Waking Up to Reality
Condi makes nice in the Middle East.
Korbel's prize student, Condi Rice, has been locked in a dream the past two years—the dream of her latest mentor, George W. Bush, who declared in January 2005, in his Second Inaugural Address, that, since freedom is God's gift to humanity, the main goal of American foreign policy will be to unshackle that gift, to spread freedom and abolish tyranny "in all the world."
It was the following month that Rice canceled her trip to Egypt, and five months later that she delivered her speech at American University. Read in the light of all the disastrous developments since, it's a relic of stunning innocence. Here are some excerpts:
The day is coming when the promises of a fully free and democratic world, once thought impossible, will … seem inevitable. … There are those who say that democracy leads to chaos, or conflict, or terror. In fact, the opposite is true. … Ladies and Gentlemen: Across the Middle East today, millions of citizens are voicing their aspirations for liberty and for democracy ... [and] demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries. To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessings of your own liberty.
She can almost be forgiven for sounding like the Western capitalist equivalent of a Trotskyist. The winter of 2004-05 was a heady time: the Rose Revolution in ex-Soviet Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the free elections in Iraq. Freedom seemed "on the march," as President Bush exclaimed.
But by the spring or summer, the march had sputtered to a crawl, then dissolved into a spat. Popular elections without democratic institutions merely reflected—then hardened—social and ethnic divisions. New democratic governments, without the political legitimacy or economic support to mend those divisions, dwindled into anarchy or fell back on authoritarianism.
To a student of history, as Rice surely is, none of this should have been surprising. A student of history turned maker of policy should have taken steps to prop up the hopeful developments instead of merely touting them as the inexorable dialectics of History. Democracy is worth supporting and promoting; to do so is a vital element of a democratic nation's foreign policy. But a policy, even one designed to change the world, must start out with the world as it is.
Hosni Mubarak is hardly an admirable figure, but it's not hard to see why he viewed Rice's 2005 Cairo speech as not only an affront but a delusion. Now, two years later, when the prospects for democracy seem so less bright—and after some democratic elections have produced results so grim—it's not hard to see why Rice herself has taken refuge in the old, albeit uninspiring, verities.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Condoleezza Rice by Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images.