Secretary of State Colin Powell returned from Syria at 1 a.m. on Sunday. By 9:30 a.m. he was on television, appearing on all three network talk shows to discuss his trip just as the first reports about it were appearing on the wires. It must be a bracing time to be America's chief diplomat. No matter how you feel about the war in Iraq, it seems certain that Syrian President Bashar Assad was more attentive to Powell's, er, constructive criticism than he otherwise would have been.
A slow news week brought forth second-rate American politicians and loony foreign officials on yesterday's morning talk shows. Meet the Press began with Adel Al-Jubeir, foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was scheduled to appear on NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's This Week and FOX News Sunday but cancelled at the last moment when the Saudi government dispatched him on a secret mission hours before he was to appear live from Saudi Arabia. Al-Jubeir would not disclose the exact nature of the assignment but said, "I believe it has to do with the war on terror."
Lately public discourse has taken on a Hegelian structure:
Thesis: The United States will triumph overwhelmingly in the war with Iraq. The conflict will be short. Iraqis will welcome us as liberators.
Antithesis: The advance to Baghdad from the south has stalled. Resistance is stiffer than expected. Iraqis don't like us.
In the old days, this dialectic might have taken months to unfold. Now it takes only days -- sometimes hours -- for trends in coverage to emerge, and for those in power to respond with carefully formulated spin. Administration officials and apologists fanned out on the Sunday talk shows yesterday to propose a synthesis:
Presidential hopeful and former Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.) appeared on Meet the Press yesterday to argue against war with Iraq. Unfortunately, when host Tim Russert confronted the candidate with some of his own past remarks, Dean seemed to stumble:
There's good news and bad news from this past Sunday morning. The good news is someone finally spoke up eloquently in defense of the Democratic Party's soul. "I think Al Gore was exactly right to go out and make a campaign in favor of people and against powerful interests who stood in their way . . . I think that strategy is not only right politically, I think that strategy is right in principle.