In a recent column in the Singapore Business Times (reprinted in antiwar.com), “The Unbearable Lightness of Being ‘Condi,’” I suggested that our secretary of state Condoleeza Rice is kind of a, well, lightweight, especially when you compare her to predecessors like, say, George Marshall, John Foster Dulles, Dean Acheson, and of course, Henry Kissinger. Yes, I expected some criticism. But you should have read some of the hate email I’ve been receiving. I’ve been accused of, among other things, being a racist and a misogynist, who isn’t capable of dealing with the reality of strong women, and a powerful African-American female at that. “You probably hated your mommy,” suggested one reader. You get the idea. But no apology from moi, guys. I’m an equal opportunity basher, and proud of being one. As Princeton Professor L. Carl Brown, noted in a review of my earlier book Quagmire: America in the Middle East: “Hadar provides a consistently tough-minded and skeptical examination of the public pities that pass for policy. His approach reminds of the late Vince Lombardi about whom one of his players observed ‘He is very fair. He treats us all like dogs.’ Such is the Hadar touch.” Indeed, many of the neocons, who happen to be members of my own Hebrew tribe, have been grilled to death in my new book, Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.
So if I think that America’s top diplomat, who happens to be a black female, has done a lousy job, I’m going to say so (And I love you, mom!). In fact, as a national security advisor Rice was a disaster of historic proportions. She was responsible for the advice reaching the White House and for the disinformation coming out of it before 9/11 and in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, and had failed to coordinate the Bush administration’s preparation for the postwar occupation of the country. Now she seems to be managing U.S. foreign policy, a reward for a job well done, as a Paris Hilton-style television reality show, with her uninterrupted globetrotting covered 24/7 by the embedded and sycophantic media. I know that the job of a secretary of state is to travel around the world and that her predecessor Colin Powell was criticized for spending too much time in Foggy Bottom instead of schmoozing with Dominique de Villepin in Le Quai d’Orsay. Between you and me and this weblog, face time with foreign officials is over-rated. In this day and age of internet and teleconference much of our diplomatic business can be done today without leaving home. But if Madam Secretary insists that face-to-face encounters do make a difference, she doesn’t seem to be delivering much except for a lot of hot air, like those uninspiring and phony sermons on Freedom in Cairo and Riyadh and sounding sometimes like a kindergarten teacher warning rowdy kids in Beijing and Moscow that if they won’t behave, they could end up standing in the “Axis of Evil” corner. It’s true that Dr. Kissinger had spent his time flying non-stop around the world. And Dr. Rice could certainly learn something from her predecessor. It’s called “secret diplomacy,” Ma’am. Much of Dr. K.’s achievements – the opening to China, the Middle East Shuttle Diplomacy, Detente with the Soviets – resulted from long and risky behind-the-scenes negotiations that required intelligence and skills. The media events – President Nixon’s visit to China, the Egyptian-Israeli accords, Soviet-American summits – crowned those achievements. P.R. wasn’t an end in itself.
Actually, forget Dr. K. and think Treasury Secretary John Snow. He’s not Mr. Charisma, and unlike Condi he doesn’t show up in foreign capitals “dressed all in black” and wearing a “black coat that fell to mid-calf” and calling to mind “a Marine’s dress uniform or the save humanity ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.” But the guy gets the job done, the job here being China’s decision to scrap the yuan’s peg to the dollar, according to both the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. They describe how this unassuming and low-key former business executive stood the center of “a saga whose twists and turns includes secret trips to Beijing by a U.S. envoy, debates among Chinese ministries about how much to revalue, and a seaside conference in China that featured American economists debating before an audience of high-level Chinese officials whether or not a revaluation made sense.” (“Behind Yuan Move, Open Debate and Closed Doors,” Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2005) No need for long sermons. No pompous poses and empty rhetoric. “Mr. Snow’s decision to take a softer approach than some wanted and to downplay threats made it easier for sovereignty-conscious Beijing leaders to make a move widely seen as a bow to foreign pressure.” (“Foreign Exchanges: The American Diplomacy Behind ChinaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Revaluation” Financial Times, July 25, 2005) Quiet diplomacy. It works sometimes.
So I hope that someone in the State Department has been taking notes. Perhaps one day we’ll learn that while I was scribing these anti-Condi diatribes, American and Iranian officials were meeting secretly in Delhi and negotiating the resumption of diplomatic ties, or that one of Rice’s aides was in Pyongyang putting the final touches on an agreement with the North Koreans. Sometimes, not seeing is believing.