The Boxer Rebellion: No way to treat a lady
LOS ANGELES --- If only we had listened, back then, to those who had different views. A half year before the invasion, at a World Economic Forum meeting in New York City, then-Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir -- sometimes abrasive but also sometimes wise -- told anyone who would listen that the U.S. military would win the initial Iraq war -- but that America would lose the peace. Mahathir saw the need to exact retribution in Afghanistan but not in Iraq.
Then, not long after Baghdad airport fell to the Americans, a top Singapore leader told me, with some hyperbole, to be sure: “Democracy in Iraq? Maybe in a hundred years!”
Now, more and more Americans, it appears, are looking at Iraq as the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. One senses a major anti-war movement about to surface here. But if we are going to disagree, can’t we be civil about it?
The early portents are not good. For example, as messy as this war is, there was no justification for the shabby and reckless treatment of the Ms. Condoleezza Rice in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A howling pack of senators, lead by Barbara Boxer, the junior Democratic senator from California, pounded at Rice, questioned her honesty, made snide implications about her integrity, and virtually conflated the war in Iraq with the very personage of Rice herself.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, let’s get one thing straight. This Iraq war is not Condi Rice’s war; she serves merely at the pleasure of one person, whether formerly as National Security Advisor or, now, as Secretary of State. She is, in effect, a very high-level –- and very classy -- minion.
And, for that matter, so is the rather less adorable Donald Rumsfeld. As high-profile, gung-ho and pro-war as this stubborn defense secretary is, he does not possess the authority to order troops into a foreign land. Only one person does; and the Iraq war was the decision of that one person and one person only: the president of the United States.
Years ago, at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the brilliant JFK speechwriter Ted Sorenson would always remind his students, in so many words: “Gentleman, every major foreign policy decision is a presidential decision. You can have the best secretary of state or not the best; you can have the smartest national security advisor or whatever. It’s important that the president gets good advice, of course; but in the end, every major foreign-policy decision is a presidential decision.”
Here’s the point: Iraq was George W. Bush’s decision, no one else’s. But demoralized Democrats, who so embarrassingly failed to bring down the president in the fall election, took out their frustrations on Rice. California’s Boxer claimed to detect a pattern of deception from Rice, charging that the former national security advisor’s loyalty to her boss "overwhelmed [her] respect for the truth." To that, the former Provost of Stanford University took understandable exception: “I have to say that I have never, ever, lost respect for the truth in the service of anything.”
Look, Barbara: Rice may have gotten unlucky indeed to have landed a job serving a president who kick-started a bad war, but she didn’t start it and, by herself, and can’t stop it. So, rather than throw contempt her way, why not give her a measure of respect?
It was no surprise when the full Senate voted to confirm her, of course; but Rice did receive the second highest ‘no’ vote count for any secretary of state nominee since Henry Clay in 1825. The senators who opposed her -- presumably out of conscience -- had every right to have done so. But these same senators need to lengthen their memories, shorten their high dudgeon and recall that when the very first Senate vote was taken on the Iraq war, most senators, Democrat and well as Republican, was on board and pro-war.
To be sure, the Boxer rebellion was good politics, especially in California. But it’s bad for the country. The tragedy of Iraq -- with some 1,400-and-counting U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqis now dead –- will haunt America for a long time. And the mess won’t be that easy to escape. To do so, though, we will need a bipartisan meeting of the minds to reduce the dimension of the disaster and to leave Iraq with a semblance of dignity –- not to mention with a semblance of a country behind.
What we don’t need is a splitting of the country into two warring camps, which is what the trashing of Rice seemed to portend. This was not only no way to treat a lady, it’s no way to treat the country. Democrats who continually brand President Bush divisive ought to look in the mirror occasionally. They might not always like what they see –- and what others may start to notice.
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Tom Plate is a professor of Communication and policy Studies at UCLA. He is a regular columnist for the The Straits Times -- and is syndicated through UCLA's MEDIA CENTER to papers througout the world, including The Honolulu Advertiser, The Japan Times, The Seattle Times, the San Diego Business Journal, the Korea Times and the Orlando Sentinel. He has been a participant member of the World Economic Forum at Davos, and is a member of the Pacific Council on International policy. The author of five books, he has worked at TIME, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Mail of London. He established the Asia Pacific Media Network in 1998 and was its director until 2003. He is now founder and director of UCLA's MEDIA CENTER.
The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.
Date Posted: 1/28/2005