I Can Has Legacy?

3 comments September 1st, 2007at 01:06pm Posted by Eli

Poor, poor Condi. What a shame it would be if her reputation was permanently tarnished by being the worst NSA ever, and a poor-to-mediocre-at-best Secretary Of State…

There was a time when, perhaps more than Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice seemed to have the best shot at becoming the first woman or the first African-American to be president. But that was before she sounded public alarms based on faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, telling CNN, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” It was before a former top Bush administration colleague, David Kay, charged with finding unconventional weapons after the Iraq invasion, referred to Ms. Rice in Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial” as “probably the worst national security adviser since the office was created.”


Now Ms. Rice is working hard to reshape her legacy in her remaining 16 months in office. She is cooperating with a range of authors who have lined up to write books about her: “The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy,” by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, comes out next week, while “Condoleezza Rice: An American Life,” by The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller is due out in December. “Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power,” by Marcus Mabry, now an editor at The Times, came out in May.

How nice. And it’s good to see that Liz Bumiller is continuing her take-no-prisoners approach to the White House – I thought she might start to ease up after scoring those hard-hitting exposes on the President’s iPod and newfound love for ice cream.

In Washington and around the world, many now believe that Ms. Rice, after two and a half years on the job, is a far better secretary of state than she was national security adviser. As President Bush’s top diplomat, she has lowered tensions somewhat between America and its allies, after four years of a go-it-alone diplomacy that had chilled trans-Atlantic relations. Despite criticism from conservatives within the administration, she has allowed her North Korea aide, Christopher R. Hill, enough space to negotiate a truce that led to the North’s shutdown of its main nuclear reactor in July.

She has cobbled together a six-nation diplomatic effort to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions which, although unsuccessful so far, has managed for more than a year to hold together on a series of United Nations sanctions against Iran. And perhaps most important, she has used those sanctions, along with tough rhetoric, to tamp down the national-security hawks in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office who have argued for greater consideration of military strikes against Iran.

OMG Condi has singlehandedly stopped us from nuking Iran OMG!!!1!1!

But none of that has been enough to erase the view that as national security adviser she largely served as a rubber stamp for a series of foreign policy blunders, during a period that critics say will ultimately weigh most heavily on her legacy. “It turned out to be a very disastrous four years in my view,” said Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Mr. Powell’s chief of staff at the State Department while Ms. Rice was national security adviser.

Richard L. Armitage, Mr. Powell’s deputy secretary of state, said he became so frustrated that he once went to the White House and complained privately to Ms. Rice that he felt like he was getting on a “gerbil wheel” every morning “and nothing would be resolved, and we’d get off at night, and the next morning we would get back on and do it all over again.”

But Mr. Armitage said his view of Ms. Rice had since mellowed. “I’ve become more conscious of the fact that the president got the national security adviser he wanted,” he said in an interview this week. “It just wasn’t the national security adviser that I wanted.”

Um, I’m not sure that really qualifies as “mellowed.” It sounds more like he simply realized that Dubya wanted an oblivious incompetent in that position.

She was sitting in the anteroom of her office on the State Department’s seventh floor, in the chair where she usually sits for news media interviews, occasionally falling back on her usual talking points, except this time, those talking points were interspersed with grumbling that she was being asked for personal reflection, something she does not like to do, preferring instead to work through times of personal turmoil on the piano, with Brahms.

In fact, her friends say that she rarely questions whether she is right or wrong, instead choosing to believe in a particular truth with absolute certainty until she doesn’t believe it anymore, at which point she moves on.

Like I was just saying to Mr. Armitage…

“I told Steve Hadley once, I frankly prefer being coordinated than coordinating,” she said, referring to the current national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley. National security advisers, she said, end up spending their time thinking: “Let me see if I can get Secretary X to do Y, and Secretary Y to do X, and let’s see if we can get both to do it.” She gave a nod. “I prefer line responsibility,” she said, echoing perhaps the biggest complaint about her time at the National Security Council, that she was more follower than leader.

Keep burnishing, Condi, keep burnishing. You’re sounding more presidential by the minute.

Ms. Rice has also come under fire for her abandonment of her onetime passion: the administration’s stated quest for democracy in the Muslim world.

In the Palestinian territories, she engineered a political boycott of the militant Islamist group Hamas after it won legislative elections, which she had pushed for, in 2006. In Pakistan, while continuing to express support for elections, she has scrambled for ways to keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a military dictator who took power in a 1999 coup, in office. And she made little mention of democracy during a visit to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in July, and did not meet with any political dissidents, citing time pressures and a full schedule.

In all fairness, I don’t think we can really blame Condi for this – she is clearly just following the policies and priorities of her boss, for whom democracy is nothing more than a convenient rhetorical device for bashing opponents and justifying invasions.

Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution who advised the American occupation authority in Baghdad in 2004, said it is possible, though unlikely, that Ms. Rice could change the historical record in her remaining time in office. “If she pulls a rabbit out of her hat on the Israeli-Palestinian question, and some kind of political compromise in Iraq, it could partially salvage her legacy,” Mr. Diamond said. But, he added, “If we keep going on the trajectory that is now evident, I think even her tenure as secretary of state is also going to be, frankly, pretty damned.”

For the record, Ms. Rice said that she was not fixated on her legacy. On the morning of the Times interview, she had just returned to the State Department from a private tour of the National Archives, which she said she had always wanted to see. A morning with the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, she said, gave her a different perspective on legacy.

“People are still trying to resolve those legacies,” she said. “I’m not going to worry about my legacy.”

For instance, is the Constitution’s legacy the idea that people have rights and government has checks and balances, or the idea that the president should have absolute unchecked power over everyone and everything? Many deep political thinkers still grapple with this very difficult question.

She said that she is looking forward to getting back into the classroom at Stanford, where she hopes to interact with students, to challenge them, to hear them out and perhaps to teach them a thing or two about what it’s like to be in the driver’s seat when a national-security crisis explodes.

“I would do a simulation with students, where they are given a problem, some hot spot in the world,” she said. “And over a week they’d have to be the national security adviser solving those problems.”

“All of a sudden,” she said, “it doesn’t look so easy.”

“You see? You see? I’m not the worst NSA ever! I’m NOT! It’s, like, totally hard and stuff!”

Every time I read an in-depth story about one of the loyal Bushies, I always have the same reaction: We are so doomed.

Entry Filed under: Republicans


  • 1. Spear and Magic  |  September 1st, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    BTW, Eli: Marcus Mabry, author of “Twice As Good,” was an RA in Donner our first year in Serra.

  • 2. Eli  |  September 1st, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    I knew he was in Donner, but I thought he was our year.

    Mostly I’ve just seen him doing poll “analysis” for Newsweek…

  • 3. Multi Medium » The &hellip  |  September 2nd, 2007 at 9:54 am

    […] seems like the Bushies are awfully concerned about their legacy all of a sudden. First Rove, then Condi, and now the Deciderer himself: When President Bush is asked what he plans to do when he leaves […]

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