Saturday, March 19, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (2)

It's always nice to have a traveling secretary

As I've said before, Colin Powell's biggest failing as Secretary of State was that he didn't leave Washington, DC all that much. Which is kind of important for America's chief diplomat.

In Time, Elaine Shannon reports that Condi Rice seems to have grasped the importance of getting outside the Beltway:

According to a source in the State Department, Jim Wilkinson, a senior adviser to Condoleezza Rice, recently asked the department's historian for a list of countries that have never been visited by a U.S. Secretary of State. An unlikely Trivial Pursuit question, his inquiry signals that Rice's travels, which have already taken her to 11 countries in her first six weeks on the job, will be more extensive than most of her predecessors'. "The Secretary will travel when there's serious diplomatic work to be done," says Wilkinson. "There's no better diplomacy than personal contact."

After three trips to Europe and visits to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Mexico City, Rice is taking her frequent-flyer diplomacy on a six-nation mission to Asia this week. Even skeptics who wrote off her early forays as standard grip-and-grin fare are beginning to pay attention....

Rice's travel routine is grueling. Her 15-hour days typically start at 5 a.m., when she hits the elliptical machine in her hotel's fitness center. After her Asian tour (which will take her to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Japan, China and South Korea), she will attend a meeting next month in Santiago, Chile, on emerging democracies. Rice has visited eight NATO nations, and by summer, she or her deputy, Robert Zoellick, plan to travel to the remaining 17. By then, she may be ready to tackle Wilkinson's list.

UPDATE: Time has a follow-up story in this week's issue that offers the contrast between Rice and Powell:

Sometimes the hardest thing about being Secretary of State is managing relations with 191 other countries across the globe. And sometimes it's just making nice with three or four of your colleagues in the Cabinet. Colin Powell once told his British counterpart, Jack Straw, that intramural squabbling in Washington kept him from traveling. Every time he stepped onto an airplane to fly overseas, Powell said, someone in Washington stuck a knife in his back.

A shiv in the ribs is one worry Condoleezza Rice doesn't have. As she flew across Asia last week in her latest overseas trip, holding private meetings with leaders of six nations and appearing almost everywhere on TV, it was clear that in two months in office, Rice has consolidated her power as the chief exponent of the Administration's foreign policy, a perch bolstered by her exceptionally tight relationship with George W. Bush....

For someone who, as National Security Adviser during Bush's first term, often seemed overwhelmed by rivals in the war Cabinet, Rice has displayed striking confidence in her early forays as a diplomat. Foreign officials note that she likes to play solo, holding meetings without a phalanx of regional experts. Others report that she is unexpectedly generous with her time, even to countries that have been sharply critical of the U.S. At the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in February between Arab and Israeli leaders, Rice met with all the participants individually but steered clear of the summit to avoid the appearance of U.S. overreach. And an Israeli official notes that in private negotiating sessions, Rice has a clever way of pushing hard on an issue, even if only to elicit a vague agreement. But then she immediately doubles down. "She'll restate it in a firmer way," says this official, "and then pocket it as a commitment." Says an Arab diplomat: "This one is nimble, very nimble."

But Rice's best asset is her direct line to the Oval Office. "You get the feeling as you speak to her and listen to her," said an official who met with her in Europe last month, "that you are actually listening to the President's voice. You don't have to make a calculation about whether this is the view of all the government in Washington--or just part of it."

posted by Dan on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM


It should be noted that Colin Powell's reluctance to visit foreign capitals represented more than simple antipathy to travel. As the Washington Post noted last July, Colin Powell preferred to remain in Washington to serve as the President's primary foreign policy advisor (as it turned out, his advice often went unheeded). This had been the recommendation of none other than legendary Foreign Service veteran George F. Kennan, who in 2000 wrote Powell to express his view that successive Secretary of States beginning with Henry Kissinger had distorted the office's role: by acting too often as diplomats, they neglected their responsibility to advise the White House and they undermined the authority of their ambassadors and other official delegates.

At the time of the Washington Post article, I was interning in the Public Affairs Bureau of the Department of State. I contacted Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson Richard Boucher, who provided me with a photocopy of Kennan's letter: I found that it satisfied all of the scholar's high standards of articulation and eloquence. (Sadly, despite being released to the press, I have been able to find no copies of the letter online. If you are curious, I suggest writing a polite request to the Public Affairs Bureau.) I later exchanged some quick words with Marc Grossman, then Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who concurred. In Grossman's estimation, the bipolar system of the Cold War implied that diplomacy conducted at the top levels of government between the United States and the USSR was all that mattered. In the post-Cold War system, this primary relationship has been replaced by the need for strong bilateral relationships with a large number of states, implying diplomacy carried out by seasoned professional diplomats, not politicians.

