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December 13, 2006

Light At The End Of The Corridor

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by Chris Maynard

Sooner or later, someone was bound to bring it up.

Finally, on the afternoon of December 12, the “L” word was used in Washington. Tariq al-Hashimi, the vice president of Iraq, in direct view of President Bush, said that his country faces “a hard time, but there is a light in the corridor.” The last man to talk of distant lights in narrow passageways was Lyndon Johnson, who had enough shame, and sense, to leave office in 1968.

The trio above has made a show of taunting anyone who even mentions sense and shame. On Monday they left the State Department, stopping only for a brief statement to the press, taking no questions. The answers were, visually, quite obvious. Vice-President Cheney, head lowered as usual to avoid looking at lesser mortals, appears to be folding up notes, or perhaps a cheat sheet with only the word “No” scrawled across it. Secretary of State Rice looks even glummer than normal, her chin diving toward her collarbone. Suddenly the years of staring down anyone impertinent enough to question her are over, and the world is tired of her rigged version of Musical Chairs.

It’s President Bush, self-styled Leader of the Free World, who takes the prize for transparency: we can see right through him, and there’s nothing there. Forget the shirt collar that’s getting a little bit loose, or the cords beneath his chin that have started to pop in the past month or so.

It’s the utterly blank stare that stops us. He’s not looking at anything at all (this was the day before Hashimi brought up the light off in the distance.) He could be thinking of lunch, clearing brush or waiting for Santa Claus. It’s that look of someone showing up at a funeral who’s forgotten the name of the deceased, of a blind man without his guide dog.

The lid seems to be pretty tight on the meeting itself, with no mention of who exactly was there or what exactly was said. For this administration that’s business as usual, but given the release of the Iraq Study Group report there might be some interest in what’s going on in private. Tough luck for democracy, but government can be messy that way.

It could be a look of resignation, of finally biting the bullet and asking for help but that’s pretty far-fetched. The deadlines are already slipping; his response to the study was originally scheduled for “before Christmas” but now the talk is of “early January.”

“Their money spent, their wine gone sour,” what’s another couple of weeks, or months, or even years?

(hat tip: Gary. image: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times. December 13, 2006.  nytimes.com)

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