This Is Diplomacy?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, August 7, 2006; 2:22 PM

As President Bush's foreign policy oscillates between "cowboy diplomacy" and "post-cowboy diplomacy" and back again, it's worth pointing out that it's not really correct to call it diplomacy if he invariably refuses to talk to people who disagree with him.

The U.N. resolution Bush was pushing this morning from his vacation home in Texas bears the hallmarks of non-diplomacy: It's a supposed cease-fire resolution that the parties most desperate for a cease fire are condemning as unworkable, unsatisfactory and doomed.

Perhaps that's because the Bush administration is only engaging in direct talks with one party to the hostilities: Israel. The United States refuses to conduct negotiations with Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran.

And the views of the democratically-elected government of Lebanon -- where the continuing Israeli air strikes have killed more than 550 people, mostly civilians -- are being dismissed by the White House as the overly emotional arguments of people who don't know what's best for them.

At a morning press availability, (here's the transcript ) Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brushed off Lebanese opposition to the proposed agreement, which would keep Israeli troops in Southern Lebanon until an international force is ready to help relieve them.

Bush made it clear that the continued presence of Israeli troops in Lebanon is non-negotiable. "We must not create a vacuum," he said.

Asked about Lebanese objections, Rice responded dismissively: "I understand how emotional this is for the Lebanese."

Said Bush: "I understand both parties aren't going to agree with all aspects of the resolution, but the intent of the resolutions is to strengthen the Lebanese government so Israel has got a partner in peace." (Israeli reaction to the agreement, by the way, while muted, has been positive.)

Both Bush and Rice were dispassionate about the carnage in the region, savoring instead what they insist are important geopolitical gains. An unconditional cease-fire three weeks ago, Rice said, "would not have addressed any of these items that both sides know are going to have to be addressed if we're going to have a sustainable cease-fire in the future.

"So this has been time that's been well-spent over the last couple of weeks."

Asked about his administration's continued refusal to engage with Syria, Bush said, "We have been in touch with Syria." But the contacts he cited date back to long before last year's withdrawal of the U.S. ambassador in Damascus. And he showed little enthusiasm for two-way communication. "Syria knows what we think," he insisted. "They know exactly what our position is."

Responding to specific questions about the resolution and the conflict, Bush tirelessly dipped into his small store of stock answers, repeatedly extolling the universal appeal of liberty and asserting the importance of addressing the "root cause" of the violence -- terrorists in general, Hezbollah in particular -- as part of "the great challenge of the 21st century."

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