August 13, 2005

The "It" Girl



The White House Iraq policy is splintering and all we get is romanticism.  Granted, this was a stunning front page photo the NYT ran yesterday.  But, considering the lead article it accompanied (Bush Cites Gains But Sees No Cuts In Troops In Iraq – link), word and image could not get further apart.


The thing is, one should really try and read these pictures in the context of the story.  And the story is, all that Pentagon talk about troop reductions started making Bush quite uncomfortable (given rising troop loses and Iraqi insurgent and political chaos), so “W” swung more Condi’s way with the “stay the course” and “things are getting better” mumbo-jumbo.

(Overall however, it’s not clear if Rice has any idea what she’s doing.  Lately, she and fellow power tripper and publicity hound, Ambassador Khalilzad, seem to have bet the farm on the harmonious completion and ratification of an increasingly hollow Iraqi constitution.)

So, if you read the picture, what is the narrative exactly?  (Of course — just like everyone else does — I intend to ignore the manifest level in which Condi plays the spoiled “it girl,” and George gets turned on by it.)  Is the message that Condi has arrived to give George a break from Rummy?  Is the point that, no longer moving forward, it’s time for a charm offensive?

The element I find most interesting is that Bush has his back turned.  Since — for the moment, at least — he’s run out of road with Rumsfeld and the Pentagon (and considering that Cindy Sheehan is virtually in Bush’s sight line a little further down the road), he is looking to Condi to bail him out with some diplomatic pitch.

What I don’t understand, however, is how the press buys in to this Condi mystique.  When I said this photo was stunning, I was strictly speaking visually.  Otherwise, I don’t see what political asset could make Rummy and Bush stop in their tracks.  Unless it’s somehow possible to win the peace simply through the accumulation of frequent flier miles, Rice had better be ready to do some fancy dancing along with the smiling.

(image: Mandel Ngan/Agence France Press – Getty Images.  August 12, 2005.  In The New York Times.  p. A1.)

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Michael Shaw
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