Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

What Condi Says About Romney

Floating Rice’s name as a possible vice president shows the Romney campaign’s lack of foreign-policy smarts

Print Email
Condoleezza Rice outside the White House on Sept. 12, 2004. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Will Condi be the Republican VP pick? Since last Thursday, when Matt Drudge floated the possibility that Condoleezza Rice could be joining Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket, that question is just about all political observers have been asking about his campaign.

Some columnists are insistent that rumors about Romney selecting the former secretary of state as his No. 2 are little but a cynical head fake meant to boost a candidate that, earlier in the week, was booed at the NAACP. Even Rice has tried to quell the rumors, explaining: “There is no way I will do this because it’s really not me. I know my strengths and weaknesses.” Skeptics point to the fact that Rice has never run for elected office, has no obvious geographical constituency, and falls into the pro-choice camp.

But for those who are taking the possibility seriously, Rice has some obvious selling points. There’s her name recognition, high-profile government experience, gender, and race, for starters. She’d significantly enliven a ticket topped by a boring white guy whose main virtue, as even GOP supporters admit, is competence. But perhaps most important, supporters point to her expertise in international affairs. As former Reagan speechwriter and WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan wrote, she is a “foreign-policy professional acquainted with everyone who’s reigned or been rising the past 20 years.”

Foreign policy is exactly why several prominent Republican policymakers couldn’t be colder to the idea. From their perspective, Rice’s biggest drawback is precisely what others believe is her greatest strength.

They argue that despite Rice’s prominent posts as George W. Bush’s secretary of state and national security adviser, her actual record is paltry. There are no major, or even minor, foreign-policy achievements to her name, and the three issues that she threw her weight behind—the Arab-Israeli peace process, engagement with Iran, and with North Korea—are all manifest failures. Rice seems to have distinguished herself largely by distancing herself from her president’s key foreign-policy initiative: Iraq.

The prospect that, as vice president to a foreign-policy novice like Romney, Rice could play a role as influential as Dick Cheney did with Bush has unnerved a key segment of the GOP foreign-policy establishment. A number of one-time Republican policymakers, all of whom requested to speak off the record for this story, had a clear consensus on Rice: She is an extremely attractive personality, smart, charming, witty, and in control of any room she enters. Despite all that, she was seriously out of her depth when it came to managing the foreign-policy portfolio of the United States at a particularly volatile moment in American history.


An academic who was at one time the provost at Stanford University, Rice first worked in government during the George H.W. Bush Administration. It was there, as a senior adviser on the National Security Council staff on Russian and Eastern European affairs under National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, that Rice first drew the ire of some influential Republicans. Part of the Bush foreign-policy team, like Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, took its cue from President Reagan’s concept of rolling back the Soviet Union and argued that U.S. policy should work toward its final downfall. Rice, on the other hand, shared the opinion of Scowcroft and Secretary of State James Baker, who counseled caution and sought stability by propping up Mikhail Gorbachev and thereby preserving the USSR.

Under Bush 43, Rice once again found herself often in opposition to Cheney. She was national security adviser from 2000 to 2004, and it was her job to mediate between Cheney and other foreign-policy veterans, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and present options to the president. “She had titans fighting each other,” says one former administration official. “Sure, she didn’t do a fantastic job of teeing up options, and she was not the best analyst to go to the president to say, ‘here are costs and benefits of each.’ But she wasn’t the worst either.” Another former administration adviser was less forgiving: “Crisp options didn’t get to the president. Arguments just went on and on, and even after the president did make a decision, she allowed the policy to be undermined.”

But it was when President Bush named Rice to replace Powell as the country’s number one diplomat that the problems started in earnest. “There was no daylight between the president and Rice when she was national security adviser,” a former senior White House aide told me. “But once she became secretary, she began to take the State Department line on a number of issues.”

Most significant, said a former senior State Department official, “Rice didn’t want to be the secretary of state of Iraq.” And so Rice came up with the foreign-policy initiatives in the 2005-2006 period that would keep her busy for the rest of Bush’s second term. One was engaging North Korea, and another was getting Iran to the table, too. The plan was to get the two rogue states to make deals on their nuclear weapons programs. The third was a negotiated settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

A breakthrough in any of these policies would have ensured her legacy—and won her the plaudits from the press that her critics say she so desperately craved—but there was a cost to Rice’s failures. “She spent three years undoing policy meant to hurt these dangerous regimes,” said the former administration official. “There is a cost for the three years we lost with the six-party talks with North Korea. There is a cost to taking Pyongyang off the state sponsor of terror list.” According to this official, Rice was most fixated on proving “that she wasn’t really one of those hard-ass Republicans who only wants to make war and make nuclear weapons. She thought that even if her ‘transformative diplomacy’ failed, she had tried.”

Of course it’s the president’s job to direct his secretary of state, and Bush was apparently willing to go along with Rice—up to a point. Bush resisted Rice’s efforts to push for a Palestinian-Israeli peace process, even after she went pleading to him for one. “She wanted her Madrid conference,” said the former State Department official, referring to James Baker’s 1991 Middle East peace conference. “Instead the president sent her out on a fact-finding mission to take the pulse of the region. Her argument was that we had to give the Arabs a peace conference to get them on board to take on Iran. It’s not what the Arabs said—but it’s what she wanted to hear. So, that’s what she heard.”

