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Jewish World Review July 27, 2000 /24 Tamuz, 5760

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes
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Cold warrior of the new world

Condoleezza Rice would bring an unusual background and strong convictions to the post of US national security adviser -- GEORGE W. BUSH may not have experience in the foreign policy arena, but that does not necessarily trouble US voters: they know that he has foreign policy in his genes. George W. was around during the tense cold war years when his father served as United Nations ambassador. He was around when the president mulled turning Desert Shield into Desert Storm. The voters may also be reassured by the fact that Mr Bush has asked many of his father's cold war advisers to serve him as well.

That is not to say that the Bush brains trust looks like a product of the old world. Consider Condoleezza Rice, the Stanford University professor who will deliver the candidate's foreign policy views next week in a speech at the Republican convention. Ms Rice, who is said to be the Bush choice for the important post of national security adviser, is a 45-year-old black woman, a contrast to the old grey suits. While the original cold warriors were working on Mutual Assured Destruction, she was growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and studying to be a concert pianist. Her first name is derived from the phrase con dolcezza, "with sweetness", and was picked by her musical mother.

The differences run deeper than appearance. Ms Rice's professional background, to be sure, has plenty of the cold war in it. After forsaking music, she became a Kremlinologist. Her first book was on relations between Czech and Soviet armies. And while serving President Bush at the National Security Council, she was among those on the US side who helped persuade Moscow to cede control of East Germany, and bring an end to the cold war. This was at a time when many western politicians, notably Margaret Thatcher, were wary of re-unification.

Team Bush: Rice is at right
So Ms Rice is a modern incarnation of the cold warrior. If by cold warrior we mean someone who advocates a strong US with power enough to deal with unreconstructed troublemakers, she is the genuine article. But she is hardly dedicated to every traditional policy, nor is she for a fortress America that would antagonise existing or potential allies. "The cold war has moved on and I like to think I've moved on too," she says in an interview.

What influenced her? While serving as Stanford's provost, she recalls, she played host to delegations of foreign visitors. The visitors, she reports, were not exactly interested in the minutiae of arms control. All they wanted to know was: "How can we replicate Silicon Valley in our country?" She says that America's main foreign policy job is "finding peace, security, and opportunities for entrepreneurs in other countries."

A quick tour with Ms Rice of her foreign policy positions reveals the nuances of the modern cold warrior. On the controversy over Elian Gonzalez, for example, she sympathises with the Cuban-Americans who sought to keep the child in the US. "They just wanted to see the little boy have a chance to fulfil the wishes of his mother," she says. Ms Rice even declares "mixed feelings" about current Republican-backed legislation to send medical supplies to Havana.

"I suspect it's just going to end up supporting Castro," she says. "In Cuba, Fidel Castro is still the one man through whom everything has to go. Any trade that goes through Cuba is going to strengthen Cuba's regime". She is similarly tough on the subject of North Korea, believing that the recent Korean summit did nothing to reduce the North Korean missile threat. She hopes that aid from South Korea "comes with strings attached".

Nor are Cuba and North Korea the only areas where Ms Rice toes the hard line. On the question of Iraq, she says simply: "Iraq is an outlaw state". It is time to give more vigorous support to the exiled opposition, she says. The US also "has to rebuild some elements of the Gulf War coalition". She sharply criticises the on-again, off-again approach of the Clinton administration to taming Saddam Hussein. "If you ever get a chance, you have to act decisively and not in a pinprick fashion. It has been 'fire a few Cruise missiles'. I don't think it was a serious military effort."

Ms Rice remains loyal on the question of whether Mr Bush's father should have toppled Saddam and occupied Baghdad at the end of the Gulf War. Everyone involved regrets that Saddam has survived this long, she says. But she defends President Bush's position. "At the time, we did the right thing. The cost of invasion would have been too great [because] the Arab states would not have gone along," she says.

On the much-disputed issue of missile defence, Ms Rice is similarly hardline. Like her candidate, she feels that the Clinton administration's current missile defence plan pussyfoots around the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty when it should be rewriting or abrogating it. She advocates working to reduce Russian and Soviet nuclear armouries while building a new missile defence system. In other words, she feels that the ABM treaty is at least one cold war relic that is worth junking.

On China, she is more pragmatic. "I don't think you are going to change China's system just by pronouncement," she says. She supports permanent normal trade relations with China, a position currently backed by Congress and the Clinton administration, but one that has not yet been passed by the Senate. China is different from Cuba, and change there is being led by "people getting on the internet, who no longer owe their livelihood to government".

It is an interesting mix of views, and some might accuse her of inconsistency. But the underlying theme is revealed when Ms Rice names her political hero - Harry Truman, a cold warrior who also acted constructively. "I think there is somebody that it was easy to underestimate. He was probably ill-prepared to be vice-president. He didn't even know about the atom bomb. And yet he and the men around him found the strength to give America permanent presence," she says appreciatively. "He is the reason that there is a Nato. He was responsible for the decision to rebuild Germany and Japan."

Ms Rice is confident of her hero's approval. "When the cold war ended, the day that the hammer and sickle came down from Kremlin, he was mighty proud." No, Ms Rice did not make a mistake: she knows that by the early 1990s, Truman was long dead. "I believe in the afterlife," she says. Such deep religious convictions are unusual in a field where arms control is the dominant theology. But they lend a certain perspective to one who may be required to make the fateful calls required of America's national security adviser.

JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times . Her latest book is The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Financial Times