(Somehow, Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" just seemed so perfect for this. Great vintage video.)
Since the Iraq war and the attendant plummeting of America’s image in the Muslim world, King Abdullah has been striving to set a more independent and less pro-American course, American and Arab officials said. And that has steered America’s relationship with its staunchest Arab ally into uncharted waters. Prince Bandar, they say, may no longer be able to serve as an unerring beacon of Saudi intent.
“The problem is that Bandar has been pursuing a policy that was music to the ears of the Bush administration, but was not what King Abdullah had in mind at all,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel who is now head of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
Of course it is ultimately the king — and not the prince — who makes the final call on policy. More than a dozen associates of Prince Bandar, including personal friends and Saudi officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if his counsel has led to the recent misunderstandings, it is due to his longtime penchant for leaving room in his dispatches for friends to hear what they want to hear. That approach, they said, is catching up to the prince as new tensions emerge between the United States and Saudi Arabia….
The cause of the latest friction in the American-Saudi relationship began in 2003, before the invasion of Iraq. The Saudis agreed with the Bush view of Saddam Hussein as a threat, but voiced concern about post-invasion contingencies and the fate of the Sunni minority. When it became clear that the administration was committed to invading Iraq, Prince Bandar took a lead role in negotiations between the Bush administration and Saudi officials over securing bases and staging grounds.
But Saudi frustration has mounted over the past four years, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated. King Abdullah was angry that the Bush administration ignored his advice against de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military. He became more frustrated as America’s image in the Muslim world deteriorated, because Saudi Arabia is viewed as a close American ally.
Tensions between King Abdullah and top Bush officials escalated further when Mr. Bush announced a new energy initiative to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil during his 2006 State of the Union address, and announced new initiatives in that direction this year.
Both American and Saudi officials say that King Abdullah clearly values — and uses — Prince Bandar’s close relationship with the White House. And that, associates said, will dictate what Prince Bandar can do.
I was watching The Sopranos with Mr. ReddHedd last night. I won't spoil the episode for folks who haven't watched their Tivo versions yet, but let's just say that Tony Soprano's leadership is beginning to show significant cracks this season: personal character weakness above and beyond the usual, hubris that leads him to make poor and reckless personal decisions that spill over into his business relationships, loyalty that runs to others only when they serve his purpose and the others have begun to notice this and, in some cases, resent it…the list is endless.
But it is the reactions of the weak, subservient underlings which have been the most fascinating to watch throughout the current season of the show — that realization that the boss is not all-powerful, that he has a number of Achilles' heels ripe for the exploitation, and that, most importantly, they all need to start thinking about taking care of themselves first…because the boss man may not have the balls to take care of them as he saves his own hide on the way out the door.
Fascinating stuff. And the parallels between that current storyline and the fear that I'm seeing with this from the GOP caucus, huddled together in a terrified little herd between a failing Republican presidency, their need to save their own sorry "yes man" asses, and a rabid constituency that they have trained to think only between the "must win Iraq" blinders. Except history isn't going to see things their way, and they know it — and the vast majority of the public tide has turned against them and their rabid base…and they know that, too. 2008 is not so far away, and the clock is ticking.
And we see this:
Activists on both sides of the impasse are mobilizing against compromise. Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, an antiwar umbrella group, has launched a television advertisement to rally pressure on Bush to sign the Democrats' bill.
Protesters plan to be in front of the White House today to unfurl a replica of the "Mission Accomplished" banner that served as a backdrop to Bush's speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln four years ago Tuesday declaring an end to major combat operations. Within 90 minutes of a veto, Americans Against Escalation will be holding news conferences in 24 states, and rallies are planned in hundreds of locations in the 36 hours after the expected veto — all to keep pressure on Congress to defy Bush's demands for war funding without policy strings attached.
The conservative Web site Townhall.com has launched a pressure campaign with petitions and call-in efforts to lawmakers and talk radio, encouraging policymakers to "stay the course on the war on terror."
"We don't believe that you can wage a war with poll-tested numbers," House Republican Conference Chairman Adam H. Putnam (R-Fla.) said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition." "Everybody knows war is ugly. But the fact of the matter is that defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq and bringing stability to that country is important to the security of this country."
When you lead through threats and intimidation, as Rove's political shop has allowed George Bush to do throughout his presidency, you cannot show a sign of weakness or the entire facade that there has been any actual leadership crumbles. And, let's face facts, George Bush is no leader. The first real public chink in the armor was Katrina for most folks (earlier than that for a lot of us, but Katrina was really the eye opener). But it is the constant, abysmal failure to make any real progress whatsoever in Iraq that is dragging the Bush Administration and all its supporters slowly under the wake of the ship of state.
And the leadership of the GOP knows it.
But they have created their own loyal cadre of absolutists who zealously believe that this fight is all or nothing, that anything less than supreme and total victory in Iraq (whatever the hell that means these days, because from where I sit, the benchmarks change every day) is unacceptable. Except that the fantasy victory that the GOP created in its electoral shell game does not — and never did — exist. And the con is being exposed publicly, bit by bit, through thorough Congressional oversight hearings…and little by little people all over America are waking up and realizing they have been had. And they are angry at the very people who allowed this to happen in the first place.
Which takes us back to the rubber stamp Republican leadership: there is a whole lot of fear behind that forced lockstep these days. In the animal kingdom, you see that in vast herds of wildebeasts who can be incredibly strong and self-sufficient so long as their numbers stay together. At the moment, stray Republicans feel like they will get picked off by the loyalty enforcement squad (as played by the Norquist gang) and primaried if they get too far from the herd. But the question is whether the Rover supreme loyalty enforcement brigade will be able to continue to herd the entire Republican party toward the edge of the cliff and over without the herd realizing that they are being stampeded to their own demise.
And the question for all of them is, what if a lot of the Republicans in Congress turn at once? Toward accountability. Toward public fiduciary obligation. For a political party that is having difficulty raising money and even finding candidates who want to run under the GOP banner — what sort of hollow threats are these folks issuing? Sure, you can primary one or two or even a dozen candidates, but you sure as hell can't afford to primary 40 or 50 or more at once with a bankroll that has dried up and no candidates because people think you are a dishonest, disreputable, smarmy failure that has driven their beloved Republican party into a festering sewer ditch.
Democrats are in a very strong position here — it is time for them to call the GOP bluff. And it is time for Republicans to realize that they do, indeed, have a lot more choices than lockstep failure. Blind faith in a loser makes you a loser, too. Especially come election time as your rabid base even begins to slink away from you in disgust. George Bush and his administration got played by the Saudis, for obvious reasons — it was in their interest to play us, and we don't own them, no matter how much George Bush might like to delude himself otherwise. The Bush Administration cannot even conduct a basic diplomatic two-step without tripping over their own boots and falling flat on their faces while everyone around the dance floor laughs at them.
Think about that for a while…because blind faith needs to be earned, every single day, and this President has not earned it, not by a long shot.
UPDATE: Oh lordy. Bob Novak and I are pretty much on the same page this morning. Now I truly am frightened.