The Obama Administration is rightly criticized for mishandling the U.S. relationship with Israel, but Rice’s management of that alliance was almost as awkward, especially after Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah. For their part, the Israelis, in particular then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, according to the former senior administration adviser, “thought she was awful. She jammed them up to accept a ceasefire well before their military operations were completed. When they heard her comparing the Palestinians to African Americans fighting for their civil rights in the south in the ‘60s, they were furious.” Oddly, as the official notes, Rice had also said the same about Iraqi Sunnis fighting the Shia. “For some reason, the superficial civil rights analogy seemed to move the president.”

Rice’s major initiatives—the peace process and outreach to rogue states—were emulated by the Obama White House and have now been proven to be failures the last eight years (four of which were under Bush). That the Romney people have been floating Rice’s name, in earnest or simply to shake things up, is evidence not only of the campaign’s lack of foreign-policy wisdom but also its lack of vision. Romney’s success depends on him offering a real alternative to Obama, on the domestic front as well as the international one. Condoleezza Rice is not the answer.


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

and what some others say about Condi…here’s an op-ed in Virtual Jerusalem’s, for example…
And, on a closely related note, here’s Israel National News’ lead op-ed today…

    wildjew says:

    I don’t know if you watched the December 10, 2011 Iowa debate where George Stephanopoulos asked Gingrich to expand on his statement that the Palestinians are an invented people. Not only did they invent themselves into a people in order to destroy the Jewish state, Gingrich insisted the Palestinians are terrorists.

    Gingrich: “Somebody oughta have the courage to tell the truth: These people are terrorists….”

    Both Romney and Santorum joined together, repudiating Gingrich.
    Romney: They– Israel does not want us to make it more difficult for them to sit down with the Palestinians (i.e., the terrorists – wj).And I’m president of the United States, I will exercise sobriety, care, stability. And make sure that in a setting like this, anything I say that can affect a place with– with rockets going in, with people dying, I don’t do anything that would harm that– that (“peace”?) process.
    Santorum: “…we have an ally here that we have to work closely with. And I think Mitt’s point was– was the correct one.”
    I am planning to vote for Romney this November NOT because I believe he will be good for Israel. Like former President George W. Bush, I suspect Romney will not be good for Israel. I expect he will side with Israel’s enemies just as he essentially did in the December debate in Iowa. I plan on voting for Romney out of economic self-interest and survival.
    You wrote: “I don’t want to do anything which might risk, in any way, your defeat of Farakhan’s messiah and Reverend Wright’s virtual nephew in November 2012. Nevertheless, I have now come to believe that silence might backfire even worse–so, here it goes…”

    Silence, like we saw from conservatives and Republicans during the two terms of George W. Bush, is never good option. I hope you and other conservatives will not maintain your silence should Romney be elected president. Because we can surely expect a President Romney to exert immoral pressure on Israel just as Bush exerted immoral pressure on Israel.

      demopubrecrat says:

      I, too, would CONSIDER voting for Romney…if he would just articulate a message other than “Obama’s policies are failures.” OK, Mitt, if I agree with that, show me your plan…specifics, not generalities. To date, I have heard only about “what I did at Bain.” That was over 10 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then…unless you believe that Pac-Man is still the best economic model. I would be very concerned that a GOP Pres with GOP Sen and House would basically operate on the buddy system. I am looking forward to the 2 men taking off the gloves during debates – Obama, tell us what you HAVE accomplished, Romney, tell us what you would do differently.

        wildjew says:

        Romney has put out a fairly extensive economic plan. I believe it is available at his website. Romney is a moderate conservative; maybe slightly left of center moderate. I confess, I’ve not studied of his plan, though I have read articles by folks that have. Obama’s policies have been a failure, don’t you think? Why not say it? If Romney doesn’t say it, do you expect Obama will?

Philip says:

Condi Rice a heartbeat away from the presidency, is too high a risk for any benefit she might bring to the ticket.

Philip says:

Condi Rice a heartbeat away from the presidency, is too high a risk for any benefit she might bring to the ticket.

anybody would be better friend to Israel then Obama is a disaster for America and Israel look at Middle East today do you think it’s better for America and Israel
look at the American economy disaster . acts more like a king if you disagree with him you call a races

JamesGarbarzewich says:

How about Collin Powell.

JamesGarbarzewich says:

How about Suzana Martinez, governor of New Mexico and very popular with Hispanics.

Raymond_in_DC says:

One could as well note how little foreign policy experience Obama had in 2008 – limited to spending a few years in Indonesia as a kid, a trip to Pakistan with a friend as a young adult, and some studies of international politics (with some radical instructors) at Columbia. Maybe that’s why he chose Biden as VP. (Not that that helped.) I studied even more IP (minus the radical instructors) than Obama. Did that make me more qualified to be President?

As to Rice, I’d say “hell no!” In addition to the numerous failures already noted, at the start of the Bush Administration as NSC head she undercut the work of Richard Clarke, then Presidential advisor for counter-terrorism. (So Clarke writes in “Against All Enemies”. Then came 9/11.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

What Condi Says About Romney

Floating Rice’s name as a possible vice president shows the Romney campaign’s lack of foreign-policy smarts

More on Tablet:

From the Mekong to Maryland

By Hillel Kuttler — After the fall of Saigon, a Baltimore synagogue helped 15 Vietnamese become Americans