Condoleezza Rice’s op-ed in the Financial Times delivers a thinly disguised slap to the face of the Commander in Chief, calling on the US to embrace its exceptional status and “overcome its reluctance to lead.” But when it comes to just how our nation is to lead, the former Secretary’s world-view is tripped up at the starting line, mired in an unfortunate misunderstanding of the threats this nation faces and the steps that need to be taken to see those threats diminished.
The former Secretary of State aptly points out that:
The list of US foreign policy challenges is long and there will be a temptation to respond tactically to each one. But today’s headlines and posterity’s judgment often differ. The task at hand is to strengthen the pillars of our influence and act with the long arc of history in mind.
But despite her appreciation for history, her definition of a “long arc” appears to be confined to a very limited domain of points along a very narrow, carefully clipped timeline. This shows itself most clearly in the former Secretary’s appraisal of the situation in the Middle East; she identifies the “fundamental problem in the region” as the “absence of institutions that can bridge the Sunni-Shia divide, and protect the rights of women,” without so much as paying lip-service to the centuries of animosity and violence perpetrated against the West from both sects of the religion of peace. Rice takes as the “fundamental cause” what is only a symptom of a much longer, deeper problem—the stagnation of development in the world of Islam, and the unequal apportionment of power and influence among two rival cultures: Christendom and Islam.
Her insistence that “arming the Syrian rebels” is a “necessary” and “immediate” choice sounds very pragmatic and well informed, but the argument again lacks the insight that only a careful consideration of history can supply. Given our nation’s sordid past backing rebels in other arenas—think of our relations with the counter-Soviet forces in Afghanistan, a band of rebels known as the Taliban—the need for serious retrospective analysis is imperative.
Equally narrow is her field of view when it comes to Iraq, a country that now, (thanks to the work of the last president,) “has the kind of institutions that are meant to overcome” the various social and political problems facing the region. According to the Secretary, we should look to the newly renovated desert nation as a model for the rest of our initiatives “with reformers across the region.” What about looking to the “long arc of history,” which shows a country marred with centuries of corruption, tribal conflict and territorial aggression? Is it not too soon, Ms. Rice, to use our freshly-minted Iraq as the mold for all of our future Middle Eastern endeavors?
When the former Secretary of State charts a course for our nation in the Arab world, she would do well to consider her own advice, and pay to the long arc of history the respect and consideration it deserves.