On the Plane

Vanity's Fair?

CAIRO, March 4--A well-timed Vanity Fair expose caused a flap on the first day of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to the Middle East.

The article, "The Gaza Bombshell," by David Rose, cited confidential documents and interviews to allege that the Hamas takeover stemmed from a secret Bush administration plan to use Fatah security forces to confront Hamas. Hamas, the article said, caught wind of the plan and acted before Fatah could, seizing the Gaza Strip.

Since Rice is traveling in the region, trying to stem the fallout from the constant rocket attacks launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza, any article that claims that the current crisis is the result of administration mistakes, rather than terrorist actions, is bound to grab attention. Arab reporters here seemed especially interested in the Vanity Fair piece.

The article does contain excerpts from some fascinating documents--including talking points by a senior U.S. official accidentally left behind in a meeting--that demonstrate how much pressure Rice and other top officials put on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss the Hamas-led government. But many of the reporters traveling with Rice felt the article mostly summarized information that many of us had written about at the time. The administration's plan to bolster the Fatah security forces was well known--and the article does not definitely prove that even a partial coup was part of the plans.

Still, it struck reporters traveling with Rice as odd that the State Department had declined to comment on Vanity Fair's findings. Was that an implicit acknowledgement that it was correct? There was only one solution: We had to ask Rice about it when she held a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Rice, of course, said she wasn't going to comment on an article she had not read. But then she offered a defense of U.S. aid for Abbas's Fatah forces, calling the central premise of the article "ludicrous" and saying it was necessary to counteract Iranian influence.

"The idea that somehow Hamas used as an excuse American and international assistance to the PA to do what Hamas has always done, which is to sow chaos, on the face of it, I think, is fairly ludicrous," Rice said. "If the answer is Hamas gets armed by the Iranians and nobody helps to improve the security capabilities of the legitimate Palestinian Authority security forces, then that is not a very good situation."

--Glenn Kessler

By Washington Post Editor |  March 4, 2008; 7:29 AM ET  | Trip:  Rice in Middle East and Europe, March 2008
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Rice is so over her head it's sad.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 4, 2008 9:37 AM

Rice is so over her head it's sad.

Posted by: | March 4, 2008 09:37 AM

I second that.

Posted by: millie | March 4, 2008 9:43 AM

I am not sure what Glenn Kessler is talking about. The Arab press have been reporting about the US-backed Contra-style coup attempt but the American press has been ignoring it. The VF piece was the best expose on the dirty war America is fighting in Palestine. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the civil war that Rice helped start. Sending her to the Middle East is like sending an arsonist to put out a fire. US policy is insane. Talk to Hamas NOW.

Posted by: Ahmed | March 4, 2008 1:16 PM

What is Candy Rice doing in the Middle East when there is an excellent shoe sale going on in New York?

Posted by: Anonymous | March 4, 2008 2:01 PM

Yes, the press reported increased funding the the PA/Fatah forces.

They didn't do much to tell the public that the Bushies were pushing an attempt to overthrow Hamas in Gaza - specifically that the Hamas uprising to expel the PA was triggered as a pre-emptive defense against US plans.

And if they reported at the time the killing of a Hamas leader's son, now they report the retaliatory missile launches without context, supporting the Rice line that Hamas is irrationally violent.

Hamas responds to incentives like anyone else. The only incentive Rice/Bush has given them is to respond with violence to violent attempts to suppress Hamas.

But Rice knows there are good guys and bad guys, and once you know that Hamas are the guys in the black hats, you can't negotiate with them. You can only defeat them.

So in the end, she will only bring new, unnecessary tragedies to Israel and Palestine.

Posted by: My Brain is in a Safe Deposit Box | March 4, 2008 2:29 PM

yes, because the resounding successes of the cheney administration's mideast policies is an obvious counter to any vanity fair claims of duplicity, incompetence and cluelessness.

Posted by: linda | March 4, 2008 6:32 PM

Rice is so over her head it's sad.

Posted by: | March 4, 2008 09:37 AM

I second that.

Posted by: millie | March 4, 2008 09:43 AM

I third that.

Posted by: Dan | March 4, 2008 6:39 PM

So the reporters traveling with Condi Rice think that the Vanity Fair story is old news? Maybe if the White House press corps had done their jobs and practiced actual journalism instead of butt-polishing, this story might have been old news by now. As someone who works hard to try to stay on top of the news, I can absolutely state that this is the first time I have ever heard this aspect of how Hamas came to control the Gaza strip.

I strongly urge your readers to check out this important story, even if it's being completely ignored by the "mainstream" press. You know, if the press had done their job over the past few years, maybe our country wouldn't be facing the mess we're in today. Congratulations to Vanity Fair for continuing to practice the lost art of journalism...

Posted by: Steve | March 4, 2008 8:29 PM

I agree with Steve's comment: Read the Vanity Fair article. It contains a lot of texture; a mere precis of it is insufficient,

What struck me was the administration's ham-handed arrogance of pressuring for elections in the first place, despite warnings that Fatah was unprepared to compete effectively. So instead of a nice Potemkin Village for the neo-con "democracy offensive", the result was that Hamas came to power through the ballot box.

"Fixing" an egregious miscalculation with violence, duplicity, and treachery is the standard signature of President Moe's Middle East policy. Rice played Curley and Abrams played Larry.

Too bad that a lot of people were tortured or killed.

Posted by: IceNine | March 5, 2008 1:28 PM

According tot he story, the 'neo-cons' didn't want to have the elections either because they knew Hamas would probably win.

Posted by: tps | March 5, 2008 2:31 PM

Actually, the Vanity Fair story IS old news. Virtually the same story was reported by Conflicts Forum 14 months ago (Jan, 2007). The only diff. was that Conflicts Forum didn't have access to the gov't docs & hadn't interviewed officials. But it did have a report that Abrams was calling for a "hard coup" against Hamas & other important evidence.

The VF story is certainly good & important. But I have a problem w. journalism that acts as if it invented the wheel when others played an important part in the invention as well.

And did everyone notice that Rice's response was a non-response. She completely neglected to address the meat of the story which was her covert plot to overthrow Hamas & a legitimately elected government.

Posted by: Richard Silverstein | March 6, 2008 4:41 AM

Posted by: jjournalism@hotmail.com | March 6, 2008 2:15 PM

Kessler is trying to have it both ways: David Rose's article is simultaneously a rehash of reporting he and other Post writers have done, and yet the policy of arming a Fatah faction to mount a coup against the Hamas government is insufficient to explain the Hamas takeover in June.

@Richard Silverstein: The Conflicts Forum post broke the story, and generated some discussion on left blogs. But consciousness of the Bush policy never penetrated "respectable" discussion: once the policy crashed and burned, virtually all reporting and commentary referred to the events of June as a "Hamas coup", as if it had come out of the blue.

So this VF piece is coming as real news to centrists and liberals.

Posted by: Nell | March 7, 2008 7:40 PM

Kessler, stop shilling for Coondi.

Posted by: abraham | March 8, 2008 9:38 AM

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