Secretary Rice's "Foundation for History's Judgment"
by Charles Lemos, Sun Dec 28, 2008 at 06:52:33 PM EST
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave an end-of-term interview this morning to Rita Braver of CBS Sunday Morning. There's a lot to chew on given the far-reaching nature of the interview that covered the image of the US abroad, the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sino-American relationship, North Korea and the Six-Party Talks, AIDS relief in Africa, the rise of authoritarianism in Russia and more. But early in the interview is a very telling exchange:
QUESTION: Looking at the big picture of what's the whole foreign policy of this Administration - you come out of the academic tradition so I think it's fair to ask, what kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don't know. It depends on the subject. I'm sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. But what I think this Administration has done is, in the most complicated circumstances after September 11th, to put the country on a course where we have built a different foundation for a different kind of Middle East, where Saddam Hussein is out of power, where that will bring -- where there's an Iraq that is multi-ethnic and multi-confessional democracy and a friend of the United States, rather than an Iraq that is invading its neighbors and using weapons of mass destruction and seeking weapons of mass destruction. We've left a lot of good foundations.
QUESTION: You know, you say that, but the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a new report very recently. On the very first page it says, "The U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere." The most recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 26 percent of Americans approve of the President's foreign policy. It has to be more than just a perception problem.
SECRETARY RICE: No. Rita, first of all, it depends on where you're talking about. In two of the most populous countries, China and India, the United States is not just well regarded for its policies, but well regarded. And -
QUESTION: This report says the only place the U.S. is really - you know, people are happy about the U.S. is in some of the southern African countries, but --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, that's no small fact either, that in Africa, the policies of AIDS relief and so forth have been so regarded. But you know, this isn't a popularity contest. I'm sorry, it isn't. What the Administration is responsible to do is to make good choices about Americans' interests and values in the long run, not for today's headlines, but for history's judgment.
And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it's clear that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East, when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it's ever been, an India relationship that is deeper and better than it's ever been, a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America better than it's ever been, a relationship that has given an umbrella to anti-terrorist activities so that this country is not yet safe, but clearly much, much safer. When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this Administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines.
QUESTION: So you think that people are just short-sighted and they - that the pain that maybe we're going through now because of what's still going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, is causing people to say, look, you know, we just don't think this Administration has done a very good job. I mean --
SECRETARY RICE: Rita, it's not a popularity contest. It is to lay a foundation for where this will all come out. Do you really think that in 1947 or 1948 or 1949, anybody thought we were going to win the Cold War, flat out, that Germany would unify on Western terms, that the Soviet Union would collapse, that Eastern Europe would be fully integrated, and that this President would welcome nine countries into NATO that are former captive nations? I know that your business is to report today's headlines, and I respect that, but my business is to lay a foundation for history's judgment.
Well she was always a popular professor winning the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and she was an easy-grader at Stanford. Not sure if these two are correlated, but to be fair Professor Rice was a remarkable and engaging professor. It would be hard to describe her tenure as Secretary of State in such terms.
I won't dispute that there have been diplomatic successes for the Bush Administration. There clearly have been. What we are doing in Mindanao is what we should be doing Afghanistan on a grander scale. Since coming to office, the Bush Administration tripled direct humanitarian and development aid to Africa and recently pushed to double it to nearly $9 billion. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is a bright spot providing anti-retrovirals to 800,000 across Africa. But here again, the Bush Administration's insistence on abstinence programs have limited PEPFAR's reach and effectiveness. Fully two-thirds of the money for the prevention of the sexual spread of HIV goes to abstinence programs. One critic called it "Save the Virgins." Another success was the US-India Nuclear Agreement which provides US assistance to India's civilian nuclear energy program and expands US-India cooperation in energy and satellite technology. The agreement ends a 30 year ban on nuclear trade with India but critics suggest that the deal lacks "sufficient safeguards to prevent New Delhi from continuing to produce nuclear weapons." It seems many of the Administration's foreign policy successes warrant an incomplete grade. But it is the failures that are proving so costly.
Iraq, on one level is a success (Hussein is gone), but at what cost? Containment was working even if it exacted a horrible price on a helpless population but the US-led invasion can hardly be claimed as improving the lot of Iraqi lives with over 4 million displaced or exile and the dead numbering over 100,000. Nor it is clear that Iraq's political security is ensured at this point. The country may yet cease to exist.
