Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iraq Ennui Settling In, But Will Events Dispel It?

I don't often agree with New York Times columnist Frank Rich, but his column this Sunday morning makes one or two points I do agree with.

Rich thinks the "great debate" over future Iraq war policy in Washington last week was a fizzle. The public is so turned off on the war that no one was really listening, and all the parties made the expected points.

"Little of this registered in or beyond the Beltway," Rich writes.

"General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker could grab an hour of prime television time only by slinking into the safe foxhole of Fox News, where Brit Hume chaperoned them on a gloomy bunkerlike set before an audience of merely 1.5 million true believers...

"Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted week long visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, '24' lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's."

Rich attributes the ennui to a spreading feeling that the Democrats can't block continuation of the war, and the Bush Administration can't win it.

He certainly has a point. We are on dead center, fighting on in a conflict that is seemingly without end.

But Rich also makes the point, toward the end of his column, that war is two-sided, and it is not only what we are unable to do, but what the enemy does, that may greatly influence the scene before the end of the Bush Administration.

He states rather ambiguously: "The enemy votes too. Cataclysmic events on the ground in Iraq, including Thursday's murder of the Sunni tribal leader Mr. Bush embraced two weeks ago as a symbol of hope, have never arrived according to this administration's optimistic timetable. Nor have major Qaeda attacks in the West. It's national suicide to entertain the daydream that they will start doing so now."

In other words, Rich seems to be saying, there could be a strike from the enemy side that would have more to do with the eventual outcome than the plodding American efforts. Maybe, one day, one of these planned terror attacks that did not come off, such as the purported attempt to down 10 airliners over the Atlantic last summer, or the aborted attack on the Ramstein Air Force Base and the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, or the allegedly conspiracy to bomb the John F. Kennedy Airport, may succeed, with incalculable effects.

It is also the case that the tension over Iran's plans, nuclear and otherwise, and North Korea's, could suddenly escalate. Just this morning, Secretary of Defense Gates is quoted as confirming that the U.S. is deeply concerned over reports that the North Koreans may be building a nuclear facility in Syria, which may have been attacked by the Israelis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today that there are signs of a rising dispute within the Bush Administration as to how to react to Iranian and other nuclear developments in the Middle East, with Condoleeza Rice opting for diplomacy, Vice President Cheney arguing for U.S. action, and President Bush seeming to lean Cheney's way, as he has in the past.

Le Figaro, the French newspaper, has an interview today with the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, in which he says that the tension with Iran over its nuclear efforts "force us to prepare for the worst," which "is war." Kouchner also declares, "Iran does whatever it pleases in Iraq...One cannot find in the entire world a crisis greater than this one." Kouchner's remarks paralleled to a large extent those made by the French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, after his recent luncheon with President Bush.

Also, the London Times this morning has a lengthy article containing further speculation about Israeli action in Syria the week before last. That newspaper, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication which sometimes is alarmist about Middle East developments, says that the Israelis landed Air Force commandos near a North Korean-Syrian base 50 miles from the Iraqi border, that they lit up the base with laser beams and that Israeli Air Force planes, long range F151 bombers, then were able to destroy it. Supposedly, the American government was fully informed beforehand.

The frustration in the Administration with the course of events in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and elsewhere in the region must, behind the scenes, be enormous. As time passes, and there is no conclusion, the chances apparently grow of a sweeping Democratic victory in next year's elections, even if the Democrats aren't able to effectively oppose the Administration right now.

Under all these circumstances, the ennui in America may be broken unexpected, either by enemy action, or our own, either directly or through the Israelis.

--

Somebody at the L.A. Times Sports Section certainly dropped the ball this morning when it came to the feature,"How The Top 25 (College Football Teams) Fared."

The feature has a key below which shows that teams that won will be marked on the left margin in white, while those that lost will be marked in dark.

But for eight of the 25 teams listed, the key had it wrong.

According to the key, both LSU and Texas were defeated. But they won.

And according to the key, Louisville, UCLA, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Arkansas and Tennessee all won. But, actually, they lost.

I wonder who was responsible for this lulu.

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