Beyond well-phrased generalities, it is difficult to glean from Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just what kind of foreign policy a second Bush administration is likely to pursue — except that it will be what the president wants it to be.
Unfortunately, few of the senators questioning the secretary of state-designate came close to asking the kind of fundamental questions many Americans watching American lives and treasure being spent in dubious foreign adventures would like to see explored.
Rice, who is reportedly personally closer to President Bush and more trusted than any member of his official “family,” is obviously engaged and informed on a broad spectrum of issues. She had soothing things to say about a new emphasis on diplomacy and seeking support from allies for the many challenges the United States faces abroad. But she offered little evidence that she or the president have learned much from any of the mistakes or missteps of the first term in office.
She acknowledged “big tactical challenges” in Iraq, but offered few hints as to what U.S. policy will be beyond the election slated for the end of this month. She declined to entertain the idea that the United States was less than fully prepared for the war and its aftermath and was vague about when U.S. troops might come home. An American exit strategy depended on Iraq’s ability to defend itself, she said — which might be next week, next month, or never, depending on the criteria, which were not spelled out.
Rice’s personnel decisions have spurred hope in some quarters that the State Department will not be dominated by neoconservative war hawks. She chose U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, widely viewed as a traditional realist, over John Bolton, a neoconservative icon seemingly ready to pick fights, as deputy secretary. However, her reported choice for the No. 3 job at State, former National Security Council staffer Robert Joseph, is “an ideological clone of John Bolton,” said Cato Institute vice president for foreign policy Ted Carpenter.
The fact that California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced her in glowing terms is only one indication that Condoleezza Rice will be approved as secretary of state. The fact that California’s other senator, Barbara Boxer, failed to lay a glove on her in a testy exchange shows that Rice is cool enough and well-informed enough — and is the choice of a president who won handily in November — that many Democrats will give her the nod.
Will she be the kind of person who has the knowledge, the fortitude and the confidence born of personal closeness to be able to tell the president, at some crucial moment, that a plan for conflict being pressed on him by other advisers — perhaps in Iran? — is a bad idea? The hearings offered little evidence.