February 1, 2000

The Fatuous Mind of Condolezza Rice

Few elections in US history have been as of little significance as this year’s contest. Whoever is sworn in next January, we can be pretty sure that the same countries will continue to be bombed; the same countries "contained"; the same countries "deterred"; the same countries starved and frozen into submission; the same countries lectured about their shortcomings. The IMF and the World Bank will continue as ubiquitous adjuncts to US foreign policy. USAID and the NED will continue promoting their hapless clients. For evidence one need look no further than the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs. It contains an article by Condolezza Rice grandly entitled "Promoting the National Interest." Condolezza Rice is, of course, one of George W. Bush’s chief advisers and widely touted as the next Secretary of State.

In all fairness one has to say that Condolezza is a lot more agreeable to look at than Madeleine Albright. And she seems to be a much nicer person – no great feat to be sure – than the hideous harridan. But that is where the differences end. In every other respect Rice and Albright are two peas in a pod. Rice is full of classic, vapid Clintonisms like "history marches towards markets and democracy." This hackneyed piece of eschatology – which we owe to that towering genius Francis Fukuyama – serves the same purpose that the Marxist variant once did. When rulers find that "history" is not marching quite fast enough, they give it a good shove. The Clinton Administration has, of course, been doing plenty of shoving over the last seven years. From terror-bombing in the Balkans to the forced removal of Indonesia’s President Suharto to the slow annihilation of the Iraqis the US has been spreading havoc with the sublime self-assurance of one who believes he walks with God.

Should we expect the same from George W. Bush? Yes. Ominously, Condolezza starts off by trotting out that most tired of cliches: the image of the diffident, naïve, "Aw Shucks" America. Under a Bush Administration, she implies, there will be no more Mr. Nice Guy. "Many in the United States," she announces, "are…uncomfortable with the notions of power politics….In an extreme form, this discomfort leads to a reflexive appeal instead to notions of international law and norms, and the belief that the support of many states – or even better, of institutions like the United Nations – is essential to the legitimate exercise of power. The ‘national interest’ is replaced with ‘humanitarian interests’ or the interests of ‘the international community’. The belief that the United States is exercising power legitimately only when it is doing so on behalf of someone or something else was deeply rooted in Wilsonian thought, and there are strong echoes of it in the Clinton administration."

Now, no one in the world – not in Europe, not in Asia, not in Africa, nowhere – believes that the United States is an altruistic power. No one believes that the United States will ever allow itself to be restrained by the wishes of the United Nations or by the exigencies of international law. The United States is the leading power in the world today. It did not get there by altruism. Every imperial power in history has used force, aggression, conquest, deviousness, terror and chicanery to get to the top. The United States is no different. Look at the Second World War! There is the fairy-tale we tell the children: The United States woke out of its isolationist slumbers, realized what needed to be done and went off to crush Hitler and bring freedom and democracy to a benighted world. The truth is otherwise. The United States watched Britain, France, Russia and Germany exhaust themselves before stepping in to pick up the winnings. Throughout the war years the United Sates was at least as determined to liquidate the European empires as it was to defeat Nazi Germany.

As for the "humanitarian interventions," what does she mean? The devastation of the Balkans? The Clinton crowd rejected one peace plan after another for Bosnia. They egged on the Moslems, secured arms for them from Iran and masterminded the expulsion of Serbs from Krajina and western Bosnia. Does Rice mean Kosovo? It takes a truly fatuous mind to call the horrific ten-week bombing campaign last year as "humanitarian." In fact, the only US intervention anywhere that might be called "humanitarian" was President Bush’s 1992 mission to distribute food in Somalia. Rice was working for George Bush at the time. (She does not mention – surprise – her former boss’s little caper.)

