Democracy with Rice
Posted by Heather Hurlburt
Condoleezza Rice's recent trip to Egypt and Saudi Arabia is having quite a second life in the blogosphere. You can start over at americansforrice.com and follow related links to find her fans hyperventilating over everything from her new haircut to her stance against all gun control. (Next week, when my beloved is off work and caring for BloggerBabe, I will be trying to verify this site's claim that her father "hunted Klansmen, not ducks" -- count me politely skeptical for now.)
Exhibit B is a Weekly Standard piece by an ABC reporter who breathed deeply of the rarefied air on Air Force Two-and-a-Half, as we used to call the Secretary's plane. He is positive, positive that no one has ever taken it to the Saudis like Secretary Rice. He is struck, well, dumb by the sight of bright toenail polish on a Saudi woman reporter. (Guess he's never read any of those trashy exposes on the lives of wealthy Saudi women, or he'd expect nailpolish...)
Finally we have the pile-on hapening over at America Abroad, where at last count something close to 30 posters had signed on to slam Anne-Marie Slaughter for suggesting that Rice's remarks in Cairo showed a welcome humility.
I'm struck by the contrast between the ABC reporter's breathy insistence that "Condoleezza Rice did something no US Secretary of State has ever done in the Middle East" and the equally fervent insistence of Slaughter's critics that Rice "lies through her teeth over and over again."
About that Cairo speech: the Weekly Standard asserts that the White House sent senior adviser, former chief speechwriter, and acknowledged speech genius Michael Gerson along to help out the 25-year old speechwriter. Call me cynical (maybe it comes from having been a 20-something writer on that plane once upon a time) but the speech is only average to good for Gerson's usual. And it seems to have produced more rapture among Americans than among its intended Arab audience. I would say that it appears to have been written more with an American audience in mind, but perhaps instead I should say "with an American mindSET."
(Note to Christian Bale, the State Department speechwriter: way to hang tough and get the stuff they cut from your draft into the media. Bet your boss didn't appreciate that!)
AND not much in it is as new as the Administration would like you to believe. Yes, the Administration is currently pressing Cairo and Riyadh more openly and vigorously than has been the case in a while. For that they deserve credit. But their mismanagement of Iraq, their lethargy on Middle East peace, and their inability to develop a serious energy policy, have at the same time left the US even more at the mercy of the "friendly" Arab despots than we were seven years ago, when Madeleine Albright created a similar fuss by descending to the Saudi tarmac in a vee-necked, knee-length dress and shaking hands with her Saudi counterparts.
I'm delighted to have our Secretary of State talking about all governments being "inherently imperfect" and recalling that the US has "no call for false pride and every reason for humility." It's an invitation for the reformers we are trying to help to tell us what they really need, and ask us to stop sending what we think they need instead. It's an invitation for others to call us on it when our humility falls short.
But all Secretaries of State learn, most of them painfully, that making elegant speeches in place of elegant policies only gets you so far. The risk of being Secretary, especially, we've seen, of being a woman and/or minority Secretary, is that you are not merely a policymaker; you are a totem of all things great and good, all things American. It starts to seem as if saying something can make it so. Playing to that is tempting; being judged for it later, excruciating.