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Condi Weighs In: The Politics of Self-Rehabilitation

By       Message Steve Breyman     Permalink
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Condoleeza Rice
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She couldn't resist adding her voice to the current discussion over the Arab uprisings. As the popular revolt in Egypt drove Hosni Mubarak from power, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice lamented in a February 16 Washington Post op-ed, "It didn't have to be this way." The ironic thing is, she's right.

When former high-level policymakers contribute to current debates over policy, a primary motivation is to show how on top of today's issues they were when in power. Or how they saw the current problem clearly then, but their recommended course of action was overruled. Or how if the present administration would only stay the old course, all would turn out well.

For Rice, several factors (none of the above) explain her return to the fray. She has lessons to draw from her diplomatic experience. She needs to inform or remind us that she's a fervent democrat. But most importantly, Rice's intervention is about self-rehabilitation.

She was National Security Advisor, and then Secretary of State, when the US started two illegal wars, kidnapped and then tortured suspected terrorists, abused illegally-held detainees in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and secret hell-holes around the world, rejected the advice of old allies, ruined the country's international standing, emptied the public coffers, and attacked civil liberties at home. She has more blood on her hands than fellow political scientists Zbigniew Brzezinski or Madeline Albright. During the postwar era, only Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger were party to more death and destruction than Rice.

She needs several rail cars to tote this baggage, so she harkens back to January and June 2005, the year Forbes called her the most powerful woman in the world. January marked President Bush's second inaugural address; June, an address of hers to a gathering at the American University in Cairo.

The Bush speech was generally very nice (if you could overlook the glowing and thinly veiled reference to the freedom unleashed by the occupation of Iraq), hitting the high notes of human rights and liberty. It was filled with the lofty and moving rhetoric of American values and sacrifice. The speech was an absolute necessity for an administration that had just dragged the country--many of us kicking and screaming--through four years of war, hatred, and shame of its own making. It was mostly a rousing call for what US foreign policy ought to be but never was, especially through the Bush years.

Rice's speech began with praise for the US relationship with Egypt, and its autocratic head:

"The United States values our strategic relationship . . . with Egypt. And American presidents since Ronald Reagan have benefited from the wisdom and the counsel of President Mubarak, with whom I had the pleasure of meeting earlier today."

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Steve Breyman teaches peace, environmental and media studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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