China is likely satisfied with the Sino-American relationship because we have largely been too distracted elsewhere to pay them much heed nor have we been excessively critical of the Chinese role in propping up some of the world's most barbaric regimes from Myanmar to Sudan and Zimbabwe. If the measure of success is that Chinese have had few complaints, then yes, Sino-American relations generally enjoyed a good moment and really more due to Treasury Secretary Paulson who has spend the last two years smooching with our generous benefactors in Beijing making sure our funds aren't cut off. From the US perspective, we are now more dependent on China than they are on us. Not sure if that's a good thing.
And since the onset of the global recession, Sino-American friction is on the rise. The head of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT), is planning to introduce legislation raising tariffs on dumped imports from China. Furthermore, American companies are preparing trade complaints that could lead to increased tariffs. And as the New York Times notes just today "American businesses, unions and lawmakers are already gearing up to force Mr. Obama's hand. Unions and lawmakers plan to push measures to force China to raise the value of its currency." But from my perspective the damning part is that under Bush, China has become our largest lender now holding 10% of our nearly $11 trillion dollar national debt. I fail to see how this has enhanced our national security.
It's also not clear to me how the US relationship with Latin America can be described as "better than it's ever been." President Bush was all but ignored at his diplomatic farewell at the Lima APEC conference and the United States wasn't even invited as an observer to the recent Bahia Grupo de Rio conference. And it isn't as if Latin American leaders aren't critical of the United States. Never mind Chavez, Correa, Morales or Ortega. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva back in September as the global financial crisis gained steam noted emerging economies had done their best to have "good fiscal policy" and "can't be turned into victims of the casino erected by the American economy" adding that "it's not fair for Latin American, African and Asian countries to pay for the irresponsibility of sectors of the American financial system." And to top it off at the moment, we don't have an ambassador in La Paz or Caracas. Even Colombia views the US with some suspicion declining to countenance a military base on Colombian soil. Increasingly, Latin America has rejected what the US has been preaching.
On Afghanistan, there has been nothing short of a dereliction of duty. Our unwillingness to commit the sufficient number of ground troops and the dollars to rebuild the country's infrastructure has had dire results. In a few short years, Karzai has gone from being the President of Afghanistan to being the Mayor of Kabul. The latest figures from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, taken a month ago, suggest that about 750 civilians have been killed by NATO forces this year. Most were killed in air strikes. We are trying to fight the Afghan war on the cheap and in the process not only bombing a country of rubble into further rubble, we are also in danger of turning the population of Afghanistan wholly against us. We are fighting this war largely from the air, after all, the Taliban doesn't have a air force. We do this in part because we want to minimize our own level of casualties. But it's wrong both morally and tactically. We also need to fight this war with roads, schools and clinics. We need to rebuild this country because it is the morally right thing to do. But this aspect of American diplomacy is largely absent outside Kabul and perhaps Kandahar. If we succeed in Afghanistan, it will because of Obama, not because of Bush.
That Pakistan is a failed state shouldn't be pinned on the Bush Administration but as Secretary Rice notes in the interview "part of the problem there is that nobody has been able to deal with the sanctuary across the border in that ungoverned part of Pakistan. And this is where the links between Pakistan and Afghanistan are very important. The Pakistanis have got to get a better handle on what's going on in the northwest frontier, because that is the place from which the Taliban is resurgent." That nobody includes the Bush Administration.
On Russia, the Secretary's area of expertise, she is disappointed that " Russia's internal development has turned a more authoritarian way, which means that I think the hope for confluence of values, not just of interests, doesn't seem to be coming into place. But we did the right thing to make that path open to Russia. And I still believe, you know, that that Russia, a Russia that is more oriented toward the rule of law, greater freedom for its people, is - it's not a foregone conclusion that that Russia can't come back into being, because Russians have come to expect a different life than they expected in the Soviet Union. They expect to travel. They expect to have consumer goods. They expect to have their government deliver for them. And ultimately, Russia's leaders can't do that from a position of isolation." Perhaps not but the US under Bush didn't have a Russian policy, it had a Putin policy that was effectively let's not anger Vladimir because we need his cooperation on North Korea and Iran. Telling in the Bush Administration's approach was cutting the budget for Freedom Support Act from $148 million to $73 million. Strengthening democracy, governance, and a free media in Russia all but disappeared from the Administration's rhetoric and in budget.
And then there are issues from Iran to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea where we find ourselves in a weaker position than we found ourselves in 2001 largely because US policy under Bush had one hallmark, it was inconsistent. In sum if it was Secretary Rice's "business is to lay a foundation for history's judgment," it's hard not to give her and the Bush Administration a failing grade even at this early date because the edifice constructed looks awfully wobbly.