Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Diplomacy and Dr. Rice

Cyber Age/ND Batra/ 16 March

It’s diplomacy in a new key with Dr. Rice

Condoleezza Rice is the most visible woman in the world today and there is no better person to advance President Bush’s international agenda and his evolving vision of global freedom than she. President Bush called her “America’s face to the world” at the time of her nomination for the post and said that the world would see in her "the strength, the grace and the decency of our country." He wasn’t exaggerating. She is also a most admired woman in America today, along with two other wonderful women in the public imagination, Senator Hillary Clinton and the media mogul Opera Winfrey.

However, Dr. Rice would have done better as a diplomat if she had learned to talk cricket while visiting the Indian subcontinent. In fact she should have landed in Kolkata at the opening of the second Test to begin her diplomatic mission. If she had done so, she would have drawn attention to herself as to why she is visiting the subcontinent. It would have generated a great feat of public diplomacy and would have given her tremendous media coverage, which no amount of spin could accomplish. Corporate America knows the cultural value of sports and seizes every event to piggyback its message. Diplomats too should learn to do it in order to win the hearts and minds of the people.

If you do a Google or Yahoo search on India or Pakistan, you would find that the most exciting headlines today are about India v. Pakistan Test series. It wouldn’t have escaped the attention of Dr. Rice that even President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have shown keen interest in visiting India to watch the cricket series. The unprecedented excitement over cricket series might symbolize the “tipping point” in relations between India and Pakistan, a convergence of diverse events that began with US seeking Pakistan’s cooperation in its global efforts to fight terrorism but has resulted in the opening of India and Pakistan to each other: a bus route across LoC in Jammu & Kashmir, agreement over Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, lowering of cultural and trade barriers between the two nations and other confidence building measures. Dr. Rice would not fail to notice that it is not deja vue; it is something new in the Indian subcontinent.

So much has changed in the world: the spectacular success of free elections in Iraq and efforts to rebuild the country on a democratic foundation, in spite of the continuous violence by Sunni insurgents; the formation of a free and democratic government in Ukraine after the first election results were overturned under the pressure of popular upsurge; the newly elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who has committed himself to a negotiated peace with Israel; limited but free local elections in Saudi Arabia; President Hosni Mubarak’s call for multiparty democratic elections in Egypt; and the Syrian announcement of withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon, probably the most surprising event in the Middle East that no one could have anticipated. Talking about a rising sense of indigenous empowerment, Dr. Rice told Jim Lehrer of PBS, “We are seeing in the Middle East that people are losing their fear of expressing themselves, of expressing their desire for the same freedoms or the same human dignity that we all enjoy, those of us who happen to have been lucky enough to been born on the right side of freedom’s divide…”

These transformational events couldn’t have escaped the notice of doubting Europeans, especially Germans and French, whose leaders now have begun to realize that in spite of differences over how to handle Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the lifting of arms embargo on China, Euro-Atlantic alliance needs to be freshened up so that it could play a more significant role in world’s trouble spots. “Let us be partners. We are not in competition. We complement each other…Europe and the United States have a privileged partnership by virtue of their history, common values, strong interdependence and shared risks,” said France’s defense minister Ms. Michele Alliot-Marie in a recent column in The Wall Street Journal. Europeans have understood that the ascension of Dr. Rice to the top diplomatic post represents the continuity of the Bush foreign policy, though with greater refinement and sophistication, especially in the use of diplomatic language, which had occasionally gone out of control during the first Bush term. The world’s trouble spots must be spotted and controlled, before they blowup, by using all available diplomatic means, nevertheless, keeping all options open. But the long-term goal is to spread democracy and freedom, first because they are the ultimate human values and secondly because it is much easier to deal with open societies than closed ones. Appeasement is not part of the Bush administration’s agenda. Make no mistake.

Dr. Rice is visiting the India subcontinent not with a mood of “triumphalism” but with a genuine feeling of have accomplished a great deal in foreign affairs especially in terms of triggering fundamental changes in the Middle East political landscape, the consequences of which at present are immeasurable. Although India is her first diplomatic stop, where at best she would re-enforce the existing strategic and cooperative relationship, her more important goal is dealing with Pakistan in terms of controlling nuclear technology so that footloose scientists like AQ Khan, in complicity with rogue politicians, are unable in the future to sell nuclear designs and hardware in the international black-market, which might eventually land in the hands of terrorists. That’s the Bush administration’s greatest concern and a driving force behind its foreign policy.
What would Dr. Rice offer to Pakistan in exchange for, let’s say, adult supervision over its nuclear program? That is almost a billion dollar question ($698.3 million for fiscal year 2006 plus another $ 300 million in Economic Support Funds). Throw in a few F-16s, may be.

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