Monday, June 05, 2006

Leadership and diplomacy: Bush, Rice, and the spinning of success in Iran

Last week, co-blogger Creature wrote about "a happy, bubble-busting, propaganda piece" in The Washington Post, as well as about a similar "kiss-ass-fest" in The New York Times -- see here. According to the Times, Bush is informed, engaged, and fully in command with respect to Iran. Indeed, Bush was the courageous impetus behind, in Creature's words, "our willingness, for the first time in almost three decades, to join in direct talks with [the Iranians]".

The "talks" in question pertain to the carrot-and-stick approach to the Iranian nuclear situation agreed to by the U.S. and five other major powers, including Russia and China.

The White House would no doubt like us to believe that Bush was the driving force behind this latest effort -- an effort that may not go anywhere, as Iran likely will not agree to halt its uranium enrichment program, the necessary condition to receive any carrots). Let's assume for the moment that Bush was indeed what the White House would like us to believe he was and what the Times gullibly said he was. Did he have a choice? Not really. A military strike prior to exhaustive diplomacy is simply out of the question. The backlash worldwide, and not least in Iraq and from al Qaeda, would be enormous. Far too enormous. Even Bush isn't that foolhardy. Not now anyway. Could Bush leave diplomacy to Europe? No. Russia and China, neither of which even supports sanctions, weren't about to go along with E.U.-led negotiations. Besides, the Europeans were getting nowhere.

All of which is to say that Bush had little choice but to reach out to Tehran and to pursue "talks". All of which is to say further that Bush is likely not what the White House would like us to believe he was and what the Times gullibly said he was.

But the spin will go on. Why? Because Bolten says it must.

And yet...

Now we have this: The Post -- which has of late been exceedingly gullible, too -- is reporting that the key figure in reversing course towards diplomacy was not Bush but Condi Rice. It was she who met with Blair, Chirac, and Merkel, not to mention with Russian and Chinese officials. It was she who "felt the need to jump-start the talks and take control of the situation" according to one U.S. official.

Of course, Bush could still have been pulling Rice's strings and this gullible-in-its-own-right Post article claims that, regardless, "there was essentially no dissent among Bush's top advisers on joining the talks," nor from the Pentagon, nor even much from Cheney himself. A little too neat, don't you think? A little too packaged for mass media consumption, no? Surely that, along with Bush's ferocious leadership, is precisely what the White House wants us to believe.

Still, this seems to be the counterweight to the Bush-as-courageous-leader narrative: "[T]he administration's about-face, as recounted by U.S. officials, shows the dominant influence of Rice on the policymaking process. A year ago, she persuaded Bush to back the European talks with Iran. Conservatives were concerned but went along, thinking the European effort would fail. Now, Rice has moved the administration to a point unimaginable at the start of the second term."

What's true and what isn't? Who's ultimately behind this "breakthrough" with Iran -- Bush or Rice? Perhaps both stories, both spins, are equally true. And equally not. With this White House -- so lousy at policy, so adept at communications -- who knows?

Beyond the memoirs, those yarns of spin, from all the key players, perhaps some future historian will let us in on what really happened here. The spin is thick, but the truth must be in there somewhere.

But back to the treacherous present: We ought to pay close attention to the situation in and around Iran (as it is, not as they, the spinmeisters and the gullible ones, tell us it is). After all, for all this wonderfully optimistic news of Bush's leadership, Rice's diplomacy, and the supposed diplomatic breakthrough, this latest, much-ballyhooed effort could turn out to be utterly futile.

And then what? Spin won't solve the Iranian nuclear problem. And that will leave the White House without much ammunition at all.

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