The Unbearable Lightness of Being ‘Condi’

Back in the 1950’s comedienne Carol Burnett made her name as a nightclub performer with a song called “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles.”

Americans had a big laugh over the spectacle of a celebrated entertainer singing a love song about U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s Cold War secretary of state and not only because the portly Dulles wasn’t exactly your typical matinee idol.

In the minds of most Americans, secretaries of state like George Marshall, Dean Acheson, or Dulles were larger-than-life father figures who exuded statesmanship, class, and intellect. And silly young girls weren’t expected to have a crush on these gentlemen.

Indeed, as someone who has always been interested in international affairs, I’ve always regarded U.S. secretaries of state very highly, in the same way that an amateur basketball player would worship Michael Jordan.

It’s true that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was loathed by those who disagreed with his policies. But even those critics agreed that he had the personal skills needed to deal with affairs of state. You didn’t fall in love with him – but you were overpowered by his intellect and charisma.

But we have come a long way from Dulles and Kissinger. If you follow the media coverage of Frequent Flier and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice you sometimes get the impression that U.S. foreign policy is being conducted by Paris Hilton on one of those television reality shows.

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Wednesday dressed all in black,” is how the Washington Post reported recently about one of her many visits to Europe. “She was wearing a black skirt that hit just above the knee, and it was topped with a black coat that fell to mid-calf,” the Post noted, adding that “the coat, with its seven gold buttons running down the front and its band collar, called to mind a Marine’s dress uniform or the save humanity ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.”

Now, before someone bashes me – one of those guys who just can’t deal with a strong and high-profile woman – let me stress here that there is nothing wrong with America’s top diplomat trying to look a little stylish. Even nerdy Dr. Kissinger aspired to be a media star, dating Hollywood film stars, and was mentioned quite frequently by American gossip magazines. And he had spent much of his eight years in the White House and State Department flying around the world more than any other secretary of state.

As a frequent flier myself, I certainly don’t envy Dr. Rice for being in the air for so many hours. It’s true that in this day and age one could probably manage much of America’s diplomatic business without leaving home. But face-to-face encounters can sometime make a difference, as Kissinger demonstrated in his successful (secret) efforts to reestablish U.S. ties with China and his “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East after the 1973 War.

But it’s not clear that Rice’s globe-trotting diplomacy is producing anything more than a lot of hot air. Every trip she makes to China is followed by rising Sino-American diplomatic tensions. And after her recent trip to the Middle East that was aimed at helping Israelis and Palestinians move toward peace, the two sides seemed to be even less inclined to reach any agreement while violence in Israel/Palestine flared up.

Like Rice, Kissinger also has a Ph.D. in international relations. But I’m quite confident that he wouldn’t have told an American audience – as Rice has done – that in American-occupied Germany, SS officers, called werewolves, “engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them – much like today’s Ba’athist and Fedayeen remnants (in Iraq).”

As anyone with even a basic knowledge of post-World War II Germany would tell you, unlike the Iraqis, the Germans were ready to work with the American victors, while there was no sign at all of the resistance which the Allies had expected in the way of “werewolf” units and nocturnal guerrilla activities.

That the former provost of Stanford University is willing to engage in this kind of historical revisionism reflects either ignorance or a willingness to misinform American and foreign audiences.

Moreover, Rice, serving at the time as President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, was responsible for much of the advice reaching the White House before 9/11 and in the months leading to the war in Iraq. She had failed to coordinate the Bush administration’s preparation for the postwar occupation of Iraq. The outcome of that failure is evident in what is happening in Iraq today.

But like many of the architects of the war in Iraq, Rice was rewarded with an even more exalted position, to serve as a successor to Kissinger and Dulles. Someone clearly made a fool of himself over Dr. Rice.

Copyright © 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.