From The Statesman
America’s face to the world
Condoleezza Rice, the new US secretary of state, has a world to heal, without giving up the fight against global terrorism. As a most trusted confidante of President Bush, whom she is said to have helped form a vision of the world based on freedom and democracy, she could launch a new phase of American diplomacy. A broken and wounded world expects much from her. She brings to the job greater clarity and more credibility than Colin Powell, about whom the world was not sure whether his voice was authentic.
In spite of his well-articulated magnificent presence, Powell was an over-rated diplomat. His domestic reputation rested on the fact that the son of Jamaican immigrants, raised in the Bronx, a Vietnam vet, rose to become chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, national security advisor and finally the secretary of state. He celebrated his Horatio Alger kind of rags-to-fame and riches achievements in his best selling book My American Journey. The Powell Doctrine –attack only when absolutely essential but with an overwhelming force and know how to get out – was nothing but a distillation of the best practices of some of the past great generals.
Powell’s international reputation rested on a dubious premise that in spite of the fact that he differed with the Bush administration on its policy of pre-emption in general and the war against Iraq in particular, he heroically continued exercising his moderating voice among the hawks like defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney. If the chief function of a diplomat is to persuade others, Powell persuaded no one; not the President; not his own Cabinet colleagues; not the public; and not the international community. Using satellite imagery on 5 February 2003, he tried to convince the UN Security Council that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Technically brilliant and highly oratorical, it was nonetheless a disastrous performance.
By giving the impression that he was trying to give a moderate face to the Bush administration’s policy of pre-emption, Powell raised false hopes abroad. Last year on his visit to Islamabad, he declared Pakistan to be a non-Nato ally, which made no sense to anyone and pleased none. It was a diplomatic blunder of sub-continental proportion. His defenders say as a loyal soldier, he has continued supporting the commander-in-chief, President Bush, in spite of fundamental differences, but that is a deceptive behaviour. He would have served the country better by being a man of conscience rather than a blind follower of something he did not believe in. May be he would write another book about his experiences in living with contradictions in an atmosphere of cognitive dissonance. Diplomacy is not deception. It is not a charm offensive; nor a point-counterpoint game of chess. In the ultimate analysis, it is building alliances by creating shared meanings and common goals. It is persuasion using all the available means, short of war.
With Powell’s departure, it falls upon the shoulders of Condoleeza Rice to give a new tone and set up a new structure for the US foreign policy, which must go beyond pre-emption. Much is being talked about her past; how she grew up in the segregated South; how her father, a priest, imbued in her an unshakable faith in the ultimate goodness of American society; her self-discipline and dedication to whatever she chose to do, whether it was concert piano, ice skating or being a provost at Stanford University.
The most remarkable thing about Rice is she won the confidence of George Bush, who graciously introduced her at the time of appointment as secretary of state as “America’s face to the world.” Her relations with Bush, which began during the 2000 presidential campaign when she became his foreign policy advisor, grew into mutual admiration and trust. Bush admires Rice’s sharp analytical mind; she is captivated by his uncluttered vision, his habit of cutting through verbiage and getting to the heart of the matter. Probably she understood that behind the occasionally mangled English and malapropism, there lies a clear-headed and determined person with a vision.
What is expected of her? In what way would she be different from Colin Powell? As the President’s trusted person, she would speak with an authentic voice and in that sense she would be a true face of the Bush administration to the world. With so much credibility, she must dust up the roadmap for Israel-Palestine peace process and instigate earnest negotiations for the establishment of a genuine Palestinian democratic state that lives in peace with Israel, an indispensable first step in winning over the Arab-Muslim world. Lessons of Iraq must not be forgotten; though hopefully peace would return some day and Iraqis would have their own democratically elected government. Although Iran and North Korea cannot be ignored, any attempt to force a regime change would unleash forces that the USA might not be able to control. Dr Rice of course understands all that and much more.