Rice Doublespeak at Senate
transcript of the Rice/Boxer exchange is worth reading in full. Rice’s performance is breathtakingly bad, and Boxer has all the quotes and facts at her fingertips. The issue is that Condoleeza Rice engaged in demagoguery before the Iraq war. She invoked the image of a mushroom cloud over the United States. But George Tenet had told her the evidence was weak in that regard. The State Department Intelligence and Research division thought the whole nuclear bit was far-fetched. But Rice kept on saying these alarmist things nevertheless.
In the end, Rice falls back on the same brain-dead rhetorical strategy as George W. Bush. Saddam was a threat because he is intrinsically evil. He is so evil that he can be a threat even though all he had in his arsenal were those spitballs toward which Zell Miller showed such derision at the Republican National Convention. Saddam was a threat to the region, she says. She is still saying this now, today. Saddam was not a threat to the region in 2002. That is ridiculous. Iraq was also not a threat to the US. This turns out to be the Achilles Heel of any doctrine of preemptive war. It would require, in order to be justified, much better intelligence than is usually available on the capabilities and intensions of the enemy. Rice still won’t admit this, which means she may drag us into further wars with further gross mistakes in judgment.
On Wednesday, Rice testified again. Now aware that Senator Boxer and others were complaining about her rigidity, she finally admitted that the US had made some serious errors in Iraq. But the example she gave, of reconstruction work, was disingenuous. Actually the US companies working in relatively safe places like Basra and Sulaymaniyah have done very good reconstruction work. She seems to be trying to find some mistake she could admit to, which would actually be the mistake of the private sector and not of the Bush adminsitration! For an incoming Secretary of State not to be willing to recognize that Iraq is a mess in part because of US policies is to translate the realm of politics into some sort of fantasyland. And in a way, that is what has been happening in US politics since Reagan was elected and Peggy Noonan began writing those syrupy speeches.
Senators Chafee and Biden urged Rice to try to engage Iran. Biden suggested she
tell Bush that dropping some bombs on Iran’s nuclear facilities and then hoping that the young people in blue jeans would toss out the mullas was probably not going to work. Biden has developed this wonderful sardonic sense of what exactly the Bush administration ideologues are thinking, and is able to puncture these insubstantial balloons masterfully, building on decades of experience in foreign affairs.
Rice responded concerning Iran that it was hard to have an engagement with a country that wanted to see Israel destroyed. It is such a simple-minded thing to say. Uh, let me see. In the 1980s wasn’t it the Khomeini regime that sold Israel petroleum in exchange for spare parts for its American weaponry? Wasn’t it the Israelis who put Reagan up to the Iran-Contra scandal by suggesting that the US ship TOWs to Iran in return for an end to the Lebanese hostage crisis? Even when it was more radical, and despite all the rhetoric, Iran was willing to deal with Israel in ways that helped the latter enormously.
It is true that some Iranian leaders, like Rafsanjani, say frightening things about Israel. But Rafsanjani has no executive power, and when he was president he didn’t actually act on such sentiments. The point of engaging the Iranian regime would be to gradually ween it away from such extremism. Iran hasn’t launched any aggressive wars in the region, or threatened to use weapons of mass destruction, unlke some other countries (the US had full diplomatic relations with Iraq in the 1980s at a
time when it had done both of these things.) I am very uncomfortable in having US national security policy and diplomacy dictated by how politicians in a country talk about our non-Nato allies (with whom, by the way, we do not even have a mutual defense pact). And I am very suspicious that now that Iraq is a basket case, all of a sudden Ariel Sharon is calling on the US to attack Iran.
If Rice is going to be a successful Secretary of State, she simply has to get back control of US foreign policy from the Likudniks in the Bush administration.