Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the status of several international concerns, notably the state of U.S. alliances, the Administration’s push for greater democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere, and relations with China and Asia (among many other topics) in an exclusive interview with the Washington Post. She strikes me as a very sensible and effective combination of principle and practicality.
Asked about refurbishing U.S. alliances in the wake of the Iraq war, she said, “It seems to me that after the Iraqi elections there has been a new kind of coming together about what the next chapter looks like and a really strong desire to put the past behind us.” There is a “desire to see the spread of liberty and freedom as essential to the securing of a better future, not just for those people who get to live in liberty and freedom but for those of us who experienced what happens when you have a freedom deficit and you have the rise of extremism. I think that you’re beginning to see a kind of focusing and coming together around that project.”
Regarding China and Asia she averred, “A lot is going on there and everybody is trying to figure out how they’re going to cooperate this huge new factor, which is this rising China.
“And I believe that people are beginning to focus even there on the kind of values that unite us and have made these alliances work in Japan and South Korea.
“And then if you to go South Asia, the remarkable thing is to see that kind of ark that is Afghanistan, Pakistan, India has a new energy to it and a positive energy so that you have -– I hate to sound like a Californian, but positive energy it is — Pakistan and Afghanistan with a better relations than they have ever had. Pakistan and India with better relations than they have ever had and kind of a sense that that region could actually be quite powerful in and of itself.”
Focusing on Pakistan, she said, “Pakistan has come a long way, it’s on a better trajectory than it’s ever been, or that it’s been in many, many years, and our job is to support that trajectory and to help bring that along.
“I was really struck by what the 9/11 Commission said about Pakistan, which is basically invest in the relationship with Pakistan because if you don’t, you’re going to create the same situation we created in the ’90s. In the ’90s we decided we couldn’t deal with Pakistan and look what happened. After having strategically allied with it to overthrown Soviet power in Afghanistan, we decided that we didn’t want to have anything to do with Pakistan and, as a result, or one of the results of that, was that Pakistan had no anchor in the democratic world and you’ve got the Pakistan that you’ve got of 1998-1999-2000 and 2001. I don’t think we’re going to make that mistake again. And so we will work with the Pakistanis on their defense needs at the same time that we work with them on the road to democracy.”
Asked about the future for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, she said, “The hardest one in many ways is to predict in Syria because I don’t think the process has really begun in Syria. I do think that the process is beginning, however tentatively, in Egypt, however tentatively in Saudi Arabia and those processes will take on a life of their own.
“There was a picture that was very striking to me in Saudi in the elections, in which women did not participate, there was a man who took his daughter to the ballot box and she put the ballot in the box. That said something about his hopes about what would be possible for his daughter.”
She also indicated that she thought Egypt would have competitive presidential elections this year.
Is she worried about too rapid change? “I really believe that once these things are in motion it is not possible to try and almost thermostat-like dial them up and back. They take on a life of their own.
“Because I have a lot of faith in democratic institutions and their moderating effect, I’m probably less concerned that things will go too fast than that they there may be places where the institutional change cannot keep up with the demand for institutional change. Because once you have populations that are demanding change, once you have populations that are looking around – and one of the really remarkable impacts out there has been satellite TV where people watch Afghans vote or they watch Iraqis vote or they watch the Lebanese in the streets or they watch as far away as Ukraine or Georgia, today Kyrgyzstan – and they say ‘well, why not us?’
“And I don’t know how to judge the particular impact that that will have on individual societies but it will clearly have an impact on individual societies.
“…What we really learned on September 11 as you really started to look underneath what was going on there, is that the Middle East is a place that’s badly in need of change, that some of these malignancies that are represented by the rise of extremism have their roots in the absence of other channels for political activity or social activity or the desire for change, and when you recognize that – and there are some who recognized it well before we did – but when you recognize that you can say, all right well now I’ll try and design the perfect counter to that. Or you can say, the United States is not going to be able to design the perfect counter to that; the only thing the United States can do is to speak out for the values that have been absent, liberty and freedom there, and it will have to take its own course.”
Very sensible and reasonable, I would say: you can’t micro-manage something as volatile and independent as democratic change. All you can do is help facilitate it and provide the support to keep it on track.
Rice recognizes America’s culpability with helping to perpetuate autocratic regimes in the past. “I also think there’s some argument to be made that America’s association with the freedom deficit was a problem for the United States in the region. There are now all kinds of studies of this that people said well, you talk about democracy in Latin America, you talk about democracy in Europe, you talk about democracy in Asia and Africa but you never talk about democracy in the Middle East.
“And, of course, they were right because this was the decision that stability trumped everything, and what we were getting was neither stability nor democracy.”
On the perception that we are tolerating some “accomodation” right now with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Sec. Rice stated, “Well we’ve gone to great pains to make clear to people that our policies towards Lebanon or towards Hezbollah, our view of Hezbolllah has not changed, Our policy towards Hezbollah has not changed, they’re still on our terrorist list, we still have them listed, their assets are still frozen. All of those things.
“There is, it seems to me in the region, a lot of understanding that this is a process that’s just getting underway and that it has to be first and foremost a Lebanese process and that as long as you have the kind of artificial factor of the Syrian military and the security presence, it’s going to be very difficult to actually know what the balance of forces really looks like in Lebanon.
“…I think the main thing is just to help the Lebanese opposition and others, the entire Lebanese political space people to get organized so that they can have a competitive free and fair election.
“I would suspect that if the UN comes back and says monitoring, people will be very supportive of that. Perhaps if there’s need for non-governmental organizations to do training or the kind of things that have been done in other places, I’m quite sure that people would be prepared to do that.
“I suspect that that’s where this is going, that it’s really going along the lines of how do you get the Lebanese organized and trained and do they need non-governmental institutions, of which there are many, who can help them do that.”