Robert Dallek: Says Condi Rice's reputation tied to Iraq failures

Historians in the News

... Ms. Bumiller says that if President Bush and Ms. Rice can produce a settlement in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians and an end to North Korea’s nuclear program, it would give them claims on success that would significantly improve their historical reputations.

But implicit in this assessment is the view that foreign policy failures have troubled the Bush presidency. And even if Ms. Rice and the president manage to achieve the sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement that has eluded all previous administrations over the last 60 years and tame the North Korean communist regime, it is doubtful that these would be enough to counter what most people see as the administration’s failures in Iraq.

Ms. Rice’s record here as both national security adviser and secretary of state will surely undermine her historical standing. “She knows very well that if she doesn’t do anything” about the Middle East, “she will be Iraq,” a European diplomat who was a friend of Ms. Rice told Ms. Bumiller.

Although the greatest blame for the failures in Iraq will be shouldered by President Bush; Vice President Dick Cheney; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; the C.I.A. director George J. Tenet; the neocons Paul D. Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas J. Feith; and L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Ms. Bumiller’s reconstruction of the prelude to war describes Ms. Rice’s contributions to the decision.

By the start of the invasion in March 2003, the Rice of early 2000, who had published an article in Foreign Affairs decrying the Clinton administration’s “moral impulse to spread American democracy,” had morphed into a forceful public advocate of bringing down Saddam Hussein, whom she pictured as intent on acquiring nuclear weapons that could lead to “a mushroom cloud” over the United States.

“Some of Rice’s friends,” Ms. Bumiller writes, “were stunned that she actually seemed to believe Bush’s argument in the final days of the war buildup that a liberated Iraq could spread freedom across the Middle East.” Ms. Rice also believed that “the postwar phase would be like the successful occupation of Germany after World War II, and that it would be possible to plant democracy in a shattered Iraq.” Either Ms. Rice knew less than she should have about pre- and post-1945 German history, or she was carried away by false optimism....

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