January 07, 2004

The Condi Chronicles

Well, here it is, the long awaited NYT State-of-Condi piece.

Interesting snippets:

"In Northern Ireland this past April, Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice had a tense disagreement about a phrase that Mr. Bush planned to use in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain. With American and British forces making quick gains in Iraq, Mr. Bush wanted to say that the United Nations would have a "vital role" in an American-led occupation. Mr. Blair and Mr. Powell agreed. But Ms. Rice, according to a senior administration official, was under pressure from officials in Mr. Cheney's office who disliked the United Nations and thought "vital" was going too far.

The president used the word anyway not once, but nine times. Afterward, the senior administration official said, Ms. Rice was "fussing about it a bit because she was afraid she might have some explaining to do back here in order to cover all of our various constituencies. And after a while, the president got annoyed about it."

The president, the official said, then cut off Ms. Rice, curtly telling her, the official recounted, "I did it, and that's it." The two nearly made a scene, the official said. "They almost had to go off for a minute to sort it out," the official recounted. "And then it blew over."

So tell me again that Dubya is but a clueless marionette in the hands of Dick Cheney. On another note, however, this vignette does showcase how, as against Beltway barons like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell--Condeleeza Rice has often been out-gunned.

Bush pere's NSC advisor Brent Scowcroft is quoted in the article. (As I've blogged before here and more fully here, I view Scowcroft as an effective model of a good NSC advisor--a real broker at the helm of the NSC putting out firefights as between feuding departments).

Scowcroft is gentle (but ultimately damning) in his comments:

"In Washington, Ms. Rice has faced increasing criticism that while she has done a good job as the president's friend and cheerleader, she has done a bad job of managing the president's frequently warring foreign policy team.

Her inability to rein in other powerful advisers, critics say, has helped lead to little planning for the occupation in Baghdad, stalled negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, and no success in stopping North Korea from making nuclear weapons.

"She has a problem that I didn't have," said Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to Mr. Bush's father and a longtime mentor to Ms. Rice. "Everyone then was facing in the same direction, but she's got people facing in opposite directions. And that's really hard." [emphasis added]

Translation: She hasn't been able to do her job effectively.

And finally, how Rice sees her job is quite revealing:

"Ultimately, she added, she will look back on her job as that of a pianist in a chamber music group.

"The pianist is always facing the fact that this beast that is the grand piano can just overwhelm in sound and volume and drama any string, or all of the strings together," she said. "So you want your playing to have personality, but you don't want it to be front and center, overwhelming. It has to be part of the team."

An orchestra conductor would be a better analogy. You need to make sure the unwieldy team is moving together in concert. There will always be, just on an institutional bureaucratic politics level, tense relations between State and Pentagon.

With Don Rumsfeld and Colin Powell, of course, it has been particularly nasty. So having an NSC Advisor willing, ready and able to step up to bat and actively broker the differing policy agendas into a (at least somewhat) coherent whole is even more critical.

And, with all due respect to a hugely talented lady, Condoleeza Rice hasn't been able to pull it off. Put differently, she's been drowned out by the beasts (Cheney, Rummy, Powell).

So the piano playing has had personality--but of the weak-kneed, ineffective variety. The result, too often (and this coming from an Administration supporter), has been policy drift in places like NoKo, Iran, Syria, and Israel-Palestine.

Posted by Gregory at January 7, 2004 11:28 AM
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