Coincidence or Consequence?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, July 27, 2006; 1:22 PM

As the Bush White House is jolted by one confounding overseas crisis after another, the obvious question emerges: Is it just a coincidence? Or is it a consequence of President Bush's foreign policy?

Peter Baker examines the breadth of Bush's problems in The Washington Post: "The discord at a conference in Rome yesterday over a proposed cease-fire in Israel and Lebanon underscored the widening gap between the United States and Europe over how to stop the fighting. And the images of mayhem from the two-week-old war, combined with the rising death toll in Iraq, have further rattled a domestic audience that polls show was already uncertain about Bush's leadership.

"For the president, the timing could not be much worse. In a second term marked by one setback after another . . . the president faces the challenge of responding to events that seem to be spinning out of control again, all but sidelining his domestic agenda for the moment and complicating his effort to rally the world to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. . . .

"At home, political strategists said, Bush faces the perception that he is presiding over one brushfire after another, hindered in his efforts to advance a positive agenda at a time when Republican control of Congress appears at risk."

Self-Inflicted Wounds

So what's happening here? Consider this Greek chorus of three seasoned journalists, all long-time observers of the foreign scene.

Michael Hirsch (here's his bio ) writes in Newsweek: "The Bush administration has fought the 'war on terror' [with] . . . one lunatic leap of logic after another based on unreliable sources, linking up enemies that had little to do with each other. . . . The president has used Al Qaeda to gin up the threat from Iraq, just as he is now conflating Hizbullah and Hamas with Al Qaeda as 'terrorists' of the same ilk. . . .

"What's sad is that the 'war on terror' began as a fairly straightforward affair. Al Qaeda hit us. Then we went after Al Qaeda. . . . We had a lot of support around the world in pursuit of our mission to hunt these men down, kill them or capture them and do with them as we pleased.

"But inexorably, month by month, the Bush administration broadened the war on terror to include ever more peoples and countries, especially Saddam's Iraq, relying on thinner and thinner evidence to do so. And what began as a hunt for a relatively contained group of self-declared murderers like bin Laden became a feckless dragnet of tens of thousands of hapless Arab victims. . . .

"Today, more from the muddled strategic thinking of the Bush administration than the actual threat from Al Qaeda, the 'war on terror' has become an Orwellian nightmare: an ill-defined war without prospect of end. We are now nearly five years into a war against a group that was said to contain no more then 500 to 1,000 terrorists at the start. . . . The war just grows and grows. And now Lebanon, too, is part of it."

Jonathan Freedland (here's his bio ) writes in the Guardian: "It's fashionable to blame the US for all the world's ills, but in this case the sins, both of omission and commission, of the Bush administration genuinely belong at the heart of the trouble. . . .

"Bush's animating idea has been that the peoples of the Middle East can be bombed into democracy and terrorised into moderation. It has proved one of the great lethal mistakes of his abominable presidency -- and the peoples of Israel and Lebanon are paying the price."

And, after watching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stubbornly block an international consensus for a humanitarian cease-fire in Lebanon, Christopher Dickey writes in Newsweek (here's his bio ): "When I heard Condi talking in pitiless academic pieties today about 'strong and robust' mandates and 'dedicated and urgent action,' I actually felt sorry for her, for our government, and for Israel. As in Iraq three years ago, the administration has been blinded to the political realities by shock-and-awe military firepower. Clinging to its faith in precision-guided munitions and cluster bombs, it has decided to let Lebanon bleed, as if that's the way to build the future for peace and democracy."

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