From The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal to the Financial Times, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is being hailed for her latest public scolding of America’s Arab allies.
In what columnist David Ignatius calls the “signature line” of her speech at The American University in Cairo, Rice declared: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.”
What is it about Rice’s speech that makes it so off-putting and irritating?
First, in treating friends, common decency and diplomacy and the Good Book, as well teach us that private admonition is preferable to the public declamation, which is often the mark of the hypocrite.
Second, Rice’s public scolding fairly reeks of moral arrogance. Unlike my purblind predecessors, Rice is telling us, my president and I are moved by a higher, nobler cause. While we fight for democracy for Arabs and Muslims, my predecessors, going back to World War II, were only interested in “stability.” Thus, they all failed.
The claim is absurd. For Rice’s predecessors had to conduct foreign policy during a Cold War in which freedom was at stake and under siege from the greatest enemy the West had known since the Islamic armies invaded France in the 8th century.
Thirty years ago, during Watergate, Richard Nixon ordered a huge arms airlift to save Israel in the Yom Kippur War, for which Golda Meir was eternally grateful. Then, with Dr. Kissinger, he brokered an armistice and effected a severance of Sadat’s Egypt from the Soviet Bloc to the West. Jimmy Carter took it from there, brokering the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel that still hold.
Does Rice believe that because Nixon, Kissinger, and Carter did not insist that Sadat hold elections they were on some lesser moral plane than her own virtuous self?
President Bush’s father, in the Gulf War, put together a coalition of NATO nations and Arab autocracies, including the Syria of Hafez al-Assad a ruler no less ruthless than Saddam to expel Iraq from Kuwait in a six-week war that was a military masterpiece. U.S. casualties were a tenth of those in our current war, an end to which is not remotely in sight.
Was that Bush I achievement diminished because Saudi Arabia, which provided bases and troops, and Kuwait, the nation we rescued, were, neither of them, democracies on the New England model?
From Truman to Bush I, from Acheson to Jim Baker, with rare exceptions, U.S. Middle East policy was crafted, as it should have been, to secure the vital interests of the United States. Who is Rice, and what exactly are her accomplishments, to demean what these men achieved: victory in a half-century Cold War with the Soviet Empire?
There is another problem with this schoolmarmish scolding of Arab nations that aided this country in the Cold War, but have failed to live up to Rice’s standards.
Has she or President Bush thought through the consequences, should their hectoring succeed in destabilizing and bringing down Saudi Arabia or Egypt? Have they observed how the elections they have been demanding have been going of late?
In southern Lebanon, Hezbollah and the Amal militia took every parliamentary seat. In the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas is so strong the Palestinian Authority postponed the July elections. If Hosni Mubarak held free elections in Egypt, his principal rival would be the Muslim Brotherhood. If the Saudi monarchy should hold elections, Osama bin Laden might not win, but my guess is he makes the runoff.
President Bush is riding for a fall. He sold the war in Iraq to the country on the hard security ground that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda, that he may have had a role in 9/11, that he was hell-bent on getting WMD and atom bombs, and that, when he did, he would give them to fanatics to use on Washington, D.C. The lady who stapled together that false and perhaps falsified case for George Bush was Condi Rice.
Now they tell us the war was about democracy in Iraq and the Middle East i.e., a nobler cause than any such mundane concerns as American national security.
This is baby boomers working up noble-sounding excuses and preparing high-minded defenses in the event they wind up as failures.
When the Great Society programs of LBJ led to riots, inflation, campus upheaval, crime waves, polarization, and a quarter century of almost unbroken Republican rule, liberals exonerated themselves by saying that, even though they had lost the country, they were still blameless, since their motives were so superior to those of their adversaries.
The liberals’ defense of the Great Society debacles will be the neocons’ defense if we lose the Middle East. But Rice’s homilies about how high-minded she was will carry little weight. Americans won’t buy it. Just ask Robert McNamara.