Monday, July 24, 2006

Blind Man with a Pistol 

A friend of mine, Phil Lomax, told me this story about a blind man with a pistol shooting at a man who had slapped him on a subway train and killing an innocent bystander peacefully reading his newspaper across the aisle and I thought, damn right, sounds just like today's news, riots in the ghettos, war in Vietnam, masochistic doings in the Middle East. And then I thought of some of our loudmouthed leaders urging our vulnerable soul brothers on to getting themselves killed, and thought further that all unorganized violence is like a blind man with a pistol.
--Chester Himes, preface, Blind Man with a Pistol, 1969

We were mildly perplexed by a passage from the (subscription-only) Nelson Report, flagged earlier this evening by our eminent colleague Josh Marshall:
The announcement by Secretary of State Condi Rice that she was going to the region, but would not seek direct meetings with Syria, the country the US claims to be at the heart of any “solution” to the Lebanon crisis, has sparked much international criticism, and rekindled debate in the US over the basic lack of Bush Administration policy.

Or, put another way, the Lebanon situation has exposed, once again, that US policy, under Bush, is largely whatever the Israeli government says it wants. So the long term effect of this on US-Arab relations generally, and the US ability to be constructively involved in any serious peace process, is once again under debate.

In any particular flare-up in this unhappy region, debating who shot first is a distraction, since the conflict has been going on for generations. The question is, or should be, does the US have a policy with a realistic chance of success, and is the US involved in a process to further that policy...in this case, to resolve the flare-up of the moment? Whether a long term “solution” is possible is always another question....see Bill Clinton/Camp David, etc.

However, as long-time Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross likes to say (our paraphrase) “having a process may not get you a solution, but having a process does give you a chance to contain the damage” . . . .

A critic within State privately worries, “Condi could get points for the US just by trying to talk directly with Syria. But apparently her view is if she can’t get a quick deal that makes her look good, she won’t even try.”
We are amazed that Ms. Rice's reluctance to intervene (except, of course, by supplying fresh rounds for the pistol) could be taken as evidence of a lack of policy. Does no one remember the Straussian doctrine of creative chaos?

"Just wait," as the Commander-in-Chief explained to V. Putin, who had just expressed his deep and wholly understandable relief at the absence, in Russia, of Iraq-style "democracy."

An hour later Lieutenant Anderson had Grave Digger on the radio-phone. "Can't you men stop that riot?" he demanded.

"It's out of hand, boss," Grave Digger said.

"All right, I'll call for reinforcements. What started it?"

"A blind man with a pistol."

"What's that?"

"You heard me, boss."

"That don't make any sense."

"Sure don't."
--Chester Himes, Blind Man with a Pistol, 1969

UPDATE (via our stouthearted colleague Lukery Land of Wot Is It Good 4): And we are further mystified by all the talk of civil war in Iraq when, as WaPo blogger William Arkin points out, the various religious factions are united as never before. On one issue, at least.

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