) Two things. One, that link goes directly to the special. That was at the start of last month and I don't believe From The Vault is available forever. You probably have a week or two to stream it unless it is. Second, Bernardine isn't going to be embarrassed by any of this. She firmly believes that Weather was the appropriate response to a lawless government and the amplification of her beliefs, ideas and statements will not be appalling to her. I'm not suggesting they should be. I'm noting that there are some e-mails saying, "Poor Bernardine" -- basically. Not poor Bernardine, she believes in what she did and is perfectly happy with the nation having a national dialogue about this. I'd be surprised if, in a general election, she remains silent. Bernardine is a revolutionary and she will not shy from offering her thoughts in the public market. I'd be surprised, if Bambi gets the nomination, if Prarie Fire wasn't picked up by a big publisher. She doesn't shy from controversy (this is the woman who regularly, and publicly, referred to herself as "an oven Jew"). That's the point Ava and I were making yesterday. The media spotlight has been on Bill Ayers. Bill was just a member goes the argument. But the reality is if Bill were Betty and involved with Che, the spotlight would have already shifted to Che. Bernardine was the leader. And when the spotlight shifts to her (the fundraisers -- and it's plural, only one has been reported by the press -- were held at Bernardine and Bill's home) that's when the feeding frenzy takes place because you have the leader on film and on tape. Bernardine is a revolutionary thinker and she was a media star before for good reason. It's as though they're reviewing Rebel Without A Cause and churning out copy on Natalie Wood dropping the scarf to start the race. Bernardine's the James Dean, the lead, in this story.

If you don't get that, think back to the attacks from The Nation and others for the reforming of SDS and how they all focused their attacks on Bernardine. With Bill, you've got him blowing up the statue in Chicago. He's a supporting character, Bernardine's the lead.

Hilda notes Matt Tepper's photo essay of Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. I'll note that her column tomorrow (Hilda's Mix) is going to be addressing how inclusive is and she's been in contact with a number of challenged and disabled community members to get their feedback as well. Hilda's been grading the official campaign sites throughout the campaign and this column will pull from past critiques as well as get the input from others with other disabilities. So be sure to check that out and why she feels Hillary's has been the best throughout the campaign.

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