In fact, Rice has no problems at all with any of Clinton’s interventions. The only thing she whines about is that the US may not have enough force at its disposal to put everyone in his place. It is "unwise to multiply missions in the face of continuing budget reduction," she pontificates. When George W. Bush takes over "military readiness will…take center stage…new weapons will have to be procured in order to give the military the capacity to carry out today’s missions." Great! And what are these missions (as if we do not already know)? Well, there is Kosovo. Kosovo, she explains using terms that reveal the bottomless mediocrity of her intellect, "was in the backyard of America’s most important strategic alliance: NATO…. Slobodan Milosevic’s rejection of peaceful coexistence with the Kosovar Albanians threatened to rock the area’s fragile ethnic balance…the United States had an overriding strategic interest in stopping him." Condolezza would have let fly as eagerly as Albright. That’s good to know. Rice appears to be happily oblivious to the painful and humiliating agreements that Milosevic accepted so as to avoid the bombing he knew America was bent on. The October 1998 deal with Richard Holbrooke provided for Serbia’s withdrawal from Kosovo and the introduction of 2000 OSCE observers. The KLA seized the opportunity to step up its offensive – which is exactly what the US wanted it to do. Rice proffers the usual dreary litany of complaints about Clinton’s Kosovo policy: The "Administration’s political goals kept shifting"; it was not ready for a "decisive use of military force"; there is no "political game plan that will permit the withdrawal of our forces." Meaningless verbiage piles up on meaningless verbiage. I wonder George W. Bush’s "game plan" is. Create a Greater Albania? Assassinate Milosevic? Invade Serbia? Exterminate the Serbs?

I do not doubt he will do what Clinton would do were he to serve another term – bomb Serbia for refusing to give independence to the Montenegrins, whether they want it or not. As Rice drones on, she sounds indistinguishable from Strobe Talbott, Lawrence Summers, Richard Holbrooke and the rest of the Clinton crowd. She is wholeheartedly in favor of further NATO expansion: "The door to NATO for the remaining states of eastern and central Europe should remain open." She is concerned about the European Security and Defense Identity, because it might – horror! – undermine US leadership: "The United States has an interest in shaping the European defense identity – welcoming a greater European military capability as long as it is within the context of NATO."

As for China, it is "a potential threat to stability to in the Asia-Pacific region….China will do what it can to enhance its position, whether by stealing nuclear secrets or by trying to intimidate Taiwan." What is wrong with China enhancing its position? Why is that a threat to "stability" unless the US chooses to make it so? Oh and did China "steal" nuclear secrets? Where is the evidence? Russia too is a threat. "Moscow is determined to assert itself in the world," she argues, "and often does so in ways that are at once haphazard and threatening to America’s interests." Like the Albrights and Talbotts she wants to create US satellites in the Caucasus. She talks of the "vulnerability of the small, new states around Russia and of America’s interest in their independence."

Goerge W. Bush’s agenda will be the familiar one of bombing, deterring, containing, punishing, lecturing, impoverishing. China has to be stopped from becoming a regional hegemon. Japan must be used to contain China but must subordinate its military to the US. Japan must get its economic house in order – adopt American-style capitalism in other words. Russia must stop trying to keep its Federation together. Europeans must stop trying to build up an independent military capability. Saddam Hussein must be overthrown. Iran must be contained. And so and so on.

In an interview published by Stanford University last year Rice explained her vision: "First, we need to make certain that the international system remains stable and secure from a military point of view so that no hegemon can rise to threaten stability. Second, we should promote an open international economic system, including trade and the development of markets. And third, we should work to extend and expand the values that really do support democracy – whether they be human rights or political rights – and to try to promote their spread." This is an imperial agenda. It is the delusion of all imperial powers that they will enjoy world hegemony for ever. It is the conceit of all imperial powers that, unlike any of their predecessors, they are motivated by high-minded idealism. The American empire will suffer the same fate as the empires of Napoleon, Hitler and Caesar. Power and dominance for their own sake offers few attractions to others. And the invocation of "values" to justify imperial rule serves only to infuriate those upon whom these blessings are to be bestowed.

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Tuesday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

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Articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press

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