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Commentary: Theaters of the absurd

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Feb. 8, 2007 at 10:08 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Iran's man at the United Nations since 2002, Javad Zarif, spoke with Washington think tankers and pundits for two hours. It was a virtuoso diplomatic performance, albeit off the record, and by satellite (as he is not allowed to travel beyond a 25-mile radius from Manhattan), which won him sustained applause from his American interlocutors. Time for a regional security conference, he wrote in The New York Times Feb. 8, and for all, including Iran, "to learn from past mistakes."

Iran wasn't trying to keep the United States bogged down in Iraq. It would seem we've done a pretty good job of doing that ourselves. Of course, Iran is ready to dialogue with the United States on any subject, San Francisco State PhD Zariv assured his audience. Almost at the same time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "We're ready to talk to them, but they don't want to talk to us."

Across the Atlantic, France's dead duck President Chirac, with three months left after 12 years at the Elysee Palace, said we should all try to live with a nuclear bomb or two in Iran's arsenal. After all, mused Chirac, if the mullahs were to drop one bomb on Israel, Tehran would be vaporized next day by the United States. Small comfort to the Israelis, already paranoid about president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pronouncements they see as limbering up for a second Holocaust. Next day Chirac said "fuhgeddaboudit," he didn't really mean it. Yet this kind of appeasement is widely reflected in both "old" and "new" Europe.

Chirac's Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, a poor third in the presidential sweepstakes, labeled America's decision to "surge" in Baghdad "absurd." The "idea of saying that foreign troops will leave when Iraq is democratic is something that will never happen."

Across the channel, Tony Blair, another dead duck, was keeping his fingers crossed president Bush won't try to lasso him into retaliatory punitive raids on Iran for its interference against coalition forces in Iraq. Britain's tactical area of responsibility in southern Iraq is now mostly under Iranian control through Iraqi surrogates. One of Iran's former Revolutionary Guard commanders, now an accredited diplomat, is reported to have bragged, "We took Basra with seven mullahs and a sound truck."

The much-vaunted series of Iraqi elections, frequently confused with democracy, produced a spectacular breakthrough for axis-of-evilers. Jamal Jafaar Mohammed, a man sentenced to death in Kuwait for the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies, now sits in parliament as a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated ruling coalition. He enjoys parliamentary immunity, i.e., cannot be unseated.

Some former ministers from the two previous short-lived governments have already bought pricey real estate in London's upscale West End. Congress is still trying to figure out what happened to the $12 billion in $100 bills that was trucked in with U.S. invasion forces for emergency petty cash. Congressional investigators believe both anti-U.S. insurgents and U.S. surrogates benefited from these ambulatory ATM facilities that dispensed bundles of new bills from Iraqi assets frozen in the United States during Saddam's reign.

In Italy, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, a former communist, was twisting Prime Minister Romano Prodi's arm to set a date certain for the withdrawal of 1,800 Italian troops from the NATO command in Afghanistan. France was pulling out its contingent while Germany wouldn't let its troops move out of a quiescent zone in the north.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, raised in communist East Germany, still can't really speak her own mind, as she is compelled to please/appease her coalition partner, the anti-U.S. Social Democrats.

The Taliban took advantage of the disarray in coalition ranks to seize control of Musa Qala, a town in Helmand province. This was a town where British-led forces had struck a deal with tribal elders after months of heavy fighting to pull out if the Taliban were also kept out. How anyone could believe Taliban would respect its part of the bargain is a monument to western naiveté. Yet British officials hailed it as a model for future deals.

Unless NATO can see the Afghan mission through to a successful conclusion and then reinvent itself as a global security system, it will become strategically irrelevant. And the omens aren't good.

In Washington, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abulgeit was asked about the Baghdad surge of U.S. troops. Over an early breakfast, he told a clutch of pundits, it was essential to eradicate the two principal Shiite militias -- the Mahdi Army and the Badr brigades -- "with brute force if necessary," irrespective of casualties.

When told this was not in the cards, the Egyptian statesman responded, "then you might as well go home." He was deliberately exaggerating to emphasize his main point: abandoning Iraq to its own devices would have devastating consequences throughout the region -- and beyond. Shiite vs. Sunni would be on a bloody rampage throughout the Middle East, Pakistan, India and Southeast Asia, next to which the three regional civil wars (Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine) augured by Jordan's King Abdullah would be neighborhood rumbles.

Even without two wars that may soon morph into a third, the new defense budget, at $481 billion, will be an increase of 62 percent over 2001 expenditure. This was plus 11 percent over last year. That's more than all the nations of the world put together. Add to that, Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terror, which have cost thus far $662 billion. The Baghdad "surge" alone is budgeted at $5.6 billion. Those who predicted a $1 trillion war appear to be on target. But the economy is booming. So President Bush must be doing something right.

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

"But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush.

The president chuckled and walked away.

© 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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