There Are Worse Things Than the Status Quo
Condi's witless optimism about the Middle East.
Sociologists often say that fighting urban crime requires eliminating the "root causes." Here too there are disputes over just what those root causes are. But cities don't wait until they've figured it out before taking action; they hire police to hit the streets and go after criminals.
At her Friday press conference, Secretary Rice spoke like a big-city mayor who, in the middle of a crime wave, announces that he's not going to put more police on the streets; he's going to convene a summit to address the wave's root causes.
There's nothing wrong with convening a summit; but, meanwhile, put police on the streets to catch criminals—or, to drop the metaphor, stop the killing (which almost certainly won't give Israel the upper hand in any case) and put troops on the borders to keep the peace.
This "old Middle East" is a very old beast indeed, yet its fangs are still sharp and its bite deadly. It's a good idea to be on the lookout for an opportunity to kill the thing or to knock it out and change its nature before it wakes up. But until that opportunity arises, as past presidents have learned, there's no choice but to put up with it and either push or talk it down every time it tries to go on the warpath.
And, by the way, just what is this "new Middle East" that Rice sees rousing in its "birth pangs"? Is it really better than the creature of old? Does she think it's a sibling of the peaceful, tolerant, democratic Middle East that her president believed would rise up in the wake of Saddam Hussein's collapse? That toddler didn't turn out so well. Is there any sign that the pangs of Lebanon might produce a gentler kid than the pangs of Iraq? If there is a new Middle East on the horizon, it's more likely to bear crescent arcs and hidden imams. It's not a creation that any Western diplomat should be "pushing forward." Its potential emergence provides still more reason to contain all violent outbursts as quickly as possible, not to let them run their course.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Condoleezza Rice by Oussama Ayoub/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.