The State of Affairs
Written by Media LizzyPublished October 20, 2007

Criticisms of the Bush Administration’s performance in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion center on the lack of planning, political progress, and understanding of the cultural breakdown that occurred under the Hussein regime. Attacks on Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld declare them “evil” tools of the military industrial complex and the energy industry. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell went from American Hero to persona non grata for one speech at the United Nations.

President Bush certainly receives his share of criticism, but seldom does anyone pull back and look at the basic facts of where we are, and how we got here.

I am not here to defend the honor of Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Powell. Or even the President. But it is worth remembering – Democrats and Republicans voted for the authorization to go to war. Both parties had members reviewing intelligence – and concluded that the Hussein regime in Iraq was pursuing a more aggressive weapons program. Let us not forget, American troops were on the ground in Iraq after the Persian Gulf war. They enforced the no-fly zone. Which took boots on the ground. Ask any air combat controller that served on Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia about the “no-fly zone.” Politicians from virtually every political camp supported this war, this administration, and hailed the “Shock and Awe” operation when war commenced.

The breathtaking success of American and Coalition forces in the early days of the Iraq War steadied most critics inside the beltway. They relied on their good friend, the only high-profile cultured academic in the Bush inner circle to keep things on the straight and narrow. They relied on then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. They drove positive press stories for years. She’s brilliant, a concert pianist, has a PhD, is pragmatic, has a list of political benefactors a mile long. They fed us a million reasons why she was qualified. Her “close” ties to the Bush family. And then there was the “expert on Russia” card. Her critics were silenced. Because she was seen as a voice of reason, with access to the president – just in case.

President George W. Bush was leading a nation, still reeling from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, into war with Iraq. And the American public supported him. He was confident. His reasoning seemed solid. The retaliation against the Taliban in Afghanistan was going well. Most importantly, his Cabinet and War Council was filled with experienced leaders. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell were widely respected, and in Powell’s case – revered by just about everyone.

Bush’s advisers were seen as credible. The word gravitas was virtually synonymous with Cheney after the 2000 election. Cheney traded a lucrative career in the private sector to become Bush’s running mate. Today, that story leads to discussions of Halliburton and Darth Vader. But in the early days of this adminstration, Cheney’s unconventional career choices were an asset. He was trusted because he made it clear that he was not after the presidency. His consistent support of Executive power was a a strong counter-balance to the United States Congress, known for it’s endless “hearings” and less for it’s ability to complete appropriations. Bush’s reputation for fighting the legislature was well known after two terms as Governor of Texas. Cheney was to be the enforcer, not a warmonger.

Cheney traded a simple life in Wyoming for public service in Washington, DC. He was the youngest White House Chief of Staff in American history when he filled the spot vacated by Don Rumsfeld who was tapped by President Ford as Secretary of Defense. With the first “televised war” in Vietnam winding down, Rumsfeld and Cheney led the Ford administration’s efforts to wrap up our entanglement in Southeast Asia.

In the 30+ years since the horrific end of Vietnam, Cheney has consistenly beaten partisan opposition and thrived. He successfully ran for Congress and immediately hit the express lane. His meteoric rise through Republican ranks in the US House of Representatives made it appear Cheney was a virtual lock to become the next Republican Speaker of the US House. With the GOP losing ground in the wake of the Iran Contra scandal, Cheney left the House and accepted President-elect George Herbert Walker Bush’s offer to become Secretary of Defense. As Secretary of Defense, Cheney oversaw Operation Just Cause in Panama where an American, Kurt Muse, was rescued from the Modelo Prison where he was being held by the reviled Noriega regime. Cheney was seen as a pragmatic, capable, and principled leader. He worked well with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Midway through the four years of Bush 41, a new threat came: Saddam Hussein sent troops across the border into Kuwait – murder, rape, destruction, and terror reigned in the streets. The world coalesced around the US position. Get Hussein out of Kuwait. The United Nations was on board. (Something we could scarcely imagine today.) Cheney turned to his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to begin preparation for war and develop a plan for more enforcable containment. The President was provided with options and Operation Desert Storm was quick, effective, sanitized and a lethal blow to Saddam Hussein’s efforts in Kuwait. The no fly zone went into effect, and everyone slept well at night until 2003. (During the Clinton Administration there was a dustup, but the old containment policy was brought out, then Secretary of State Albright made a visit with UN Secretary general Kofi Annan and magically, no more dust.)

