Magazine article The Spectator

George's Girl

Magazine article The Spectator

George's Girl

Article excerpt


For four years, she has been one of the most glamorous, interesting and powerful women in the world. As such, she has been scrutinised, intensively. Yet we know no more about Condoleezza Rice's views than we did four years ago. It is as if she has set out to be the humble handmaiden of the President and to ensure that in public his opinions would be her opinions.

This apparent willingness to play a subordinate role has led to accusations that she is too passive. The national security adviser, part of the White House staff, is in constant contact with the President. Among other things, his or her duty is to ensure that disagreements which occur in other departments are as far as possible resolved before they reach the President's desk. When it came to Colin Powell at the state department and Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, Dr Rice was unable to achieve that. Yet who can blame her?

In youth, Don Rumsfeld was a wrestler of near-Olympic class. During his long decades in government, he has used his wrestling skills in order to help win turf wars. Colin Powell was his latest victim. The General was clearly unhappy with some aspects of the Bush administration's policy. If pushed too far, he might have resigned, which could have had serious electoral consequences. It would have been impossible for Condi Rice to knock those two stubborn heads together. She cannot be blamed for failing to grip a dispute which daunted her President.

But anonymity is no longer an option. As Secretary of State, she will become the public exponent of US foreign policy. Yet in essence, her role will not change. She will be implementing George Bush's foreign policy, and during his first term, he developed strong views as to what that should be. '2008,' he said the other day, 'democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. That would be some legacy.'

But a bold strategy is not incompatible with cautious tactics. In recent decades, the Republican foreign policy establishment has been divided between ideologues and realists. The realists, many of them disciples of Henry Kissinger, believe that the main aim of American foreign policy should be security and stability, and that the United States should not seek to remake the rest of mankind in its own image. The ideologues believe in an overriding moral mission, to help less favoured nations move towards democracy and freedom. They also insist that the world will never be safe as long as a large percentage of mankind is suffering under oppressive regimes. But the division between the two groups is likely to be less sharp in the second Bush term than it was in the first.

The ideologues have had their war, which has proved to be a difficult business, with the end still not in sight. We can be certain that the Bush regime will be reluctant to undertake further large-scale military ventures. If Iran or North Korea forced a confrontation, that would be another matter, but it will be many years before the United States marches off to war in the confident, almost light-hearted spirit of 2003. Condi Rice herself was trained by Brent Scowcroft, a Kissingerian. She does not lack a strong streak of worldly-wise pragmatism. As Secretary of State, she may not become a second Colin Powell. Nor is she about to turn into a second Donald Rumsfeld.

This does not mean that the Europeans can relax. In crucial aspects, they are going to find the Bush second-term foreign policy just as unpalatable as they found the first. As Tony Blair discovered last week, the President is not a tabula rasa when it comes to the Middle East. …

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