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Rice in the Driver’s Seat

From the Scrapbook.

Sep 5, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 47 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Among the many fascinating nuggets in Vice President Dick Cheney’s forthcoming memoir, In My Time, is a lengthy discussion of the Bush administration’s second-term foreign policy. It comes in a chapter he calls “Setback,” in which he discusses the lengths to which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to engage and accommodate Iran, Syria, and North Korea. The sum total of those efforts, he argues, was a setback for the Bush Doctrine established in the first term.

One anecdote that might be particularly amusing for readers of this magazine is Cheney’s retelling of Rice’s determination to convince a recalcitrant North Korea to accept the many preemptive concessions the United States had been offering. In the second term, State Department officials had downplayed North Korea’s nuclear tests, had worked to block public release of information on North Korea’s involvement in developing a nuclear reactor in Syria, had pushed to accept an incomplete declaration of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons activities, and, at one point, had even held a fun-filled, boozy evening with their North Korean counterparts to convince them that the United States really meant well.

Kim Jong Il being Kim Jong Il, and having learned from more than a decade of American capitulation, wanted more. Rice was happy to oblige. In late May 2008, at a small meeting of top national security officials in the office of national security adviser Steve Hadley, Rice announced that she wanted to go to Pyongyang. 

Cheney objected. “The North Koreans still hadn’t provided a full and complete declaration of their nuclear activities, I pointed out, and now, suddenly we would be sending the secretary of state to Pyongyang? It was a bad idea.” Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seconded Cheney’s argument. “I think a number of us were getting tired of refighting the same battles in meeting after meeting where it seemed we had to argue against yet another misguided approach from the State Department.”

Cheney continues:

Steve brought the meeting to a close and said he and Condi would report the group’s views back to the president. A short while later, I was sitting in my office when one of the president’s senior advisors came through the door, holding a copy of that week’s Weekly Standard. The cover story was titled “In the Driver’s Seat: Condoleezza Rice and the Jettisoning of the Bush Doctrine.” Pointing to the cover, the senior advisor said, “Yet another reason why Condi should not go to North Korea.”

As the headline of that June 2, 2008, article by Stephen F. Hayes suggested, Rice had already done damage to the Bush Doctrine by the time she proposed her trip to North Korea—a visit that would have given Kim even more undeserved legitimacy. 

The Scrapbook is tickled that even if this magazine couldn’t fully persuade George W. Bush to stick to the doctrine that bears his name, at least we may have played a small role in killing a trip that, like Madeleine Albright’s ill-fated photo-op in 2000, would have proved to be a national embarrassment.

Rice in the Dictator’s Photo Album

"I’m not a religious man,” said Winston Churchill to Franklin Roosevelt when they met off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941, “but I thank God that such a man as you is the head of your government at a time like this.” Roosevelt, for his part, was slightly more guarded in his expressions of affection for Churchill—he was slightly more guarded in his expressions of affections for everyone—but he did once append this note in a letter to 10 Downing Street: “It is fun to be in the same decade with you!” 

All of which reminds The Scrapbook that, realpolitik notwithstanding, genuine friendships sometimes do spring up between statesmen. Charles de Gaulle of France and Konrad Adenauer of West Germany, despite initial (and obvious) mutual suspicions, seem to have developed a warm personal rapprochement in the early 1960s. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, despite the occasional policy dispute, seemed genuinely fond of one another.

None of this, however, had quite prepared The Scrapbook for the incontrovertible evidence of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s infatuation—there is no other word for it—with Condoleezza Rice. We had known, as the whole world had known, that the colonel liked the then-secretary of state: “Leezza, Leezza, Leezza,” he purred to Al Jazeera in 2007, “I love her very much.” But such ardent expressions of affection were put down at the time to (a) the colonel’s famous eccentricity, and (b) his notion of himself as an African as much as an Arab. Qaddafi had been cultivating the African states on Libya’s southern border—Sudan and, especially, Chad (the latter he invaded)—and he pointedly summed up Secretary Rice to Al Jazeera as a “darling black African woman.”

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