S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Condoleeza Rice's iron

Our current president has placed several women in powerful positions of authority. As a feminist I am bound to think this is a very good development in the long struggle for the empowerement of women. And as a Democrat I am very aware that former First Lady, now Senator Hillary Clinton is seen by many as the front-runner for the nomination for President in 2008. Current stories point out that she seems to be trying to position herself as "tougher." Several women have recently become heads of state abroad. (Later, I will post again about these new leaders). The word "iron" comes up with surprising frequency in references to many women leaders.
Here at home Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is probably one of the highest ranking women in government. I have a tremendous amount of ambivalence about her. Sometimes I am pleased at her performance, other times I turn away in disappointment. And I often refer to her here at S/SW.
I have posted about Condoleeza Rice in the past, here, at length here, here and here. And I am at it again today. These stories seem to reflect that same ambivalence. Some are very critical and others offer qualified praise.
Sidney Blumenthal, one of my favorite writers, authored this blistering article about Condoleeza Rice's recent trip to Europe (links by Blumenthal, italics mine). To quote:

The metamorphosis of Condoleezza Rice from the chrysalis of the protégé into the butterfly of the state department has not been a natural evolution but has demanded self-discipline.
She has burnished an image of the ultimate loyalist, yet betrayed her mentor, George HW Bush's national-security advisor Brent Scowcroft. She is the team player, yet carefully inserted knives in the back of her predecessor, Colin Powell, climbing up them like a ladder of success. She is the person most trusted on foreign policy by the president, yet was an enabler for vice-president Cheney and the neo-conservatives. Now her public-relations team at the state department depicts her as a restorer of realism, builder of alliances and maker of peace.
On her first trip to Europe in February 2005 she left the sensation of being fresh by listening rather than lecturing. The flirtation of power appeared to have a more seductive effect than arrogance. So the old face became a new face. But on this week's trip the iron butterfly emerged.
Blogger Ron Mwangaguhunga at "The Corsair" reluctantly recognized that Rice may have had some very good luck on her trip. (links are Ron's, italics mine)

In: Condoleeza Rice, Iron Lady. Niccolo Machiavelli, the expert and oft-maligned 16th Century Florentine statesman, believed that luck -- or, as he referred to it using the Graeco-Roman Goddess "Fortuna" -- is an actual observable force at work in the theater of international politics. Although our skeptical post-Enlightenment age has all but dismissed the reliance on such unquantifiable forces, it is almost uncanny how much luck -- Fortuna? -- Condoleeza Rice had this week. Madame Secretary's deft reaction to the said luck, however, is, as even us skeptics can begrudgingly allow, a clear tribute to her skills at the Art of diplomacy.
The Reuters story about Condoleeza Rice in Europe discussed what I metaphorically call the high rise "iron girder" Rice tried to walk, as she explained U.S. policy on detainee torture. To quote the final segments:

And Rice's announcement of a policy shift during the trip -- that the United States explicitly banned its interrogators around the world from "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment of detainees -- could blunt criticism in Europe. Previously, the Bush administration said its ban on such treatment, a category of tactics it sees as less extreme than torture, applied only to prisoners on U.S. territory. Still, by declining for security reasons to reveal if secret prisons existed, Rice was essentially asking Europeans to trust her. She did so in a region of widespread anti-American sentiment where the superpower has a credibility problem. Rice's use of technical, legal language to answer reporters' straight questions about prisons and torture techniques also did little to inspire confidence.

In a New York Times editorial entitled "Torturing the facts," Maureen Dowd cited Rice as saying "The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees."
Dowd commented sarcastically: "It all depends what you mean by 'authorize,' 'condone,' 'torture,' and 'detainees."'

This excellent NYT analysis by Richard Bernstein, headlined "Official Praise, Public Doubts." To quote (NYT link to other Rice stories):

BERLIN, Dec. 10 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left behind two Europes when she returned home this weekend from her diplomatic tour aimed at reassuring the allies of the United Sates that the Bush
administration did not practice torture and abided by its international obligations. One was the Europe of government leaders and diplomats who generally praised Ms. Rice for her reassurances, and said that they were satisfied with what she had told them.
The other was the skeptical Europe of the media and much of the public, those still inclined to feel that Ms. Rice papered over some specific, nasty truths about the abuse of American power - and, more generally, that the United States is an out-of-control superpower whose abuses are widespread and deeply troubling.

Unlike the quoted articles above, the WaPo analysis of the Secretary of State's European trip was overall rather positive, implying that she was tough and, like iron, able to stand up under pressure (italics mine). I quote the first and last segments of the story:

(1) BRUSSELS, Dec. 9 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's attempt this week to defuse the crisis with European governments over U.S. detainee policy did not start well. At first, she was confronted with skeptical questions from the news media and appeared to retreat in a fog of statements her staff then struggled to explain. By the end of the trip, however, European officials had praised her and declared her explanations satisfactory, allowing Rice to return home Friday on a
positive note.

(2) Rice's European trip had been planned before the controversy erupted, but it fell to her to articulate U.S. policy after the European Union wrote to her last week seeking clarification. Her aides realized the issue would overwhelm the positive stories they had sketched -- building a relationship with the new German government, winning access to a Romanian air base, bolstering democratic forces in Ukraine and expanding NATO's presence in Afghanistan. But they felt European officials would appreciate Rice's willingness to respond to the outcry personally.
"I'm quite happy that Condoleezza Rice went to Europe," Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said after meeting President Bush at the White House on Thursday. "She took the heat."

Another WaPo story earlier this year focused on Rice's choice of clothing worn on a visit to a military base, labeling the attire "commanding." To quote the final paragraph (italics mine),

Rice's appearance at Wiesbaden -- a military base with all of its attendant images of machismo, strength and power -- was striking because she walked out draped in a banner of authority, power and toughness. She was not hiding behind matronliness, androgyny or the stereotype of the steel magnolia. Rice brought her full self to the world stage -- and that included her sexuality. It was not overt or inappropriate. If it was distracting, it is only because it is so rare.

An earlier article published in the Middle East Media Research Institute, the author describes Dr. Rice as a woman of steel.

Special Dispatch 24. Juni 2003, from the Palestinian Authority Daily on U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: 'Beware the Woman of Steel'
In his article titled "Beware of the Woman of Steel," which was published in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, Palestinian columnist Hassan Al-Batal criticized U.S. National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice for her position on the implementation of the road map, and her attachment to Israel. The article came out several days before Dr. Rice's scheduled visit to the region.
The following are excerpts from the article:
"She has a figure no less fine than that of supermodel Naomi Campbell, and is more intelligent than 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher. She is Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor with the most influence over the American presidency since 'dear Henry Kissinger,' also called 'The American Metternich' after the shrewd, famous German politician."
"A number of women with powerful personalities have passed through the White House, such as 'The Dominatrix,' Ronald Reagan's wife, 'The Wise and Ambitious,' Bill Clinton's wife, or the 'Beloved,' John
Kennedy's wife. But Condoleezza Rice is the first woman, [or to be more accurate] the first black woman to fill the most important post in the White House. She is the 'brain' of the president, particularly [in light of the fact that] the current American president is the strongest in the international arena but one of the weakest presidents in his
international political education that was ever in the White House.". . .
""Beware of this 'Black Spinster' – [I do] not say 'Black Widow' out of
respect for her femininity, her wisdom, and her determination, which
transform her into a 'Woman of Steel.'”

So the current consensus appears to be women must be made of iron to be national leaders. At this point I cannot say I disagree. But in this polarized national political climate, I wonder whether that doesn't apply to men as well.


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