Is Condi Getting Better?
by Jim Lobe
as the theocratic leadership in Iran is trying to rein in the aggressive
nationalism of the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice appears to be restraining aggressive nationalists
in Washington who want to escalate rising tensions with Iran and
just the last 10 days, Rice and her State Department have reportedly
not only opposed proposals to carry out military raids inside Syria
as a way of further weakening, and possibly overthrowing, its already
beleaguered President Bashar Assad, but they have also put forward
a plan for directly engaging Iran for the first time since May 2003.
latter move, which, according to the Wall Street Journal,
also includes setting up a small "interests section" in Tehran,
came even as British Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested that Iran
was behind a series of bombings by Shi'ite militias in southern
Iraq that have killed half a dozen British soldiers this year. Bush
himself was also preparing to deliver a speech in which he called
both Iran and Syria "allies of convenience" of al-Qaeda and "Islamic
both cases, the role played by Rice has aggravated right-wing hawks,
particularly hardline neoconservatives who were already unhappy
about her public declarations that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon must do more for Palestinians beyond disengagement from Gaza.
It suggests that her so-called practical idealism may not be all
that different from the "realism" of her immediate predecessor,
the hapless Colin Powell.
may also bear some similarity to realist tendencies of Iran's supreme
religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who last week enhanced
the authority of his Expediency Council and its chairman, former
President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to oversee the performance
of Ahmadinejad's government, particularly in foreign policy.
approval last month of a resolution referring Iran to the UN Security
Council for allegedly violating its nuclear-reporting obligations
was reportedly seen – by Tehran's stock market as well as its gray
beards – as a sharp setback to its international standing, and one
that had to be taken seriously given rising tensions with Washington
over Iran's nuclear program and its activities in Iraq.
at [the nuclear] sector should know that we need diplomacy and not
slogans," said Rafsanjani, who was defeated by Ahmadinejad in June's
elections. "This is where we should use all our leverages with patience
and wisdom, without provocation and slogans that can give pretexts
to the enemies."
remarks sounded eerily like Rice's mantra – "Now is the time for
diplomacy" – since becoming secretary of state.
contrast to Powell, who labored long and hard to achieve the same
end, Rice has so far succeeded in getting Bush to try serious diplomacy,
as well as rhetorical posturing and military threats, on the two
remaining members of the "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea.
the first, she persuaded her boss to support the negotiating position
of Britain, France, and Germany (the EU-3) on a deal to provide
Tehran with economic and other carrots in exchange for renouncing
its production of fissionable material that could be used to build
the second, her chief negotiator in the Six-Party Talks for denuclearizing
the Korean Peninsula, Assistant Secretary for Asian Affairs Christopher
Hill, was given significantly greater flexibility to engage the
North Koreans directly in discussions than Powell was ever able
victories have tended to confirm the assessment that Rice and her
team – which features such formidable players as Deputy Secretary
Robert Zoellick, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns,
and Counselor Philip Zelikow – are in a much stronger position in
the administration vis-à-vis the hawks.
last week, a prominent neoconservative, Danielle Pletka of the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI), complained that "The Bush revolution
has ...lost its energy" and that the administration's "rhetoric
retains its ring, but it does not resonate through the Department
realists' stronger position, of course, is due above all to the
fact that, with 150,000 U.S. troops still bogged down in Iraq at
the cost of $6 billion a month, the "coalition of the willing" getting
smaller virtually every month, and public support for the war in
a state of collapse, those who argue that expanding the conflict
have a hard row to hoe.
also helps that key Pentagon ideologues – notably former Deputy
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith
– are gone and that relations between Rumsfeld and influential neoconservatives,
such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, have deteriorated
addition, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley has weighed in
with Rice in most internal battles, in contrast to Rice's reluctance
to take positions when she served in the post in Bush's first term.
Finally, Rice has also benefited from a much closer personal relationship
with the president than Powell could even dream about.
that does not mean that the hawks are defeated. On both Syria and
Iran, as demonstrated by the threatening tone of Bush's speech last
week, the hawks, particularly neoconservatives, are pressing for
several months, Kristol, among others, has been urging cross-border
raids – either by air or by land – of Syrian targets, particularly
sites where "foreign fighters" bound for Iraq allegedly train or
to Knight-Ridder, that proposal was discussed among Bush's top advisers
late last month, but it was Rice, who has fiercely criticized Damascus
in public, who successfully argued against the idea, particularly
given the anticipated Oct. 25 report by a UN commission investigating
the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
If it inculpates Assad, the regime could fall on its own. In that
sense, Rice's advice was, if nothing else, "expedient."
Iran, the administration's rhetoric has also hardened amid charges,
which preceded Blair's, that Iran was providing both its Shi'ite
allies and Sunni insurgents with specially designed bombs.
this front, too, the neoconservatives, who remain powerful in Cheney's
office and elsewhere in the national-security bureaucracy, including
the State Department's nonproliferation bureau and the U.S. mission
at the UN, have been the most outspoken, with AEI in the vanguard
Monday, for example, one of its resident regional specialists, Michael
Rubin, published an article entitled "Only Threat of Force Will
Tame Tehran" in the London Guardian. Later this month, AEI
will host a conference focusing on Iranian minorities, such as Azerbaijanis,
Kurds, Ahwazis, and Baluchis who, "in the event the current regime
falls … will undoubtedly play an important role in their country's
this context, Rice's apparent backing for engaging Tehran as part
of a new carrot-and-stick strategy that would include "a quiet approach
to representatives of Khamenei" himself, according to the Wall
Street Journal, is no less remarkable than her successful efforts
to gain a broader negotiating mandate for North Korea.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service