Thursday, June 23, 2005

Is it time to give Condi her due?

Well, maybe. Hear me out.

I was one of those who were not impressed with Rice's performance as national security advisor. She may have had the ear of the president, but she was clearly outgunned by Cheney and Rumsfeld, and one wonders just how much influence she had in terms of both the war on terror and the Iraq war. And I worried that her appointment to Foggy Bottom would only solidify the unanimity that seemed to plague Bush's foreign policy team. At least Powell had independent stature, after all, and at least he could provide some sort of counterweight to the rest of that team. Or so I thought. In the end, was Powell all that effective? Did he balance out his opponents in the administration? Or was he not himself outgunned? As it turns out, Rice seems thus far to be an admirable successor to Powell. But where Powell was the outsider, Rice can balance out the rest of Bush's foreign policy team as an insider. She continues to have Bush's ear, but she now has the relative independence that comes with her position as secretary of state. No longer is she just the president's chief foreign policy advisor. Now she's one of his top Cabinet members. And the results are clear.

To be sure, the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree. Rice is still on Bush's side, as expected, and she's still representing Bush's interests in the international community. On Wednesday, for example, at a conference on Iraq reconstruction in Brussels, she announced optimistically that ''[t]errorism can be defeated in Iraq, it will be defeated in Iraq... When it is defeated in Iraq, at the heart of the Middle East, it will be a death knell for terrorism as we know it." Okay, but how? Unclear, unabashed optimism is, of course, the way of the Bush Administration generally -- consider Cheney's "last throes" comment -- but it would be nice to hear something other than unsubstantiated claims of hopeful resolution from the secretary of state.

Nonetheless, Rice is proving herself to be a forceful ambassador for democracy and justice, and this, I think, is where ever her harshest critics need to give her her due. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, according to the Times, she "called on Egypt and Saudi Arabia on Monday to embrace democracy by holding fair elections, releasing political prisoners and allowing free expression and rights for women". "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither," she said in Cairo. "Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." And she criticized Iran: "The appearance of elections does not mask the organized cruelty of Iran's theocratic state." But she added, "The United States has no cause for false pride, and we have every reason for humility".

Think about this. A woman. A black woman (neither of which could have gone over too well). In the very heart of the Arab world. Challenging Egypt and Saudi Arabia on their own turf. Addressing Iran and making a firm stand for democracy. Promoting democracy. One wonders what was going through the minds of her audiences. But she got her message across, and, in so doing, proved a capable proponent of liberal principles in an illiberal world, not to mention a fine representative of America's interests.

But that was not all. In recent days, she has met with Sharon and Abbas to help hammer out an agreement for a peaceful Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (see here); told Syria to "knock it off" in Lebanon, where it continues to foment instability (see here); and pressured Pakistan to return Mukhtaran Bibi's passport so that she can travel freely (see here and, for my take, here). That's an impressive record, especially when added to her comments in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

This is not to say that all is well with Condi. Iraq continues to be a problem, and no one in the Bush Administration, Condi included, seems at all willing to admit that mistakes have been made and that perhaps the U.S. needs to reconsider its options. Blind optimism -- or, really, blatant denial -- doesn't help.

Regardless, let's give credit where credit is due, and, these past few days at least, Condi has done very, very well.

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  • I think you are right. I always thought Colin Powell was overrated; he didn't like the travel and it seemed like he just wanted to pout rather than fight for what he wanted. Condi at least seems willing to press her own agenda and while it probably doesn't differ greatly from Bush, I suspect she has enough guns to make a difference. I believe (or hope) that the focus on diplomacy with respect to North Korea and Iran at least partly comes from Rice.

    Having said that (and perhaps I'm being ungenerous), I can't help but feel that the press for democracy is motivated in part by a desire to justify the war in Iraq. The administration did not make democracy a central goal until the war started going badly. And I find it just a bit arrogant to say that, well, now that we have decided it's time for democracy here (after 60 years) hop to it.

    There was an excellent article in The Washington Monthly, an international relations journal, about Iran. The author's point was that we need to push democracy in Iran, but we need to refrain from annointing a favored group of from pushing money onto democracy activists. The point of the article, is, I think, that we need to help democrats in these countries achieve democracy on their own rather than making this something the United States "does" for these countries. We can certainly facilitate and promote democracy, but we need to stay out of the way as much as possible or we risk discrediting the indigenous democratic movements.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:19 PM  

  • Yes, Rice has certainly eclipsed Powell thus far, though I also think that Powell never had much of a chance in a Bush Administration run by Cheney.

    You may be right that "the press for democracy" is little more than rhetoric to justify Iraq. Obviously, the earlier justifications for Iraq -- notably, all those WMDs -- have proven hollow. But I'm quite as cynical. I do give Bush and his team credit for pressing democracy where so many before them were reluctant to do so in any real way. But Bush could do more to emphasize and promote democratic elements in places like Iran. Military transformation from tyranny to democracy just isn't enough.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:33 AM  

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