The rise of Rice and a new 'realism'
The Bush administration's response to events in Lebanon and Iran show signs of a more cooperative approach to the world.
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Friends note that Rice, who has been giving piano recitals since she was a little girl (and who sometimes annoys interlocutors with a schoolmarmish lecturing that is reflective of the academic she is) is more in her element in the spotlight than when she was the behind-the-scenes presidential adviser. The high-heeled black boots she wore in Germany and the wowing red gown she stole the show with at Washington's annual Gridiron dinner - as well as promises to State Department employees to treat them some day to a recital - are all suggestions of that.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, some question whether the administration is really moving in a new direction in dealing with the world. Danielle Pletka, a foreign-policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute - a Washington think tank that supplied the first Bush term with several key policymakers - says the approach may have changed, but policy has not. "There was consensus within the administration that burning bridges with allies without purpose was extremely self-defeating for the US," she says. "When you're in a position of setting the agenda on the world stage, as the US clearly is, you have to be a bit more careful about the gratuitous cracks about allies or disliking the Europeans on principle."
At the same time, she finds that no big policy shifts have flowed from the tonal adjustment. "All we've really seen," she says, "is that the many decisions the US takes on a whole variety of issues are being articulated quietly and in greater consultation with our allies." President Bush did open the door a crack recently to Hizbullah participating in Lebanese politics, saying it is up to the Islamic group to demonstrate by its actions that it's no longer a terrorist organization. Ms. Pletka says that does not change the US designation of Hizbullah as a terrorist group. On Iran, she says that by agreeing to work with the Europeans the US "gave up nothing for not much."
Others agree that evidence of a new tack in foreign policy is mixed - but see the issue from a different perspective. Mr. Inderfurth points, for example, to the nomination of unilateralist conservative John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN, and the withdrawal last week of the US from the additional protocol to the Vienna Convention that deals with international death-penalty cases. "Those two acts are off message with the new face the administration has said it wants to present to the international community," he says. "So you have to wonder if this really is a new era of cooperation in our diplomacy," Inderfurth says, "or a continuity with the idea of American exceptionalism."
Even some Republicans were alarmed by what they saw as the messianic direction the Bush foreign policy seemed to be taking, in the name of democracy's universal spread and at the behest of zealous neoconservatives, in the initial months after the president's reelection.
As editors Robert Ellsworth and Dimitri Simes say in a recent editorial in The National Interest, a conservative policy review recently taken over by the Nixon Center, "Continuing to follow the prescriptions of the neoconservative faction of the Republican Party may damage President Bush's legacy, imperil the country's fiscal stability, and complicate America's ability to exercise global leadership."