This is not to say that Powell's preference for decentralized diplomacy was necessarily right or wrong, but it is to say that Powell's style was a product of policy and professional opinion, not personal taste.

posted by: Peter Jaffe on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

So, what are the "unvisited" countries?

posted by: Barry P. on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

Dan, this is a comment on your older post (March 12) about Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. I couldn't post it under that post, so posting here instead.

I'm also VERY surprised that Jeffrey Sachs' book hasn't generated any discussion in the blogosphere. Even more worrisome was the lack of attention to the University of Michigan C.K. Prahalad’s most recent master piece The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits. According to The Economist, it's "...The best book on capitalism and the poor since Hernando de Soto's "The Mystery of Capital". It calls on big business to regard the world's poor as potential customers, and argues that both firms and the poor will win if it does. There was minimal discussion, if any about this in the blogosphere. Also appaling was the lack of attention to recently published Stuart Hart’s Capitalism at the Crossroads : The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World's Most Difficult Problems Professor Hart of Cornell University wrote the seminal article "Beyond Greening: Strategies for a Sustainable World," which won the McKinsey Award for Best Article in Harvard Business Review, and helped launch the movement for corporate sustainability and poverty elimination.

This lack of attention is very disturbing but I have yet to find the reason for this.

posted by: Manny on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

To state the obvious, the visit of a Secretary of State is a massive event.
But it is not just a celebrity visit or a just an event to reaffirm the strength of the leader occupying power.
I would not advise Condi to visit Lebanon. No, it's not because she wouldn't be safe. William Burns recently visited and Satterfield is the State point person on the matter.
Condi shouldn't visit because she could polarize the electorate right before an election. The perfect time for her to visit would be after the Lebanese election.
If Lebanon goes the way the White House wants it to, Beirut would be the perfect place for a Presidential visit. Although the White House is not at all responsible for the Lebanese revolution, Bush could show up and get plastered across of the American press as the bringer of democracy to Lebanon (an already democractic country regardless of the Syrian perversion).

posted by: lebanon.profile on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

What some people forget about Kissinger is that he was already the President's principle foreign policy adviser when they started, off his long tenure as National Security Adviser. That and Nixon's preoccupation with Watergate in the 1973-74 period provided insurance against end runs to the White House by other departments.

Subsequent Secretaries of State did not have either advantage, and to the extent that they tried to emulate Kissinger they paid a price for it in Washington. Cyrus Vance and Al Haig in particular might profitably have borne in mind an anecdote about Kissinger that had him being asked, as National Security Adviser, why it was so important for him to speak to the President on some minor matter. "You don't understand," Kissinger is reported to have said, "if I'm not in with the President, someone else is."

But this is only one piece of the puzzle. Kissinger was a much abler man than Colin Powell, whose past success -- which was considerable -- had come when he served as a balance wheel between strong and occasionally volatile buraucratic forces and personalities: between State and Defense as Reagan's NSA, between Norman Schwarzkopf and Cheney as Bush's Joint Chiefs Chairman. As the top guy in the State Department Powell showed some management skills, but lacking detailed views about the strategy of American foreign policy was at a grave disadvantage in the contest to direct policy, a disadvantage he made worse by never threatening to resign if his recommended course of action was not followed as Kissinger did more than once. Powell was not the first Secretary of State whose performance as head of the department did not measure up to what he'd been able to do in subordinate positions.

posted by: Zathras on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

Wouldn't it be better if Rice's travels weren't partly due to the need to paper over the White House's pathological lies? WaPo:
In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity. In addition, a North Korea-Pakistan transfer would not have been news to the U.S. allies, which have known of such transfers for years and viewed them as a business matter between sovereign states. * * *

In an effort to repair the damage, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is traveling through East Asia this weekend trying to get the six-nation talks back on track. The impasse was expected to dominate talks today in Seoul and then Beijing, which wields the greatest influence with North Korea.
You can admire someone who zooms around putting out fires, or you can ask yourself, "hey, who's setting all these fires?"

posted by: Anderson on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

What better way to avoid internal policy conflicts with other White House heavies than to not be there? Does anyone really think that Condi Rice is going to push a strong State agenda now that she's in Powell's still blazing seat? She smart, thinks well on feet and will be a great policy mouth piece but she'll originate nothing that's not blessed from elsewhere.

posted by: Jon on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

The real reason, as Powell told the UK's Jack Straw, was that every time he left the country, someone in the Administration tried to stab him in the back...

posted by: Nigel Pond on 03.19.05 at 12:00 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?