Condoleezza and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Speech

There’s one thing I have to give Scottish economic historian Niall Ferguson: he’s honest and straight-forward in his views in support of the American empire, recommending that the U.S. take on an expanded liberal imperialist role worldwide. I don’t agree with these policy prescriptions. But again, at least he’s honest about it.

Condoleezza Rice and many on the neoconservative front, however, are not so much. In a recent appearance in support of Mitt Romney’s presidential run, Rice gave one of the most asinine, partisan speeches on foreign policy in recent memory.

In the speech, Rice strongly espoused arguments in favor of American exceptionalism, stating that “any other country” wouldn’t have sent troops to storm Normandy or liberate the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan. According to this peculiar view of history, the allied powers in WWII were comprised solely of the United States. I mean, it isn’t as if British, French, Russian, Polish, Indian, and Canadian troops did anything to defeat the Axis Powers. And it isn’t as if the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, Romania, Spain, Australia and Turkey sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001 as well. Right, Condi?

During this part of the speech I was reminded of Jeff Daniels’ character’s rant in the opening of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO show The Newsroom when asked why America is the greatest country in the world.

Now this isn’t to say that America hasn’t achieved great things or stood for admirable ideals. It has. But it is not the only country that has. And the U.S. also has been guilty of terrible things. To blindly trumpet America as perfect is just as idiotic as condemning every action of the state as evil. The reality is more nuanced, of course.

Yet for someone who spoke so much about America’s foreign policy accomplishments, it strikes me as odd and blatantly partisan that Rice did not cite any of the Obama administration’s actions in her speech. It is the epitome of cognitive dissonance to cheer on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as successes while giving NO mention to the Obama administration’s actions in Libya. Libya is arguably more of a success story than either country so far. While Iraq has made drastic progress in recent years, it still soaks of Iranian influence and is plagued by sectarian attacks and geo-political tensions, namely between the autonomous Kurdish North and the Iraqi central government.

But perhaps the most jaw-dropping of Rice’s pronouncements in this speech was her criticism of President Obama’s alleged lack of action during the Arab Spring. Rice argued that the United States needed to be more proactive in the domestic concerns of these post-revolution societies, explaining that not only is the region “feeling an absence of American leadership” but also that “the world seeks, desires American leadership.”

After hearing this quote I was reminded of a similar passage from one of Rice’s favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoevsky. In The Brothers Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor declares that:

“So long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship…I tell Thee that man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.”

It’s interesting that Rice not only seems to side with the antagonist of this Dostoevsky parable rather than its protagonist (Jesus Christ) but that she also goes from extolling the virtues of “free people and free markets” to declaring that the peoples of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the world at large desire American subjugation.

Condi is wrong. The people of the Arab Spring desire self-determination, change and political autonomy. Are there valid concerns with the anarchy and Islamism that may spring from post-revolution societies in the Middle East? Sure. Is the answer to renew American imperialism in the region? Of course not.