Bush And Cheney Have Squandered Our Regional Influence
The Haditha massacre and Rumsfeld’s cover-up of it may be the spark that firmly turned the new Iraqi government against us. Hours after presenting his credentials to the White House as Iraq’s newest ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Samir al-Sumaidaie told ABC News that he believes that the Marines murdered his cousin in Haditha five months before the November 2005 massacre, when he simply opened the door of his house. Keep in mind this isn’t the claim of some Al Qaeda-inspired Sunni insurgent or a member of the Badr brigade, this is the claim of the new Iraqi government’s man in Washington. And the ambassador also claims that our senior commander General George Casey refused to investigate his cousin’s killing. I suspect that the ambassador will not be a lapdog inside the Beltway.
As for the massacre itself, the New York Times reports today that only after Time Magazine reported on the massacre in February did Central Command begin an investigation into the killings. And the initial findings from that investigation in February and March of this year contradicted the accounts from the Marines on the scene, and called into doubt any claim that the Iraqi civilians were killed as a result of a roadside bomb. And what gave the investigators pause? The fact that the civilians didn’t die of bomb injuries, but rather from gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Yet a full-blown criminal investigation wasn’t launched until recently, and Rumsfeld sat on this, apparently without telling Bush anything about the incident. Yet Bush keeps him in his job, seemingly happy with this ineptitude and irresponsibility.
Things have shifted against us in the region since the beginning of the year, and the Bush Administration now finds itself with a less-forgiving Iraqi government than it has had in the past. Evidence of a Pentagon cover-up of a massacre will only make that relationship worse, at a time when the new government is already angry at the Bush Administration’s shifting allegiances inside the country, and our inability to improve security.
This probably explains why the United States signaled this morning a rhetorical shift that it was now willing to directly join the EU’s talks with Iran on its nuclear program, but only if Tehran suspends enrichment activities first. This is probably a nonstarter, as the Bush Administration has already pissed away the opportunity over the last several years to steer Iran away from enrichment in exchange for direct talks and a better relationship with Washington. A more enlightened and mature foreign policy team would have taken advantage of that opening to test Tehran and turn international opinion in Washington’s favor. Now, today’s publicly-announced "shift" will look like what it is: timed for the Security Council discussions this week and intended to make the US look reasonable with the hope of winning a few hearts and minds.
But the US has fewer cards to play than it did a year ago, and it is clear to some already that Iran does not need to agree to US preconditions to win the battle of world public opinion, or more importantly, the battle for regional public opinion. To some, today's announcement by the in-over-her-head Condi Rice may be seen as a sign of weakness and eventual futility, when instead a wiser course would have dictated having ongoing talks with the Iranians quietly through third parties. The risk now is that we have publicly stumbled into a choice of eventual direct talks without preconditions, (something that Washington could have had years ago in a different environment before we undercut our position by rewarding India,) or going to war because Iran refuses to stop what very well may be a legal activity. Iran has concluded that Washington has little to offer, and that it can deal with the issue through the Europeans, safe in the knowledge that neither Russia nor China will support the use of force against them at the Security Council.
Seeing that we have declining influence in the region and specifically with Iran, the new Iraqi government may have concluded that there is no reason any longer for them to cut us any slack either.
Update: As expected, Iran rejected the lame offer from Rice, noting that in order for any such offer to be acceptable, it has to be in Iran's interests. Since the US is offering nothing of value to Iran for something it already is doing (enrichment), Iran easily said no, and as we suspected this morning, is already pushing the US to accept talks without preconditions.