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Jewish World Review May 12, 2003 / 10 Iyar, 5763

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mobray
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Saddam's doctor selected by State Department


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | As a Middle Eastern nation stood on the brink of installing a new government, the U.S. diplomat greeted the incoming leaders warmly. Although there were many stories published by major media outlets saying horrific things about the emerging rulers, the high-ranking State Department official chose to ignore the critics. She was upbeat about what the future might hold under their guidance, even remarking to her colleagues how friendly they were.

The country was Afghanistan in summer 1996, and the new leaders were the Taliban. The U.S. official was Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Rafael, whose current job includes choosing new leaders in post-Saddam Iraq. Her early record there suggests that her judgment hasn't improved much.

As the head of the State Department's South Asia bureau, Rafael was in large part responsible for direction of the U.S. relationship with the Taliban.

Initially fond of the fundamentalist mullahs, Rafael was one of the primary backers of U.S. acceptance of the Taliban after the fall of Kabul in September 1996. She was so fond of the group, in fact, that she visited with members of the sitting government of Burhanuddin Rabbani (who had been in power since 1992) that summer, telling them that they should find a way to "work together" with the Taliban_while the group was shelling Kabul.

Since the Taliban was clearly not intent on "working together" with anyone, Rafael's choice of words was curious indeed.

Rafael obviously had no idea at the time the true nature of the threat posed by the Taliban, but there were plenty of indications that she - and the rest of State Department - willingly ignored. In an Economist article in October 1996 that quoted Rafael saying that the Taliban did not wish to "export Islam," an unnamed journalist who had extensively traveled Afghanistan said of the new rulers, "They're expansionist. They often talk of their desire to spread their beliefs to Pakistan, Central Asia, the Middle East." Various press accounts also noted the Taliban's penchant for summary executions with no due process, people having their hands and feet cut off for relatively minor crimes, and of course, the complete subjugation of women and girls.

When the State Department was pressed for comment, the official response - which Rafael had a hand in crafting - was that there was "nothing objectionable" about the Taliban. In fairness to Rafael, she eventually came to find the Taliban entirely "objectionable" - but why did she not come to this realization earlier?

Fast-forward almost seven years, and now Rafael has made a decision favoring the wrong people. In a baffling move, Rafael recently allowed the Ba'ath Party to maintain control over Baghdad University, which included reinstating Saddam's personal physician, Muhammad al-Rawi, as president.

Al-Rawi, for his part, does not seem to have changed his ways. According to the New York Times, ordinary Iraqis got no help from al-Rawi in tearing down a statue of Saddam at Baghdad University; the blight was only removed after the Iraqis turned to Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress_and someone who is hated by most officials at State.

As bad as Rafael is, though, she's not the problem. The State Department's culture is.

Foggy Bottom places such a premium on "stability" that principles - like liberty and human rights - often get trampled under foot. The Taliban brought the promise of "stability." Keeping Ba'ath Party members and Saddam 's personal physician in place contribute to "stability." Which is why State keeps promoting Rafael - she shares its worldview. An anonymous State Department official justified Rafael's recent decision to the New York Times as a "pragmatic" one. Being "pragmatic," of course, is the means to a "stable" end. Which is why State officials in Iraq also recently tapped Ali al-Janabi, a senior Ba'ath Party member, to become Minister of Health.

Rafael and other Foggy Bottom officials have no special affinity for senior Ba'ath Party members, but they do see using them as the "pragmatic" way to rebuild Iraq. State realizes, though, that it can't express this sentiment publicly. When contacted for comment, a State Department official said, "Senior members of the Ba'ath Party have no place in the building of a new Iraq." If only.

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JWR contributor Joel Mowbray is the author of the forthcoming book "Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security". Comment by clicking here.

04/14/03: Why we fight
04/09/03: State Department giving Baghdad to House of Saud?
04/07/03: State Department giving Baghdad to House of Saud?
04/02/03: Martha Burk's State Department adventure
03/31/03: State's bad deeds head to Baghdad
03/26/03: Human shields-turned-hawks
03/24/03: No such thing as a benign despot
03/20/03: Self-fulfilling tyranny
03/14/03: Gadhafi-State Department Alliance
03/12/03: Pushing "peace" pushes war instead
03/10/03: One last chance --- for the UN
03/03/03: Democracy domino theory
02/28/03: $1 Trillion tax cut?
02/12/03: Saudi Slavery in America
02/05/03: "We're Going to War"
02/04/03: State Department's idea of a "traitor"
01/27/03: State's cold shoulder
01/02/03: Canada: The Weakest Link
12/20/02: Real Story of Yemen's Scud Missile Purchase
12/18/02: Lott's got the Senate in the palm of his hand
12/12/02: White House moves closer to finding Iraq in "material breach"
12/10/02: A 9/11 plotter confessed
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12/03/02: Wild, Wild Web
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11/25/02: The State Department's spin machine
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10/09/02: The visas that shouldn't have been
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09/23/02: Tax Cuts, R.I.P.
09/17/02: Freedom denied
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09/05/02: State's war on Americans
08/09/02: White House wants replace 'Visa Express' genius with woman accused of not helping free kidnapped American kids in Arab lands
07/23/02: Visas for suspected terrorists?
07/11/02: VISA EXPRESS DERAILED
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07/02/02: Dick Gephardt, Wannabe Deadbeat Son
06/26/02: Open door for terrorists still open
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06/11/02: Sacrificing liberty and safety
05/29/02: Coddling Castro
05/20/02: GOP running from social security reform?
05/09/02: Arab (sky) High Culture
04/24/02: Catholic Church's real challenge
04/17/02: How do you say 'media-bias' in Hebrew?
04/09/02: Sexually Explicit "Abstinence" Education?
04/09/02: A price on the heads of Americans overseas
04/02/02: Bush's New Version of Compartmentalization
03/25/02: Homosexuality a Factor in Sex Abuse by Priests
03/20/02: Government's "Candid Cameras"
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03/04/02: Is Ted Kennedy a racist?
02/26/02: The Audacity to Be Black and Conservative

© 2003, Joel Mowbray. Adapted from the February 24 issue of National Review