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Secretary of State Rice: Under Fire by Predecessors

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By John E. Carey
December 18, 2006

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared yesterday on "Face the Nation," the CBS Sunday morning talk show with Bob Schieffer. One of the much overlooked though intriguing statements made by Secretary Powell concerned dialogue and diplomacy with nations one might look down upon.

Said former Secretary of State Powell: "Are Iran and Syria regimes that I look down upon? I certainly do. But at the same time I've looked down on many people over the years in the course of my military and diplomatic career and I still had to talk to them."

Secretary Powell's position rests in sharp contrast to that of President Bush and the current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who branded Syria, Iran and North Korea members of the "Axis of Evil" and broke all relationships and dialogue with these nations at the start of the war against terror in 2001.

Secretary Powell has no illusions that a dialogue with Iran, for example, would change their direction in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, but most former Secretaries of State adopt the position that "Talking and engagement with all nations can have some merit."

Secretary Powell's stark reminder that the State Department is the nation's primary advocate of engagement in diplomatic affairs, comes closely on the heels of statements by former secretary of State James Baker who served as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group with former Rep. Lee Hamilton.

The Iraq Study Group recommended a "diplomatic offensive" aimed at building an international consensus for stability in Iraq. Contrary to the State Department's policy, the ISG recommended such a "diplomatic offensive" include every country in the region.

The United States has accused Syria and Iran of funding and fomenting terrorism in Iraq and across and stirring up trouble in the region. The United States has had no diplomatic ties to Iran for nearly three decades, and pulled its ambassador from Syria last year.

Still, the commission said, "Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively."

Another former Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, has also made remarks disparaging to the "no-discussion diplomacy" of Secretary Rice.

When asked by the BBC's Andrew Marr on November 19, 2006, about Kissinger's plan to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, Dr. Kissinger responded, "At some point I think an international conference - at some early point an international conference should be called that involves neighbors, perhaps the permanent members of the Security Council and countries that have a major interest in the outcome, like India and Pakistan."

Sounds something like the Baker-Hamilton Commission?

The November BBC interview continued this way:

ANDREW MARR: What about the Iranians, Dr. Kissinger, do you envisage any likelihood of Washington opening a new dialogue with President Ahmadinejad given some of the things he's been saying recently again about Israel?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think it would probably be better, first the answer to your question is yes, I believe America has to be in some dialogue with Iran.

But does it matter? Can the former Secretaries of State overturn the current lack of engagement by Foggy Bottom in the Middle East?

The answer is: probably.

Yet Secretary of State Rice has been a media darling (and big a favorite of President Bush) since the start of the current administration. One reason foe this is her great charm, poise and certitude. The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt said, in the December 18, 2006 edition, "Of course she makes it clear in characteristic Rice fashion: polite, correct, not personal -- but also forceful and eloquent and unmistakable."

Hiatt continues, "She [Rice] resists talks on Iraq with Syria's strongman and Iran's mullahs."

This despite the urgings of three former secretaries of State: Mr. Baker, Dr. Kissinger, and Gen. Powell.

Mr. Hiatt concludes, "You can't help but be impressed as you listen to Rice discourse on how the region has changed and why the old approaches won't work. You feel less certain, when she's finished, that she or her boss have come up with any alternatives that will."

Secretary of State Rice, for all her favor at the White House, is hearing some dissention from her Republican predecessors.
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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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