The Magazine

Condiplomacy

Travels with the new secretary of state.

Apr 4, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 27 • By JONATHAN KARL
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Rice keeps a frenetic travel schedule, and in most countries, she meets with the head of state, not just the foreign minister. Yet she also sets great store by unofficial stops. Senior adviser Jim Wilkinson, Rice's Michael Deaver, plans carefully constructed photo opportunities for each of the secretary's trips. In Japan, Rice was greeted by a 600-pound sumo wrestler; in China, she went onto an ice skating rink (without skates) with some of China's best young figure skaters; in Paris, she visited a music school; in India, she toured Humayun's tomb. All this smacks of a political campaign, and in a way it is. Rice is campaigning to improve America's image around the world. The pictures often run on the front pages of big foreign newspapers and get considerable play on regional television. The visual message is effective: a secretary of state reaching beyond government leaders.

Although Rice's mantra since her confirmation hearings has been "The time for diplomacy is now," she is showing that she can land some punches too. She's spent considerable effort charming the Europeans with diplomatic talk about the transatlantic alliance, but when the European Union signaled its intention to lift its embargo on arms sales to China, Rice got tough. In a closed-door meeting with E.U. officials on her first trip to Europe, she said she did not want to see European technology aimed at American sailors patrolling in the Pacific. At a particularly tough meeting with the E.U. political leadership, the befuddled acting president of the E.U., prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, spilled coffee on his lap.

When the E.U. continued to move toward lifting the embargo, Rice publicly stepped up the pressure. At a press conference in South Korea, where some 30,000 American troops are deployed, Rice said Europe should not contribute to China's already alarming defense build-up, adding, "It is the United States--not Europe--that has defended the Pacific." By the next day, the Europeans, citing increased Chinese belligerence toward Taiwan, had postponed their decision on the embargo.

Rice even got tough privately with Canada over what she considered inflammatory comments by Canadian prime minister Paul Martin. Martin announced Canada would not join U.S. efforts on missile defense, and then acidly warned the United States not to use Canadian airspace without permission. "This is our space, our airspace. We're a sovereign nation and you don't intrude on a sovereign nation's airspace without seeking permission," Martin told reporters. Rice was to travel to Ottawa in April but abruptly cancelled her plans. Officially the trip wasn't happening because of "scheduling" issues, but the Canadians got the message.

RICE SEEMS MOST DETERMINED to make her mark with the vigorous pursuit of the president's freedom and democracy agenda, which is remarkable considering Rice's intellectual roots. When she signed on as a foreign policy tutor for George W. Bush in 1998, Rice had a firmly established reputation as a realist with little appetite for moralistic foreign policy. In her worldview back then, values were important, but the national interest was narrowly defined, and the overriding goal was stability. She was a protégée of President George Herbert Walker Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. It was Scowcroft who, just six months after the Chinese army slaughtered peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, went to Beijing and toasted the very Chinese leaders who had the blood of the students on their hands.

As Scowcroft's Soviet specialist on the National Security Council, Rice was asked to craft a reassessment of U.S. strategy toward the Soviet Union. She advised a cautious approach to Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union, emphasizing stability over democratic revolution. In July 1991, George H.W. Bush gave his infamous speech in Ukraine warning those trying to shake off Russian domination against "suicidal nationalism." William Safire dubbed it the "Chicken Kiev" speech and the biggest foreign policy blunder of the first Bush presidency. Although Rice can't be blamed for the speech (she'd left the White House several months earlier), it wasn't inconsistent with the course she had advised vis à vis the crumbling Soviet Union.