Another key player, whose integrity has since been questioned repeatedly by Republicans and Democrats alike, was Colin Powell. A lifetime of service was reduced to ashes because of one speech to the United Nations before the invasion.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was a career soldier. A product of the Army motto, Be All You Can Be. His moderate stance on military issues once upon a time was heralded by the anti-war movement. His beliefs are a product of his time-in-service. For 35 years, Colin Powell wore the US Army uniform. He served as National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan. He was a senior adviser to then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during the bombing raid in Libya and invasion of Grenada. General Colin Powell undertands the truth of military life. He understands the sacrifices made by their families in a real way. He has seen death. War and peace are the burden he carried as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

With General Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Cheney and the Department of Defense launched one of the most successful military operations in history. There was a narrow purpose, an overwhelming force, an exit strategy, and men with gravitas at the wheel. Surrounded by men like General Norman Schwarzkopf and Brent Scowcroft, the 41st President of the United States emerged from the Persian Gulf War with a 91% approval rating. Just over a year later, he lost his bid for reelection to a little-known Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.

Where George H. W. Bush lost his fire to serve, I do not claim to know. But it was not due to Cheney’s incompetence as a war planner. It was not because General Colin Powell lacked combat experience, since he was decorated several times for his service in Vietnam long before he became a legendary figure in American history.

Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell each brought an entourage of experienced political and military advisers that knew their way around the political intrigues of Capitol Hill. And the press corps. President George Walker Bush had a team that knew about war.

Conventional wisdom dictates that we accept the following items as irrefutable truths. First, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell were all willing to set aside their reputations, credibility and work ethic to serve some burning desire of Bush’s to go to war. Second, all three men were completely incompetent. Third, Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted oil from Iraq. Fourth, no one else had any responsibility for national security manners. And finally, no one had more influence over President George Walker Bush than Dick Cheney.

It is inconceivable that men of their individual and combined stature did not bring their A-game to work. If you are not angry yet, bear with me. You will be. Let us jump to the present day for a moment. Powell is gone. Rumsfeld is gone. Cheney is virtually invisible, unless you happened to catch the puff piece on Fox News last weekend. The issues that plague every administration are rearing their ugly, Cold and Hot War, heads at the same time.

And yet, even with the major changes in staff at the White House – things are not better. Karen Hughes is in exile as an appointee in the State Department with extremely limited access to the man she saved from stinging criticism in the closing days of the 2000 campaign. Ari Fleischer, the only real message man ever to serve W well as president, has been gone for eons. Dan Bartlett is gone. Karl Rove’s supossed “Machiavellian” influence disappeared when he left the West Wing. Tony Snow is gone. Scooter Libby left under a cloud of manufactured suspicion, taking Cheney’s reputation with him.

Fast forward, Autumn 2007. Here we are. What is the State of Affairs? Is the US foreign policy better now than it was a year ago? How does it look in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Russia, Israel, Europe? Strangely enough, the landscape is remarkably similar. No big changes. We are, however, being treated to a really interesting show.

Our Secretary of State, is the star of a new book by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, The Confidante. Filled with tales of her close relationship with the President of the Unted States, Kessler captures one indisputable – but until now – unspeakable truth. “But her options and opportunities as Secretary of State are limited by one deeply ironic fact: She was one of the weakest national security advisers in US history.”

Even a cursory search of the news in the last few weeks, reveals how Condi Rice’s obsession with painting herself as The Confidante and close friend and running buddy and cultured academic with the ability to send personal notes to the President of the United States, has overshadowed the real task at hand, her diplomatic portfolio.

In Iraq, everyone agrees the solution is diplomatic not military. Current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General David Petraeus are making as much military progress as can be made. Gates is shadowing Rice all over the globe. Hopefully, he will find a way to force her to do her job. Not only is it an unpopular civil war, the Abu Gharaib and Blackwater scandals are wearing thin, at home and abroad.

The Middle East has been a powderkeg for centuries. Condi Rice may think she can fix it with a hastily convened conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Just because Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert looks deep in her eyes and says he can deliver, does not mean he can. The Philadelphia Inquirer asks the real question: Rice’s Mideast gamble: Is it too much, too late?

Complicating the Middle East peace process is Condi Rice’s repeated assertions that the Palestinian “struggle” for statehood is markedly similar to the civil rights movement in the US. While I support statehood, I do not think she has enough gravitas to play ball with the big boys. Because Condi Rice thinks Mahmoud Abbas and Martin Luther King, Jr. both wanted peace, does not make it so. The Israel Insider carried an opinion piece appropriately titled, Has Condi come down with a case of Jerusalem Syndrome?

