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A Neocon Curtain Call

A Neocon Curtain Call
by Rami G. KhouriReleased: 11 Jun 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On my first day in Washington, D.C. at the start of a two-month summer fellowship, I was reminded of the special and unique qualities that define erratic foreign policy-making in the United States. A story in Monday morning's Washington Post reviewed remarks last week by former State Department senior official Elizabeth Cheney to the leading pro-Israeli lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

What was striking about her remarks was her capacity to continue out of office the same intensity and breadth of incompetence and failure that defined her years as principal deputy assistant secretary of state until early 2006. The gist of her comments included statements that the Annapolis peace process was misguided. The United States had not pressured Syria enough. The United States was at its best when it was tough and decisive. And the United States was "fundamentally mistaken" to push for elections in Gaza in 2006 that were won by Hamas.

Here's a particularly representative quotation: "In my view, this administration has gotten it right when we have been bold, when we have been decisive, when we have been focused, when we have used our military force when necessary."

The amazing but troubling thing about this sort of thinking in Washington is that it perpetuates an aura of toughness, while disregarding the catastrophic consequences to America's standing and influence abroad as a direct result of these failed policies that rely so heavily on guns -- instead of sensible analysis and quality diplomacy. Elizabeth Cheney is like an intellectual and ideological cluster bomb that keeps exploding, and killing and injuring people, years after it has been dropped and fallen out of sight.

She is not alone, of course, for her views accurately reflect those of a once robust population of neo-conservative political leaders and obsequious technocrats in Washington, which has been severely depleted by defections, indictments, and dismissals. The neo-cons' greatest legacy, to date, has been a collective failure that many of them simply refuse to grasp.

Here's another Cheney gem from her AIPAC remarks: "I think that getting back to a situation where our enemies in the region understand that America will stand up for its friends, that America will stand up for its principles and that we have red lines is critically important."

This sort of blindness to the realities of the real world is not inherited from her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, who holds similar views. No, this is self-made madness. The misguided nonsense that she espouses is so profoundly wrong and so intensely inane that it has to be generated by a life-long process of adult intellectual regression and political chicanery. Her father will not do it, so someone among her circle of friends should take her aside and quietly tell her that while she gets the accolades of the AIPAC audience, virtually the entire rest of the world reacts to this sort of performance with a combination of personal embarrassment for her, and deep political disdain for her capacity to insult us with this sort of blind buffoonery.

The reality is precisely the opposite of what she portrays. The United States' insistence on using power unilaterally in the Middle East, and "standing up" for its friends by stoking domestic battles and mini-civil wars in the Middle East, has turned the region into a cauldron of intemperance and violence. It is precisely when the United States has been "bold, decisive and focused" that it has generated enormous resistance to its policies throughout the region, put its allies in more vulnerable situations, strengthened the forces of Islamist militancy, stoked the furnace of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and even given democracy a bad name.

It is incomprehensible to me that someone like Elizabeth Cheney, whose responsibilities included promoting democracy and human rights, would argue against holding elections in the Palestinian territories. Now she argues that it was a mistake to push for the elections, when in fact the real mistake was for Washington to spinelessly fall in line with Israeli dictates and boycott the victorious Hamas party.

The right thing to do would be to honor the essence of the democratic process, and bring Hamas and Israel into an honorable diplomatic process that aspires to achieve the equal rights of both people. Only once did I meet Elizabeth Cheney while she was in office and watch her perform, and what I saw and heard then was frightening in her misdiagnosis of the cause of the tensions in the Middle East, and brutal in its misdirected intellectual violence. It is saddening to see her persist in this same vein. She is among the last of a dying breed, these few performers on a horror show stage that has been largely deserted by its public audience, and thankfully is soon to be shut down forever.


Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright © 2008 Rami G. Khouri

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Released: 11 June 2008
Word Count: 806
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Rights & Permissions Contact: Agence Global,
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