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October 2, 2007

Condoleezza's Legacy


by John Taylor

History will not be kind to Condi Rice. The United States has had a number of distinguished secretaries of state since World War II, but she will not be counted among them. Although it would be unfair to compare Rice to George Marshall, the architect of the Marshall Plan, which began economic integration in Western Europe, her performance pales in comparison to the independence, integrity, and leadership of a Dean Acheson or a James Baker. Condi Rice will be remembered chiefly for her unswerving personal loyalty to George Bush and her unstinting efforts to sell the neocons' dysfunctional foreign policy to an increasingly skeptical nation and hostile world.

George Bush nominated Rice to succeed Colin Powell as secretary of state in November 2004, and the Senate confirmed her in an 85-13 vote on Jan. 25, 2005. Thirteen negative votes were the most against a secretary of state nominee since 1825 and reflected the Senate's unease with Rice's performance as national security adviser. Not only had Rice been in the forefront of Bush administration officials making the bogus case for invading Iraq, but she refused to acknowledge her share of responsibility for failure to stop the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. In testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Rice stated she could not recall an "emergency" meeting with CIA Director George Tenet in July 2001 in which he highlighted the al-Qaeda threat. She also claimed, in an assertion that appears absurd on its face, that the president's daily brief of Aug. 6, 2001, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States," contained no meaningful warnings. Conveniently enough, that brief still remains classified.

Condi Rice was an uncritical advocate of the Iraq war. As national security adviser she had the power and responsibility to investigate weak and contradictory intelligence that alleged Saddam's regime was seeking weapons of mass destruction and had an operational relationship with al-Qaeda. She did not do so. Her dealings with Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George Tenet show she valued consensus over truth. A determinedly uncurious Rice was a willing participant in the administration's pro-war rhetoric. She used her intellect not to sort truth from falsehood, but to terrify the American people with cute and clever phrasing: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Rice also tried to add a degree of verisimilitude to the nuclear case against Iraq. In October 2002, she alleged that Iraq was importing aluminum tubes "that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs." Had Rice done a little research she would have found that the U.S. Department of Energy, Uncle Sam's primary authority on matters nuclear, had declared the tubes were inappropriate for enriching uranium. One analyst went so far as to suggest that if the United States actually believed that the Iraqis were going to try to use the tubes in a centrifuge, "We ought just to give them the tubes."

Rice notably, some would say purposely, failed to keep the notorious "sixteen words" falsely accusing Saddam of seeking uranium from Niger out of the president's January 2003 State of the Union address. The CIA had warned her several times that claims were questionable. When challenged after the invasion about the uranium from Niger tale, Rice stated "no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions" about the charge, conveniently forgetting the verbal and written warnings she had received from Tenet. Furthermore, the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq, which Rice claimed to "have read cover to cover twice," contained a statement describing suggestions that Saddam had tried to buy uranium from Africa as "highly dubious."

On the question of whether there was a link between Iraqi intelligence and al-Qaeda, Rice said "we know that there was training [in Iraq] of al-Qaeda in chemical and perhaps biological warfare." But Rice was either too lazy to investigate or decided to cover up the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) opinion that this charge was most probably false. According to the DIA, the accusation had come from a single source, a member of al-Qaeda who had been tortured by Egyptian and American intelligence services, and who had, in the DIA's view, made up the story to obtain better treatment. For additional "proof" of Iraqi cooperation with Osama bin Laden, crucial to support the administration's case for invasion, Rice cited the presence of the al-Qaeda-connected Ansar al-Islam terrorist group in Iraqi Kurdistan. Her statement appears to be an intentional attempt to deceive her listeners, because she must have known that the Kurdish area had been outside the Hussein regime's control since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

As secretary of state, Rice spends much of her time responding to events in the Middle East and trying to justify American policy in the region. Some of Rice's statements are so bizarre they leave one wondering whether she has lost her grip on reality or American policy is so hypocritical, inconsistent, and self-defeating as to make any spokesman, especially the secretary of state who is supposed to lead the policy-making process, sound strange. Rice's dismissal as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" the hardships inflicted upon 750,000 Lebanese civilians frantically fleeing Israeli bombing during last summer's Hezbollah-Israeli war can only be characterized as cavalier in the extreme. and downright weird. One wonders whether Rice would have been willing to describe Israelis fleeing Hezbollah rockets the same way.

