WASHINGTON, D.C.—While Dems were congratulating themselves on at least temporarily stopping John Bolton, Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, in true neocon style, were out in the empire straightening out the peons.
With elections behind him, Bush has been celebrating the birth of a new Iraq in which the Iraqi people have the last word, as befits a democracy. That, however, does not mean the U.S. is not running the show. In a trip to the Kurdish north last week, Rumsfeld warned his listeners to quit killing each other and toe the line. Washington wants to see “highly competent people who are not going to politicize security forces” in the government and will maintain a U.S. presence until Iraq’s own forces are capable of defeating the insurgents.
At a news conference, Rumsfeld was asked whether Iraqi officials had given him assurances about continuity in the senior leadership of Iraqi security forces. “It’s not so much a matter of continuity as a matter of competence, of capability,” the AP quoted him as saying. “It’s a matter of not causing undue turbulence in the Iraqi security forces and not setting back the important progress that’s been achieved.”
Meanwhile, at the Kremlin, Rice addressed “Pootie-Poot” Putin as if he were some sort of errant colonial administrator. She told the Russian leader to quit pussyfooting around and get real. “Democratic development is needed to ensure that Russian-U.S. relations become deeper and that Russia achieves its full potential,” she told him in the menacing lingo that goes with “regime change.” She added, “There should not be so much concentration of power just in the presidency, there needs to be an independent media . . . so that the Russian people can debate and decide together the democratic future of Russia.” Before departing, she reiterated her demand for more democracy, snapping coldly, “One can’t imagine reverting back to Soviet times.”
People in the U.S. were just plain shocked at the way the Russians handled the Yukos mess, she told him. Investors need assurance that “there is a rule of law.” And she suggested the Russians put out “rules that people can understand” and that are “applied consistently over time.” That’s code for this: Don’t make things hard for U.S. energy companies wanting to operate in Russia. Welcome them and give them long-term contracts to Russian oil and gas. Recently Russia restricted foreign countries from participating in such ventures, except as minority partners. Russia is the one country in the world with an apparent surplus of oil. We need it.
In Lithuania, Rice spoke with Belarus dissidents, promising the U.S. would work with them to put this “last true dictatorship” on the “road to democracy.”
But meddling with Belarus might not be as simple as it seems, for this ghastly backwater sits astride the main natural gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said, “We think the process of reform cannot be imposed from outside.” The next day Russian and Belarusan officials met to arrange closer relations.
And finally, on her European trip, Rice made it clear that when we speak of an international peacekeeping force, we’re talking about NATO, not the U.N.
Additional reporting: Halley Bondy, Christine Lu, and Natalie Wittlin