Editor’s note: In this column, Truthdig editor in chief Robert Scheer argues that Condoleezza Rice, in calling the Israel-Lebanon crisis simply the “birth pangs of a new Middle East,” underscored the Bush administration’s blindness to the disastrous effects its foreign policy has wrought.

The Bush foreign policy, from coddling Pakistan’s nuclear bomb-making to cheerleading Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, is in a free fall of such alarming consequence that it may be difficult to grasp.

Certainly that is the case for President Bush, who has been reduced to helplessly hoping the United Nations can get Syria “to stop doing this s—,” and for U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who blithely announced Monday that we are just watching the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”

By Rice’s logic, Hurricane Katrina was just the labor contractions of the new New Orleans. All the Mideast needs now, apparently, is a nice epidural and some ice chips to suck on.

The mass media similarly have lost the thread, treating the downward spiral of violent madness in the world as little more than an exciting — and profitable — war story, demanding slick logos and montages of explosions set to rock music. It’s also convenient to the neoconservatives, who prattle on about this being World War III, allowing them to silence critics, justify torture and invade privacy while conveniently covering for the failure of their Iraq invasion to produce the U.S.-friendly democracies they promised. Any hope that Rice’s ascendancy in the Bush administration signaled a more sensible direction for U.S. foreign policy has been exposed as wishful thinking.

“I have no interest in diplomacy for the sake of returning Lebanon and Israel to the status quo ante. I think it would be a mistake,” she told journalists. “What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is the growing — the birth pangs of a new Middle East and, whatever we do, we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.”

Funny how the new Middle East looks suspiciously like the old one: It is as if Rice doesn’t know Israel already tried invading southern Lebanon, in 1982, with Hezbollah being the reactionary development to the Israel Defense Forces’ 18-year-long occupation. Similar feelings of dj vu surround the latest visit to Washington by a new Iraqi “government” leader who, practically speaking, rules nothing. The White House will cite the arriving Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki as a living example of the “new” Middle East being fostered by Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. Never mind that the prime minister is himself a militant Shiite, long-sheltered in Syria and given political tutelage by the mullahs of Iran — or that he has pointedly attacked “Israeli aggression” in Lebanon, a position endorsed unanimously by the Iraqi parliament.

After all, what choice does Bush have? His nation-building experiment has led to the destruction of the Sunni power elite, which was once embraced by U.S. leaders such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a boon ally against radical Shiite Iran.

The Sunnis are, of course, quite upset that Bush has perversely managed to extend the arc of Shiite fanaticism from Lebanon to Iraq. Last week, Iraq’s top elected Sunni politician, Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al Mashadani, denounced the “U.S. occupation” of his country as “butcher’s work under the slogan of democracy and human rights and justice.”

Apparently not content to spark both conventional and ethnic-cleansing wars in the region, Bush is also heightening the risk of a nuclear war. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that our war-on-terror ally Pakistan is completing work on a secret reactor that can produce enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons … a year. The Bush administration apparently didn’t tell Congress this little tidbit, perhaps embarrassed that its decision after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to lift sanctions imposed on Pakistan because of its nuke bomb tests had backfired so dangerously.

Not only does this development threaten to accelerate a nuclear arms race among Pakistan, India and China, it further likens the possibility of nuclear proliferation to rogue nations. After all, it was Pakistan — not Hussein’s Iraq — that, by its own admission, was the source of nuclear technology and fuel for North Korea, Libya and Iran.

Don’t expect the utter failures of Bush’s policies to humble its neoconservative authors, however. Not content with having shattered the fragile peace of the Mideast, potential GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his ilk are now pushing for a dramatic escalation of U.S. militarism sold under the self-fulfilling banner of WWIII.

Describing all this suffering as a necessary step on the path to a glorious future is a devilishly convenient strategy for excusing, in an election year, a reckless foreign policy that, so far, has been nothing short of disastrous.

But aside from a few million hapless civilians caught in the middle, who really cares, right?

Creators Syndicate Inc.

E-mail: [email protected]


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