Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Condoleezza Rice on Rethinking National Interest

A sweeping view of current American Foreign Policy is presented in Condoleezza Rice's essay in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. In Rethinking National Interest, she sets the context of the US foreign policy against the backdrop of post-9/11, post-Iraq world. She starts with the usually accepted view - 9/11 was a watershed point in America's history as was Pearl Harbour - and then goes on to talk about America's foreign policy, which marries Realism [as in its imperfect relations with Russia and China] and idealism [the faith in democratic development, partnership with democratic countries etc].

It is an interesting read, though these views are well-publicized views of a celebrity politician. The tone - interestingly - is one of realism, and she even has kind words to say about Russia and Iran. The message is that America must strive to engage, and remain engaged, in the world and with similarly minded partners to build a world of peace and shared values. Sounds much like George Bush's second inauguration speech, just a little sobered at the end of a rather terrible four years in the administration.

She also argues in favour of the intervention in Iraq, yet again, and justifies the human costs referring to the fact that Saddam Hussein was indeed a threat - why else the international community kept Iraq under embargo for so many years and Clinton administration put forward several measures to contain him. This is where Rice the politician gets better of the Rice the academic. Indeed, international community kept Saddam embargoed as the United States, and the Saudis, did not like his influence and his military ambitions. As for the threat, even Robert Mugabe presents a threat and even worse crimes are committed in Burma every day. Mrs. Rice got 4 clear years in the State Department and did not find it necessary to do anything more than making some noises about the problem. By the same measure, the human cost of Iraq war can not be justified by pointing that Saddam was a threat, and gloss over the whole WMD scandal.

Lord Palmerstone said nations have no permanent friends. Rice disagrees and feels that countries with shared values and similar institutions are permanent friends to United States. She does not mention that this is rethinking needs to go beyond this assertion. She never mentions that environment may become a foreign policy issue soon: While the similarity of institutions and values are good enough to keep the friendship in a world of shared interests, in a world where resources are scarce, and the interests of rich nations will be at odds with each other, such friendships may not remain as permanent as it seems now.

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