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Reservations About Rice

Speculation that Governor Romney will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate is all the rage right now in Washington and among political reporters. Dr. Rice evidently gave a bang-up speech in Park City at a closed-door fundraising retreat. Rice is poised and articulate; a huge contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who often lacks both qualities. She also adds diversity to the ticket, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of life story; she has perhaps the most compelling life story next to that of President Obama himself.

Rice also has much experience at the senior levels of government, serving both as George W. Bush’s national security advisor and also his second term secretary of state. Whether Rice would bring electoral benefit is an open question, especially because she has not held elective office and it is questionable, therefore, whether Californians would consider her native enough to call their own simply based on her tenure at Stanford. Nevertheless, she has a demonstrated ability to charm the press, and that is a quality that should not be dismissed. Like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, she used it to great effect during the internecine wars that plagued the George W. Bush administration.

Rice’s record should raise various questions about her suitability to be vice president. As national security advisor, she presided over one of the most chaotic National Security Councils in recent memory. The job of the National Security Council (NSC) is first to coordinate policy between various bureaucracies and second to define policy and enforce decisions when disputes occur within the administration. Rice was a poor administrator. The meetings she chaired ran like college seminars and seldom reached a conclusion. This led to policy chaos and polarization, especially during the Iraq conflict. Many of her colleagues—on both sides of the philosophical debate—speculated that she was hesitant to present the president with decision memos until she could divine his thoughts on an issue. Hence, she let basic issues like pre-war planning and questions about whether the Iraq campaign was simply to unseat Saddam or whether the U.S. would rebuild Iraq’s government slip until just weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

While Rice will be great at advocating for Romney’s record, behind the scenes she may once again sow the seeds of rebellion. Bush administration officials used to joke that Rice’s personnel picks represented 2004 Democratic challenger John Kerry’s farm team. She appointed a number of officials—Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann, and Rand Beers, to name just a few—who may be very competent in their fields of expertise—but used the credibility gained from their perch in the Old Executive Office Building to work against the Bush agenda both privately and then publicly, often directly on behalf of Kerry.

So, Rice was not a great administrator, but the job of the vice president is not to run bureaucracy, so perhaps Romney will forgive her. He should, however, worry about her instincts given her lead on the North Korea issue. In the waning days of the Bush administration, with both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going poorly, Rice was desperate to leave Bush with a foreign policy legacy about which he could brag. Somewhat arbitrarily, she chose North Korea to be that issue, and almost single handedly pushed reconciliation with North Korea through the bureaucracy, regardless of North Korean behavior. For example, she led the drive to lift North Korea’s state sponsor of terror designation, even though, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, Pyongyang was still aiding the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Hezbollah in Lebanon (where North Korean engineers have helped Hezbollah build their network of underground tunnels and arms caches). Like Madeleine Albright before her, Rice’s outreach to the Dear Leader was poorly conceived and motivated, and did little but to cede America’s strategic leverage and make North Korea more dangerous.

This election will not be about foreign policy. The repairs Romney will need to make to the American economy and defense must begin on day one. Rice is a talented individual, and her voice as a senior statesman is one that should be listened to, but her track record of management, while at the National Security Council, and her policy decisions while secretary of state are both topics which she has never adequately addressed.



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