Politics & Policy

Whee Time!

On Condi and more.

So it will be Condoleezza Rice. We must deny the temptation to ruffles and flourishes which, heaven knows, one might revel in for a good hour. A woman! An African American! An academic! Who had a high post at a tough, competitive major university! And–mirabile dictu–a conservative!

Okay, slide by that and concentrate on the theoretical and historical challenges she faces. Some of these she had a role in creating; some, she just bumped into.

Begin with Iraq. Tony Blair was just in town, injecting great drafts of high octane enthusiasm for the challenge of bringing democracy to the Arab states. In passing, we need to acknowledge Blair as a high presence on the historical scene. The stand he has taken is not popular with his own political party, but he reckons to run on his association with President Bush’s crusade, and to win reelection next spring. It has to be dismaying when a major European figure makes plans which can succeed or fail according as two or three thousand insurgents do or don’t succeed in aborting the democratic enterprise in Iraq. But he is surely doing the right thing.

Condoleezza Rice isn’t going to win or lose in the next six months. Mr. Bush has not brought in a specialist whose credentials get validated or found spurious in 90 days. He has personal knowledge of how she winds in and out of critical decisions, and he trusts her judgment and seeks her advice.

She identifies with the optimism of Tony Blair on the general thesis that the West should encourage the growth of democracy in the Arab states. The general feeling at the moment, notwithstanding the proliferation of insurgents north, south, east, and west, is that we are headed in the right direction and that huge lessons have been learned from the experience of Afghanistan, where women, of all people, wound their way to the polls and registered their vote. The distance between the high-water mark of the Taliban and the democratic exercise in Afghanistan is little more than three years–a fleck of time in the sweep of history. But Blair, Bush, and Rice see it as a fleck in the sky which becomes a galaxy.

Political movements at a number of levels are in high motion. Arafat is dead. Can that mortality be celebrated by a renunciation of terrorism? Can a Bush-Rice team galvanize the strength of purpose needed to persuade the Palestinian populace to simply abandon the larger claim to the reconquest of Israel and generate a resilient state whose leaders are more convincingly elected by democratic means than by Yasser Arafat?

The tremors of change and challenge are felt at many levels. The CIA is undergoing major convulsions as old hands deny the acceptability of new concepts of purpose and management. Two or three senior officers are resigning, and apart from the loss of their services to their country, we need to celebrate that option: the glorious option of resigning. Nobody resigned from service to Stalin or Hitler. There is simultaneously the tradition of staying in to stand by the leader. Colin Powell did that, and leaves now after a reasonable period of identifying with a leader qua leader: which is different from the leader whose policies he always endorsed.

At a third level we have the phenomenon of U.S. soldiers who are being reprimanded and fined, and, the news tells us, here and there to face court martial–for failure to carry out orders in military circumstances. Such are the seeds of revolt. This is not going to happen to the American enterprise. The U.S. is too experienced and too proud to move towards anarchy, which always produces the autocrat or the despot.

So great ventures, democratic in composition, are struggling for historical affirmation. They are animated, ultimately, by the transcendent human ambition, which is to live as free as possible in a world in which so many claims are made on us.


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