A side of Rice

A SIDE OF RICE…. With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice having two years under her belt, now’s a good time to step back and consider her overall job performance. David Millikin makes the case that Rice has “few diplomatic successes to show for her efforts and fewer signs she plans to change course to improve the record.”

The AEI’s Joshua Muravchik, hardly a Rice critic, acknowledged, “I don’t know that there have been concrete advances” under Rice’s diplomacy, though he nevertheless gave her “high grades” for faithfully implementing Bush’s policy agenda.

I’m curious, though, if Rice’s setbacks and shortcomings her fault, or those of her boss. Millikin quoted Aaron Miller, who advised six secretaries of state before joining the Woodrow Wilson Center, saying, “Great secretaries of state have compelling views of the world and/or are effective negotiators — Secretary Rice has so far demonstrated neither.”

That certainly seems true, and I’m loath to defend Rice (I’m generally stunned by mendacity and misplaced priorities), but it often seems that the Bush administration is so dysfunctional, Rice has to fail. Donald Rumsfeld wouldn’t even return her phone calls, for crying out loud.

This recent anecdote highlights the problem nicely.

Consider a story in the latest Time magazine, recounting the efforts — before the [Iraq Study Group] was approved by Congress — of three supporters to enlist Condoleezza Rice to win the administration’s approval for the panel. Here is how Time reports it:

“As the trio departed, a Rice aide asked one of her suitors not to inform anyone at the Pentagon that chairmen had been chosen and the study group was moving forward. If Rumsfeld was alerted to the study group’s potential impact, the aide said, he would quickly tell Cheney, who could, with a few words, scuttle the whole thing. Rice got through to Bush the next day, arguing that the thing was going to happen anyway, so he might as well get on board. To his credit, the President agreed.”

The article treats this exchange in a matter-of-fact way, but, what it suggests is completely horrifying. Rice apparently believed that Bush would simply follow the advice of whoever he spoke with. Therefore the one factor determining whether Bush would support the commission was whether Cheney or Rice managed to get to him first.

Sure, Rice hasn’t had any successes to speak of, but given her superiors, should this come as a surprise to anyone?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.