Five reasons why it's awkward that Condi's speaking at the GOP convention.
It says a lot about the Republican Party’s posture right now that in its platform, Ronald Reagan is mentioned nine times and George W. Bush only three (the latter, in the context of tax cuts and the global fight against AIDS). The GOP has deliberately distanced itself from Bush during the campaign season; Mitt Romney rarely mentions the former president’s name on the campaign trail, and neither Bush nor his father will be speaking at the convention this week (the two appeared in a video that aired on Wednesday, and Bush’s brother Jeb will deliver an address on Thursday).
In fact, the only top Bush administration official making an appearance in Tampa is former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is often credited with helping scale back some of Bush’s more hawkish policies during his second term. Rice, who appeared alongside Romney during Chris Christie’s keynote address on Tuesday, is speaking at the convention Wednesday evening. Ahead of her talk, she made the media rounds to explain why Romney would "lead from in front" and "understand American exceptionalism." This is "not a time to look back, it’s a time to look forward," she noted.
But what’s ironic is that if you do indeed look back, Rice may be the Bush official most at odds with where Romney and the Republican Party currently stand on some of the most pressing foreign-policy issues of the day. Here are five topics Rice may want to sidestep when she delivers her prime-time address.
Rice may have included North Korea in her list of "outposts of tyranny" in 2005, but she also spearheaded six-party nuclear weapons talks with Pyongyang and met with the country’s foreign minister in 2008, striking a deal in which the United States removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and green-lighted fuel and food supplies in exchange for North Korea pledging to dismantle a nuclear facility and disclose details about its nuclear program.
John Bolton, Bush’s former U.N. advisor, condemned the concessions. "Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse," he wrote. Last year, former Vice President Dick Cheney also lashed out at Rice’s policy in a memoir. "It was a sad moment because it seemed to be a repudiation of the Bush Doctrine and a reversal of so much of what we had accomplished in the area of nonproliferation in the first term," he recalled.
Bolton is now one of Romney’s foreign-policy advisors, and Romney has assumed a much less conciliatory posture toward North Korea. The candidate has criticized the Obama administration for "embolden[ing]" Pyongyang and pursuing a "food-aid deal," and called for harsher sanctions to combat the country’s nuclear program rather than "a series of carrots in return for only illusory cooperation."
Rice, who organized the 2007 Annapolis conference that enshrined the two-state solution as the roadmap for Middle East peace, helped negotiate the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and criticized Israeli plans to expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 2008. "I do believe, and the United States believes, that the actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for the negotiation — and that is not what we want," she explained.
Romney has expressed support for a two-state solution, but Republican delegates engaged in a lengthy debate last week about whether the party should endorse the framework in its platform, since doing so could be interpreted as dictating the terms of a peace deal to the Israeli government (the GOP ultimately supported the concept). But Romney has criticized President Obama for "castigat[ing] Israel for building settlements" and come out firmly against the very position Rice took in 2008 on the thorny issue. "I believe that the issue of settlements is something which should be discussed in private by the American president and our allies," he told CNN in July. "When we show diplomatic distance between ourselves and our ally, I think we encourage people who oppose that relationship to seek other means to achieve their ends."
Rice was a prominent voice as the Bush administration made its case for war with Iraq in 2003. In January of that year, for example, Rice penned an op-ed in the New York Times to explain why Iraq was "lying" in disclosing details about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs to the United Nations. "Iraq is proving not that it is a nation bent on disarmament, but that it is a nation with something to hide," she noted. "It should know that time is running out." She found herself engulfed in controversy soon after the war began as questions swirled about the Bush administration’s use of intelligence on Iraq — specifically Bush’s assertion during his State of the Union address that Baghdad had attempted to acquire uranium in Niger.
Romney has criticized Obama for the way he withdrew troops from Iraq, but he’s barely mentioned the war on the campaign trail. And when he has, he’s been rather evasive. In December, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that "if we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, if somehow we had been given that information, obviously we would not have gone in."
Rice, a Soviet specialist, toughened her rhetoric against Russia after the Georgian conflict in 2008, but she initially pursued a policy of outreach. During the 2000 election campaign, she argued that the United States must reengage with Russia and recognize it as both a threat and a partner. "The United States needs to recognize that Russia is a great power, and that we will always have interests that conflict as well as coincide," she wrote. "America can exercise power without arrogance and pursue its interests without hectoring and bluster." Rice supported Bush’s trip to Slovenia in 2001 (where Bush famously remarked that he had looked into Putin’s eyes and gotten a "sense of his soul"), and reportedly remarked in 2003 that the United States should "punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia" in response to the tepid international support for the Iraq war (Rice never acknowledged the quote).
Romney, meanwhile, has repeatedly criticized Obama’s "reset" policy with Russia, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of striving to rebuild the "Russian empire," and described Russia as America’s "No. 1 geopolitical foe" — a line his surrogates have reiterated.
Rice has been a passionate advocate of foreign aid. In 2006, for example, she declared that "foreign assistance is an essential component of our transformational diplomacy." When the financial crisis struck in 2008, Rice made a plea for preserving international aid. "Some will ask the inevitable question in these troubled times: ‘How can we afford it?’" she observed. "I would ask instead, ‘How can we not afford it?’" Just last year, she joined four other former secretaries of state to defend foreign aid as the GOP presidential candidates — including Romney — demanded cuts in the international affairs budget.
Romney has questioned foreign aid in the past, while his running mate, Paul Ryan, has recommended cutting funding for entities such as the State Department and USAID by nearly $5 billion for fiscal year 2013. Ryan will speak right after Rice at the convention.
But Rice likely won’t dwell on these topics — not when there’s so much to be said about American exceptionalism.