John Kerry’s State Department, take 2

Eli Lake reports in the New York Sun that the State Department — the United States State Department — had a hand in the communique signed earlier this week in Cairo by Iraqi leaders recognizing a “legitimate right to resistance”:

Hand it to Secretary of State Rice. She knows how to make lemonade out of lemons. When asked on CNN this week her reaction to a communique signed by Iraqi leaders on Monday that recognized a “legitimate right to resistance,” she said, “I think what they were trying to do was to get a sense of political inclusion while recognizing that violence and terrorism should not be a part of resistance.”

That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at this compromise is that Iraq’s leading politicians acceded to the view of their hosts, the Arab League, that blowing up Iraqi civilians is wrong, but blowing up American soldiers fighting terrorists is permissible. This parsing was the result of a three-day conference in Cairo billed as an attempt to bridge the divide between the elected government in Baghdad and Sunni Arab leaders who claim to represent the car bombers trying to destroy it.

The State Department, according to Iraqi officials I’ve spoken with, put tremendous pressure on elected leaders to attend this parley in Cairo. And the see-no-evil reaction to the results of these deliberations suggests something potentially more ominous. The Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, for example, reports that American diplomats on the sidelines quietly pushed for the statement calling for an eventual timetable for withdrawal of American troops. And there are now new reports that Foggy Bottom in particular would like to build on the progress of the Arab League’s renewed interest in Iraq and urge the armies of its member states to build a force to stabilize the country.

If this latest diplomatic foray is not checked by some common sense it could become the exit strategy so many of the Bush administration’s more feckless critics are demanding. Here’s a former aide to President Clinton’s U.N ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, Suzanne Nossel, writing for the Democracy’s Arsenal Web site this week: “Why not approach League President Amr Moussa and key Arab States to propose that that if the Arab League steps up, pulls together a group of Iraq’s neighbors willing to help prevent the slide to mayhem, and engages in a committed effort to broker a political compromise, that in return the US will plan its getaway and offer all manner of support for the Arab effort?” This is the same foreign policy of Senator Kerry when he ran for president in 2004. He promised in effect to replace American soldiers with those of Iraq’s Arab neighbors in order extricate our country from the grand project it started in 2003.

That approach was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

Lake’s column doesn’t name any names as sources, either at the State Department or among the Iraqis to whom he refers. Yet the issue here is important and Secretary Rice’s quoted comment at the top of the article is not encouraging. Lake’s column is “Resistance, please.”

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