During the crisis in Lebanon, Rice praised the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora as an "ally" and "a good and young democratic government." Meanwhile, she was working diligently at the Israelis' request to prevent the UN from instituting a cease-fire. The Israelis, who were busy destroying civilian infrastructure all over Lebanon, whether it was related to their campaign against Hezbollah or not, wanted more time to crush the 1,500 or so lightly armed Hezbollah fighters arrayed against them. Only after Israel had committed 30,000 ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters and still failed to make significant headway against Hezbollah did Condi Rice push for a cease-fire at the UN. Clearly some allies and some democracies are more important to Rice than others.

Rice's efforts to cast herself as the midwife of Arab democracy led her to insist upon new elections in the Palestinian territories: "Holding free and fair Palestinian Legislative Council elections represents a key step in the process of building a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state." The Palestinians, sick of the PLO's corruption and failure to negotiate an acceptable settlement with Israel, elected a Legislative Council dominated by the Islamist group Hamas. Because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel and is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, Rice had to do a quick rethink of her commitment to Palestinian democracy. The State Department promptly repositioned itself to lead an international economic and diplomatic boycott of the new Hamas/PLO unity government. Israel, with Rice's acquiescence, did its best to destroy the Palestinian Authority by withholding Palestinian customs revenues and locking up newly elected Palestinian legislators.

As economic sanctions began to hurt the Palestinians, already poor as a result of 40 years of occupation and resistance, Rice declared triumphantly: "The economic boycott on the Hamas-led Palestinian government is effective, and the international community will continue to maintain the boycott." Other consequences of Rice's efforts to strangle Arab democracy in Gaza and the West Bank were not long in coming, though events did not evolve as she had anticipated. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prepared a coup against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but Abbas' forces quickly disintegrated. The Israelis then put the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza under a punishing blockade. Rice's real message to the Palestinian people seems to be, I'm a strong advocate of democracy; just make sure you elect people acceptable to Israel and the United States, if you want to eat.

While the State Department builds the biggest embassy in the world in the Green Zone, Condi Rice labors to convince the American people that the democracy in Iraq project, now four and a half years old, is worth it. Several years ago, before the invasion of Iraq had cost countless lives and half a trillion dollars, Rice rather grandly told a gathering at Princeton University that the Bush administration had "set out to help the people of the Middle East transform their societies" and bring democracy to the Arab world. Well, Iraq certainly has been transformed into the most dangerous place on earth. Iraqis are voting every day, but with their feet.

Since the start of the troop surge in February the number of internally displaced Iraqis has jumped from half a million to 1.5 million, while the number of Iraqis who have fled to surrounding countries, primarily Syria, has reached 2.5 million. Rice routinely denounces Syria as a "police state" on the "wrong side of history," a "barrier to change in the Middle East." Does she find it ironic that a million-plus Iraqis prefer to live under a socialist dictatorship in Syria instead of the liberal democracy she helped create in Iraq? No, Rice doesn't do irony; she can't and maintain a debased State Department as an integral part of the administration's spin machine.

One wonders just how many Syrians and other Arabs are anxious for the United States to bring freedom and democracy to them. Most people are not keen to pack a suitcase, leave everything else behind, and run for their lives. Four million displaced Iraqis represent 15 percent of the country's prewar population of 27 million. The equivalent figure for the United States would be 45 million displaced. The number of Iraqis who have fled their homes reveals, better than any other fact or statistic, the scope of the disaster that has befallen Iraq since the American invasion. This immense human suffering will be Condi Rice's legacy.

 

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John Taylor received an A.B. in Near Eastern Languages from the University of Chicago, a B.A. and an M.A. in Oriental studies from Cambridge University, and an MBA from Columbia University. He served two years active duty in the United States Army, reaching the grade of sergeant, and spent six years in the reserves. Before making his career in the oil and gas business in Texas, he worked in the Middle East as an archaeologist, banker, and civil servant. Taylor is a life-long Republican.

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