mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF lectures & lunacy

Condi Wags Her Finger

Condoleeza Rice annoys the hell out of me. And yet I know her all too well — the brainy idealist who doesn't want to waste time talking to people unless it gets the job done. She knows she's correct. She's not in any popularity contest. History will be her judge.

Unfortunately, this is a terrible profile for our chief diplomat, especially when the Middle East is going up in smoke.

My image: From her window, a principal is watching two gangs killing one another in the school yard. Teachers are screaming for her to put an end to the mayhem. "What good is that going to do?" she says. "They'll only be at it again next week. Have the social work staff send the police to their parents' houses. It's up to parents to control their kids, not schools."

A true diplomat understands root causes and systems thinking, but they also know how to break up a fight.

People like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Henry Kissinger enjoy rolling up their sleeves and sitting down with the gang leaders. Good negotiators know that you have to get people talking. They enjoy talking. Sometimes if you can keep warring factions talking long enough, the crisis subsides — hands are shaken, photos are published, peace prizes are given. Fewer people are killed this year than least year.

The Middle East is not about peace. It is not the venue for lofty concepts and untested theories. Hasn't Iraq proven that? The Middle East is about hostility management. It's about lengthening the cease-fires and shortening the intifadas. It's about creating space for economic development — a chicken in every pot and a satellite dish on every roof. It's about letting children grow up as kids, not as despairing young warriors.

But Condi — oy. She does not do dialogue. She lectures. She wags her finger. She asserts that the warring factions "know what they need to do." She's not about to sit around a conference table jawboning with a bunch of lunatics. But how else do you get lunatics off the street?

Painful Irony Department: Condi and her boss have no problem presiding over mayhem and its "unfortunate collateral damage" to innocent civilians. Yet, in this same week, Bush vetoed the stem-cell legislation for fear that a single potential life would be sacrificed to an untested "higher cause."

But maybe this reflects the ultimate cynical truth: once you are born, you are no longer innocent. Once you're born, whatever the problem is, you own it.


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