She's a Renaissance woman, whose talents run from scholarship to music and sport. But in this interview Condoleezza Rice often seems oddly detached from the life-and-death quality of the war against the terror masters. Indeed, she doesn’t even call it a war, and the things she says about it are sometimes striking--headline quality remarks--but more often very peculiar. To begin with, she doesn't expect us to win this "battle, if you will, or a struggle," during the Bush presidency. Her mission for the next two years is not victory, but to put "some fundamentals in place." I wish the interviewer had asked her to define these "fundamentals," so that we could better judge whether or not they are worth the lives and limbs of our children. Most of those young men and women believe they are there to win, and lots of them complain that their rules of engagement seem more calculated to avoid accusations of excess than to defeat the enemy.
Freedom Scholar Michael Ledeen
No top official in any Western government has previously suggested that Iran is the driving force behind the terror war in Iraq, so her statement is front-page material. Moreover, it coincided with the declaration by Major General Richard Zahner (Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence with Multinational Force Iraq) that "Iran is definitely a destabilizing force...Iran is responsible for training, funding and equipping some of these Shiia extremist groups..." It's encouraging to see that the administration now finally recognizes the centrality of the mullahs, and eventually they may even recognize that Iran supports Sunni terrorists as well.
If, as I believe, she is entirely right in her view of the malevolent role of Iran in the region, she should be calling for tough action against the Islamic Republic. But as Stephens sadly notes, she is in the bag for negotiations and the United Nations. "The international system will agree on a level of pressure. I think it will evolve over time." It's hard to imagine that a serious person can actually believe that, but she insists that the diplomatic option looks better than ever. She says that the castrated Europeans have been “very strong on this," and adds that she's had "very good discussions" with the Chinese and the Russians about sanctions. She hopes sanctions will have an effect on Iranian officials who "do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they’re headed toward." Stephens, shocked that Rice apparently thinks there are legitimate interlocutors in power in Tehran, presses her, and she responds, "I do not believe we're going to find Iranian moderates...The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?"
As Stephens dryly remarks, there are lots of Iranian "reasonables." They comprise upwards of 80 percent of the population. But we are not supporting them; instead we are dithering around in negotiations designed by Europeans whose greatest fear is not Iranian terrorism, but American action in the Middle East. And when Secretary Rice starts talking about diplomacy, there is a change in focus. She’s no longer talking about the war, she’s talking about the nuclear program.
In short, she has no serious intention of challenging the Tehran regime. She did not mention the kind of political action that might yet bring down the mullahs (precisely the sort of strategy contained in Senator Rick Santorum’s Iran Freedom and Support Act that was passed late Friday night, a bill she shamefully fought by going to opposition leaders), and she seems in total denial about the total failure of the "diplomatic option." She does not seem to have noticed that the Islamic Republic has been waging war against us for 27 years, during which time we have offered them every imaginable deal (she herself trotted out a long list of "incentives" if they agreed to suspend their nuclear enrichment program). They have rejected every one. But she’s still hunting for "reasonables."
It is impossible not to be struck by the cognitive dissonance between this interview and the many speeches by the president in which he has all but called for regime change in Iran. I can imagine two ways to interpret this conflict. The first is that the administration really does have a plan, but does not believe public opinion is yet ready to support it. Thus, Rice's description of Iranian action in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Thus, General Zahner’s categorical fingering of the mullahs. Thus, the president's many speeches. The other is that the secretary of State somehow believes that time is on our side, that the world is moving toward serious action against Iran, and that if we are only patient enough and play our diplomatic cards well, we will be part of meaningful multinational sanctions against Tehran.
It's no way to win a war, that's for sure. It's not even a good way to win a battle, or, if you will, a struggle.
Michael A. Ledeen is the Freedom Scholar at AEI.