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Barry Bonds and Dick Cheney

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The United States and Iran have agreed to a second round of what is termed their ‘groundbreaking’ talks over what to do in the shattered Middle East. The reason these discussions are groundbreaking is that America has refused to talk since the hostage dispute of five presidencies ago. Took our marbles and went home. Sulked in the corner for 26 years while the Arabian peninsula went to hell in a hand-basket.

Diplomatic accountability gone south. Tell me we Americans don’t know how to conduct diplomacy.

Compare that useless and arbitrary period with the handiest counterpart that comes to mind, Libya’s false accusation and trial of six medics accused of the deliberate AIDS infection of 400 Libyan children. Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were imprisoned for eight years, awaiting trial, where they were found guilty and sentenced to death. Europe worked quietly for their release, somehow opting to keep their marbles in the game.

Nicholas Sarkozy has been president of France for two months and no one credits him for the release, although his wife Cecilia accompanied the final negotiators and flew out of Tripoli with the pardoned and released medics. This was an example of classic diplomacy; quiet and conducted behind the scenes without escalating rhetoric on either side.

Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will travel to Libya next week to begin the process of normalizing European-Libyan relations, which have been blocked by the non-settlement of the medic issue. Win-win diplomacy.

Meanwhile, on the Iranian front, U.S. officials said they were “eager to repeat their warnings that Iran needs to stop supporting sectarian militia and distributing the sophisticated explosives that are killing or injuring U.S. troops.” Ah, eager to repeat. Shooting the messenger before he delivers the message.  Not much classic diplomacy to be had there. Sean McCormack, the chief State Department spokesman, had this to say prior to the meetings;

"Given the situation in Iraq and given Iran's continued behavior that is leading to further instability in Iraq, it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting, to directly convey to the Iranian authorities that if they wish to see a more stable, secure, peaceful Iraq ... then they need to change their behavior."

Obviously, those for whom Sean speaks, aren’t into “if they do this, we’ll agree to that” or “agreements are predicated on a win for both Iran and the United States.”  That wouldn’t be Texas swagger. Why consider the needs of the other side when you have three carrier groups within striking distance and a teeth-baring Cheney hovering near the president’s office?

Why is the Foreign Relations Committee silent? As usual, no one is watching the store.

Accountable diplomacy is the tradecraft of mature, strong and respected nations. Diplomats, in their finest moments are statesmen and the applicable modifiers are delicacy, discreetness, finesse, subtlety and wisdom. Where does one go to find such a person in this administration? Colin Powell had the makings of just such a man, but a combination of Dick Cheney's back-stabbing and Powell’s own failure to stand up to his former commander in chief conspired to his undoing.

Now, if we can believe the recent press, Cheney is poised to wreck Condi Rice’s career. This administration believes in a diplomacy unaccountable to anyone and it has served us disastrously.

(Washington Post) The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favored upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defense secretary, Robert Gates.

Last year Mr. Bush came down in favor of Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and State Department last month, Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Bush sided with him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said this week.

The Washington source said Bush and Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively.

A presidency that has taken unprecedented powers unto itself, in direct defiance of Congress and the courts and does not trust any successors, is a very dangerous presidency indeed. We are a nation that trusts to successive governments or we are nothing. Cash it in, close the books, take to the mattresses because representative government is over.

Are we so intimidated that we allow Nancy Pelosi to instruct us on which parts of our constitutional rights are on or off the table? Are we children, cowering in corners, chewing on our blankets while ‘grownups’ such as Pelosi, Cheney, Reid, Bush, Addington, Gonzales and Rove impart to us their knowledge of what we may and may not do with our republic?

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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