Condi Rice in charge of U.S. foreign policy

Make no mistake about it, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is firmly in charge of U.S. foreign policy in the second George W. Bush administration Ð and that's as it should be in a country that believes in civilian control over the military.

For far too long after President Bush took office in January, 2001, the U.S. Defense Department and its neo-conservative allies at the White House prevailed on major foreign policy decisions, which helps to explain how we became involved in what appears to be a Vietnam-type quagmire in Iraq. In "Plan of Attack," author/journalist Bob Woodward's best-selling book on how the decision was made to go to war in Iraq, he chronicles how Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the "neocons" steam- rollered ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell and the State Department every step of the way.

Even as Powell urged caution, Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. plunged full speed ahead into Iraq without thinking through the future consequences and implications of an American "victory" in that strife-torn Islamic country. Along the way, the White House, "Rummy" and the Pentagon somehow managed to ignore a five-volume State Department study predicting what would come to pass in Iraq after we "won" the war, including the bloody chaos and sectarian violence we've been witnessing on a daily basis ever since that foolish "mission accomplished" photo-op three years ago. Unfortunately, Iraqi violence continues unabated despite alleged signs of "progress" this month including the formation of an elected government, the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad last Tuesday.

For the record, I would note that an obscure Nevada Appeal political columnist raised a couple of key questions well before "coalition" (i.e. American) forces invaded Iraq. "How will we define 'victory?'" he asked. "And what will happen there after we 'win?'" Now we know the costly and unpleasant answers to those questions. Although we "won" the war at a cost of 2,500 American lives and more than $300 billion taxpayer dollars to date, Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war and President Bush's approval ratings remain below 40 percent in an election year.

Condoleezza Rice was the president's national security adviser when the decision was made to go into Iraq, but she learned her lessons well and understood the importance of diplomacy when she took over from Powell at State 18 months ago. One of her first accomplishments was to reassert her department's primacy on foreign policy issues by convincing Bush to try diplomacy before resorting to military force. That's why we're currently trying to negotiate our way out of a stalemate with Iran over that country's ominous nuclear weapons program, with a reasonable chance of success.

Howard LaFranchi of the respected Christian Science Monitor described Ms. Rice's approach to the Iran problem as follows: "When Secretary Rice faced the facts about international sentiment on Iran Ð shelving U.S. demands for quick, tough action and signing on to another round of European incentives to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions Ð it was a move right out of the Bush playbook. The first President Bush's diplomatic playbook, that is." LaFranchi added that Ms. Rice's approach to international problems "is proving to be more patient and multilateral than during (George W.) Bush's first term."

"What Rice brings to the table," he continued," is not only the assumption that she has the president's full backing Ð something Colin Powell couldn't assert Ð but also an ability to manage, if not actually resolve, conflicting foreign policy visions" between the internationalists and the neocons within the Bush administration. In a Good Cop, Bad Cop scenario, Ms. Rice is the good cop while Cheney and Rumsfeld are the bad cops. Despite being outnumbered, however, Ms. Rice usually wins the foreign policy debates in Washington these days, which is a hopeful sign that President Bush has finally learned the painful lessons of his Iraqi misadventure.

Ms. Rice is implementing something called "transformational diplomacy" at the State Department so as to respond to international crises by stationing more American diplomats at dangerous hardship posts like Baghdad and Kabul. Although some career diplomats are protesting such assignments, they have no choice because they signed-up for "worldwide availability" and must serve where they're most needed despite dangers and family hardships.

In a little-noticed speech in January, Ms. Rice said transformational diplomacy is necessary in order accomplish an extraordinarily ambitious foreign policy goal announced by President Bush in his January, 2005, inaugural address. "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture," he declared, which reminded me of President John F. Kennedy's pledge to "go anywhere and pay any price" in the name of democracy. While wishing President Bush and Secretary Rice well, I seriously doubt whether the American people are still willing to "pay any price" in order to achieve worldwide democracy, if they ever were.

My realistic approach to democracy-building is based on 20+ years' worth of Third World experience. In fact, I still recall how President Kennedy's far-sighted but unrealistic "Alliance for Progress" program in Latin America slowly dissolved into a morass of broken promises and official corruption - a lesson President Bush and Ms. Rice should keep in mind as they embark upon a 21st century global democracy crusade.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, served in the U.S. Foreign Service for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1995.


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