New Internationalist

Condoleezza Rice

Issue 394

On 11 December 2005 Condoleezza Rice wrote in the Washington Post: ‘It is sheer fantasy to assume that the Middle East was just peachy before America disrupted its alleged stability. Had we believed this, and had we done nothing, consider all that we would have missed in just the past year: a Lebanon that is free of foreign occupation and advancing democratic reform. A Palestinian Authority run by an elected leader who openly calls for peace with Israel… And, of course, an Iraq that in the face of a horrific insurgency has held historic elections…’

Within months, all these treats have gone missing again. But then, Rice is a practitioner of ‘transformational diplomacy’ or ‘doing things with other people, not for them’. One does not, for example, impose a ceasefire in Lebanon – or cease feeding one side with treasure and weaponry – if one believes that the conflict serves some larger purpose, such as US interests, or even the domestic political prospects of its President. This requires a steely self-belief, of which Rice has a good deal more than most.

For this, at least, she has some justification. Born in 1954, an only child in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, at the age of eight she was within earshot of a white-supremacist bomb that killed her friend, Denise McNair. ‘The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations,’ Rice reflected later. ‘But those fears were not propelled forward, those terrorists failed.’

Her parents propelled her forward – father a pastor, mother a teacher – keeping her out of segregated schools and teaching her at home. Her father carried weapons, with which he stood guard while Condoleezza – her name an awkward adaptation of a musical notation – practised the piano. Rice has said that if gun registration had been mandatory they would have been left defenceless against the Ku Klux Klan.

The family moved to Denver, Colorado, and at the age of 15 the precocious, multi-talented, by now self-propelled Rice, an accomplished ice-skater and pianist, entered college. She discovered political science, and the Soviet Union in particular. Her tutor was Josef Korbel, father of Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. Rice herself was a registered Democrat until 1982, when she switched to the Republicans, apparently out of disgust with President Carter.

By then she had begun an academic career at Stanford University, also home to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace – mission: ‘to sustain for America the safeguards of the American way of life’ – where she remains a Senior Fellow. She moved with ease into the corridors of Washington DC, advising the military on Soviet policy. President George Bush Sr introduced her to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as the person who ‘tells me everything I know about the Soviet Union’.

During the Clinton years she became Provost of Stanford University. She cultivated links with corporate America and was appointed a director of the Chevron Corporation, which duly named an oil tanker after her (subsequently renamed). She was quietly delegated to knock some foreign policy into the Republican heir apparent, George Bush Jr, notoriously impervious to such matters. During the 2000 presidential election she scarcely left his side, regularly cleaning up the mess he left behind.

No-one was surprised when she was appointed National Security Adviser after the election. In 2001 it was Rice who delivered the news that as far as the US was concerned ‘Kyoto is dead’, setting the tone for US policy on climate change ever since. Allegations persist that she was responsible for downgrading intelligence on the looming 9/11 attacks. Thereafter, she was among the most active advocates of the invasion of Iraq, repeatedly linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda and citing the existence of weapons of mass destruction as a matter of fact.

There was no surprise, either, when Rice succeeded Colin Powell as Secretary of State after Bush’s re-election, thereby achieving the status of superstar. With this have come jibes about her unmarried status, among them one from President Chávez of Venezuela, who claimed that what Rice really needed was an affair with him, though he would reject any offers.

She strenuously denies them, but there are persistent rumours that she might ‘accept’ the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential election. An unofficial website has been set up to promote her nomination. It says: ‘The possibility of a legitimate, well-qualified African American woman appearing on a Republican ticket could forever change the debate about gender and race in American politics. Believe me when I tell you, that scares the Left to death!’

However, there is a problem. Black Commentator magazine has described her as ‘a Black woman who doesn’t know how to talk to Black people’. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asked: ‘How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans?’

Rice is too smart to be used crudely. But she’s proud of making herself useful, particularly when it comes to scaring the Left to death. If her remarkable career prompts the response ‘only in America’, then so too does the possibility that she might not attract any ‘Black Votes’ at all.

Condoleezza Rice Fact File
Name
Condoleezza Rice
Job
US Secretary of State.
Reputation
Warrior Princess, pooper-scooper for President George W Bush.
Sense of humour
Despite the time-honoured diplomatic formula of quiet airport greetings by dour foreign ministers, Rice has arranged to be welcomed by a falconer (with bird) in Kyrgyzstan, a sumo-wrestling champion in Japan and legendary gymnast Nadia Comaneci in Romania.
Low cunning
Remarks made to a State Department dinner, 25 October 2005: ‘America supports the democratic aspirations of all people, not because we think ourselves perfect; to the contrary, it is precisely because we are imperfect, with a long history of failures and false starts, that we cherish democracy and support others who embrace its challenges.’
Sources
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