With a carefully orchestrated campaign by her advisers and media consultants, Condoleezza Rice was increasingly touted as a possible Republican Party presidential candidate for 2008. Certainly opinion polls in those heady months of 2005 showed that she was by far the most popular Administration official, with approval ratings close to 70 per cent and Republican activists urging her to run for president and launching “Condi for 2008” committees all over the country.
Less than two years later, there is no longer any talk among her erstwhile supporters of a presidential campaign. The Condi for president websites have been closed. The lavish media attention in the US and overseas has evaporated.
And, with George Bush, her mentor and friend under siege by a Democrat-controlled Congress determined to force him to change course on Iraq and set a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces, Condoleeza Rice is conspicuous by her absence from the debate, unable – or perhaps unwilling – to support this beleaguered and isolated president.
Rice could argue of course that she is America’s top diplomat and that it is not her job to get involved in the increasingly bitter political fight between Bush and the Democratic party leadership in Congress.
But this is a lame excuse. There is general agreement – even Bush says so – that there can be no military victory in Iraq, that whatever can be achieved there now depends in large part on the ability of the Iraqi Government to deliver on the benchmarks it set for itself that might give it a chance to govern the country.
Where is Rice on this? Where is Rice on what she and her State Department officials are doing in Iraq to help and encourage the Iraqi Government come to key agreements on issues like the sharing of oil revenues and the place of the Sunni minority in this “new” Iraq?
Nowhere to be seen, is the answer. Late last week, when David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, was doing the rounds of Congress to plead with Democrats not to set a withdrawal timetable, he was accompanied by John Negroponte, the newly installed Deputy Secretary of State.
Negroponte was there to brief members of Congress on political progress in Iraq and to outline for them what the State Department was doing to facilitate that progress. Why wasn’t Rice there making that case and why has she not been making that case publicly?
The fact is that many State Department senior officials want nothing to do with Iraq. Many middle-level officers have resigned in the past year or so and it is known that postings to Iraq are considered a poison chalice. Perhaps that’s why Rice has remained silent.
The better explanation is that Rice’s silence is simply another illustration of the Bush Administration’s incompetence and inability to get beyond playing politics and doing spin to actually doing the hard work of implementing a coherent set of policies.