And because talk of Jerusalem invokes the idea of religion, Rice apparently feels entitled to an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, during the precise period when he receives No One because he is at Castel Gandolfo. The Vatican released a statement noting the refusal of an Audience was not a snub. I never saw it as a snub, I am simply embarrassed the the Secretary of State has not a single staff member who is aware of Vatican protocol. She professes her deep faith, is America’s chief diplomat, and somehow, even with a PhD – she was not intellectually curious enough to clarify Vatican protocol?

It’s like invading a country without having a plan. Or stitching together a deal where Jordanian passports are handed out to 70,000 Palestinians without having the Israeli Prime Minister take the pulse of the Knesset. It does not make sense.

But hey, why not anger the Kremlin too. Rice’s meetings with Vladmir Putin can be summed up with a read of the Reuters wire: Russia’s Putin warns Washington over missile shield.

A diplomatic portfolio requires more than just an academic understanding of hypotheticals. It requires real world experience. Real lives are at stake. But for some reason, she won this round of 1600 Pennsylvania “Survivor.” Maybe her close relationship with the President has something to do with it. Maybe she is the ONE person who understands all of his policies, and his desires for this country. Maybe everyone in Bush’s circle was evil and misguided and she is the only voice of reason left.

Hypotheticals have a way of informing our national press corps to ask the right questions. For instance: Is it ever appropriate for a female staffer to publicly assert a close, personal relationship with her boss? Is it ever appropriate for a female staffer to publicly assert a close, personal friendship with her boss – who is married? Does the single, childless, female staffer publicly declaring her close relationship with the married boss create a hostile or uncomfortable working environment?

Maybe Condi Rice is just smarter than Cheney, Rummy & Powell. Maybe.

— Media Lizzy

UPDATE: Below is a comment clarifying my position on Secretary Rice. Just ask yourself -does it make any sense that Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell would just blow off a lifetime of experience (each) to choreograph the current State of Affairs?

Secretary Rice has encouraged such questions about her relationship with the President, rather than delivering tangible results. Her portfolio is the one most compromised, the most criticized, and the least successful of the entire Bush 43 administration.

On Middle Eastern issues alone, the Secretary has failed. A complete lack of focus is the hallmark of her tenure. She has done very little to encourage cultural understanding between the average American and our Islamic counterparts. As for her involvement in the North Korean efforts, the deal she has negotiated is virtually identical to the Clinton era deal. It is containment-du-jour, neither remarkable nor tangible. And like Madeline Albright before her – she has been fooled by the very astute negotiators.

As for Gates – I beg to differ. Rice’s relationship with Gates – yes, they have a pre-existing, staff-to-staff level relationship. However, it was Gates’ experience as a part of the Persian Gulf war / Bush 41 team that led to his appointment on the Iraq Study Group – and eventual nomination as SecDef to Bush 43. Gates was National Security Council staff and developed a close working relationship with Cheney and James Baker.

And while she also knew General Petraeus, he is qualified – and was chosen – not because of Secretary Rice but because he knew the senior players. Powell. Cheney. I spoke with one of Petraeus’ colleagues from West Point this week – and it is Petraeus’ very specialized career path that brought him to the War Council’s attention, not Condi Rice who is not revered by most career officers or non-comms.

Furthermore – Gates & Petraeus are running the Department of Defense’s efforts. She deserves ZERO credit for the miracles performed on a daily basis my our soldiers, sailors, airmen & Marines.

In Iraq, it is the diplomatic portfolio that is failing. The embassy in Bagdhad is plagued by construction delays and overspending, and a lack of native Arabic speakers. Her fiscal management of State resources is an abomination. Prime Minister Maliki is seldom held to account for his inability or unwillingness to push for political progress.

Also, Secretary Rice should have lobbied Congress far more forcefully over the Armenian Genocide resolution. Instead, she toured the Middle East and ignored the 60,000 troops massing on the Turkish border with Iraq/Kurdistan. How is it possible that the sitting Secretary of State would be absent from discussions of such diplomatic sensitivity – her portfolio – when the US House is poised to cast a vote that may jeopardize American forces in Iraq?

One-third of the fuel and supplies for our troops in Iraq pass through the border with Turkey. If Secretary Rice is that tone-deaf, please allow her Deputy John Negroponte a more public role.

My principal point is that because of her willingness to be quoted, on the record, as being deeply concerned that she would not see the President eight times a day if she left the White House campus (as his Nat’l Sec. Adviser) for Foggy Bottom. To be taken seriously, as an equal of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell or Gates – Secretary Rice must not allow even a hint of impropriety.

She has demonstrated a willful disregard for propriety, and it is shameful.