WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has flunked her first foreign policy crisis in the Middle East.
She went to the turbulent region last month in the early days of the war that began when Hezbollah forces in Lebanon crossed into Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.
Rice had orders from President Bush to oppose any immediate cease-fire, which was hardly the proper policy by the United States if it wanted to end the suffering among Israelis and Lebanese.
Rice apparently was dispatched to the Middle East to pass on to Israel the message that it has the green light from the White House to do whatever it wanted and could take more time to clobber the rocket-firing Hezbollah forces in Lebanon despite Lebanese and international pleas for a truce.
Israel has taken that message to heart, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems bent on proving that he can be as tough as his predecessors.
During her trip, Rice was snubbed by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who told her she was not welcome in Beirut if the U.S. did not support an immediate cessation of hostilities.
She was later blindsided in her personal visit with Olmert and other Israeli officials. During the meeting, the Israelis failed to alert Rice of their bombing massacre that day of Lebanese civilians in the village of Qana. The attack evoked worldwide indignation.
Rice was notified of the attack later by e-mail from a State Department staffer. After learning the news of Qana, Rice appeared shaken and stressed out. Perhaps the human dimension of a threadbare foreign policy finally hit home.
Rice is out of her league and seems to have little knowledge about the Middle East. Rice's expertise was always on the now-defunct Soviet Union and the Cold War.
Nor does she seek the advice of her former boss, Brent Scowcroft, who served as President George H. W. Bush's national security adviser. Scowcroft is a pro in Middle East diplomacy.
Her style is to lecture the leaders of sovereign countries in the Middle East as though they were school boys. When asked why the U.S. won't talk to the Syrians who she blames for sponsoring Hezbollah, she said: "Syrians have known for a long time what they need to do."
Insiders claim that after her return from her Middle Eastern swing, Rice began pushing for a quick cease-fire but that Bush refused -- apparently to accommodate the wishes of the Israeli leaders who wanted more time to rough up Hezbollah.
Former President Jimmy Carter has been critical of the Bush-Rice policies, which he said have fostered violence in the Middle East and "encourage the continuation of attacks on both sides."
Rice says she is working for a lasting and sustainable peace, but I'm sure the people in the war zone would be happy if the U.S. would just take steps now to stop the guns of August.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom recently zeroed in on a fundamental truth about the Hezbollah-Israel war when he said U.S. policies in Iraq "opened the door for Iran and Syria to support Hezbollah." The U.S. presence in Iraq has had a "radicalizing impact" in the region, Odom recently wrote.
It will be a long time before the U.S. regains the great respect and reverence it once enjoyed among the peoples of the Middle East before Bush's aggressive policies took hold, starting with his unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
The Iraq war -- which Rice helped to pump up when she was Bush's national security adviser -- is one of her foreign policy failures. The failure of the U.S. to take steps to halt the current Israel-Hezbollah war is merely another sign that she's in over her head.
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