Should we feel sorry for our Secretary of State? Helene Cooper of the New York Times notes that Condi Rice now feels the kind of heat once aimed at Donald Rumsfeld.
She caught holy Hezbollah in recent congressional hearings. Former Secretary of State James Baker has said of her tenure in his old job that back in his day, “We practiced diplomacy full time, and it paid off.” A January 18 piece by Kevin Kallaugher in The Economist titled "A falling star" described Condi as "not the woman she once was."
The woman she never was
Condi was drafted into the Bush administration from the neoconservative brain trust. She's still listed as a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, whose membership includes conservative luminaries like Thomas Sowell, New Gingrich and Ed Meese. Referring to her tenure as National Security Adviser, Kallaugher states that "Her fingerprints are on some of the worst mistakes of the first Bush term." But one sensed from the beginning that she was never actually part of the policy team. As Kallaugher says, "When Ms Rice ran the National Security Council (NSC), it was hopelessly dysfunctional--torn asunder by disputes between the hawks (Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld) and the doves (then secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage)."
Rice's NSC team was also riddled with young Republican bobble-heads who didn't think weapons of mass destruction were a factor in the Cold War and who said things like "Arms control, what's that?"
My strong impression is that Rice, a former professor of political science at Stanford, was brought on board to be George W. Bush's foreign policy tutor and office wife.
Ms. Rice: The blue thing in the middle is the Persian Gulf. The country on the left is Iraq. The country on the right is Iran.
Mr. Bush: Iraq on the left, Iran on the right… Iraq on the left, Iran on the right… Okay, got it!
Ms. Rice: You're so smart!
Mr. Bush: Enough book learnin' for one day, let's hit the gym.
Condi was a natural choice to replace Colin Powell. The neocons in the Cheney gang wanted to make sure it never again had to deal with a Secretary of State who might actually want to take charge of foreign policy. And just to make absolutely, positively certain she didn't conduct anything that might resemble actual diplomacy behind their backs, they inserted John Bolton as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
As Secretary of State, Rice has been responsible for two of the biggest diplomatic gaffes in American history. First was the insistence that the U.S. would not conduct direct talks with Iran until that country ceased its pursuit of an independent uranium refinement capability, an "inalienable right" guaranteed by the U.N Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, a treaty to which both Iran and the U.S. are ratified signatories. In some circles this sort of thing is called "make them an offer they can't accept," an allusion to the catch line from The Godfather referring to a false show of diplomatic effort that ensures diplomacy will fail.
Iran was bad enough, but Condi pulled her skirt over her head during last summer's Israel/Lebanon crisis. She was all against establishing a cease-fire until the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had a chance to kick the stuffing out of Hezbollah, but was all for calling a cease-fire when it looked like Hezbollah had stuck an exploding potato up the IDF's tailpipe. That permanently destroyed her credibility as an honest broker.
Stupid or duped?
Condi's not the kind of secretary who heads a cabinet department and dictates policy. She's the kind of secretary who takes dictation from the front office. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez recently referred to her as "Missy." He might more accurately have called her "Patsy."
Dick Cheney's the guy who runs foreign policy and tells the decider what to decide. The thousand-yard stare Condi displays on television whenever she's pushed to defend any nonsensical administration initiative tells me that at some level of her awareness, she knows she's the administration's fall girl.
Now she's trying to work the Palestine issue, but Russia and Germany don't like her rules. They want to talk to Syria and Hamas. Condi insists she won't (because Cheney won't let her).
No, Condi's not doing a very good job. But she doesn't have a very good job, and she doesn’t work for very good people. And yes, it's hard to conduct diplomacy when you're not allowed to talk to anybody, but I don't feel too sorry for Ms. Rice.
She needs to put her foot down. If Bush and Cheney won't let her act like a Secretary of State, she should stop pretending to be one and go back to Stanford.
If Stanford will still have her.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.