Friday, June 1, 2007

Condi Makes it Two!

Every now and then I wonder when I am going to present the Chutzpah of the Week award to a previous recipient and who will be the first to hold a "double whammy." Well, the suspense is over; and it will probably not be any big surprise that Condi Rice now holds that honor (sic)! Regular readers may recall that she received her first award back on February (on Valentine's Day I see by checking the date of the post) for the way in which she tried to accuse her former National Security Council aide, Flynt Leverett, of incompetence. It is only fair, then, that her second award should escalate from the domestic to the international front.

For those who do not follow her itinerary closely, Condi just arrived in Spain for, as Sue Pleming of Reuters tactfully put it, "what is meant to be a fence-mending trip." As Pleming explains, it is certainly about time that someone took a look at those fences:

Rice is the highest-level U.S. official to visit here since Spain withdrew troops from Iraq in 2004 following the election of Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, giving relations between Washington and Madrid a chill.

(Those who insist on reducing everything to labels probably need to make note that Zapatero is the leader of the Socialist Party. He has probably encouraged that "chill" with his efforts to engage with both Venezuela and Cuba; but he certainly has not taken Hugo Chavez' stance of deliberately thrusting thorns into the side of the United States.)

With all this as context, Rice decided to release a statement to reporters even before her plane landed. The statement seemed to indicate that she had forgotten to pack her fence-mending hardware:

Democratic states have an obligation to act democratically, meaning to support opposition in Cuba, not to give the regime the idea that they can transition from one dictatorship to another.

I found myself thinking back on the days when Bill Clinton raised a lot of ridicule for weaseling around the "semantics of 'is;'" and it struck me that not just this reading-the-riot-act but much of Condi's career in the Bush administration is likely to be remembered for its dedicated effort to redefine the semantics of "diplomacy." There are those, such as Chalmers Johnson, who would say something like, "No, she isn't really redefining; she is just applying the imperial semantics of 'diplomacy.'" He would then come up with a shopping list of precedent examples from Imperial Rome and Imperial Britain, for which I would thank him graciously. Nevertheless, I would say that the way in which Condi threw down her gauntlet even before her first face-to-face meeting in Spain is enough to justify her second Chutzpah Award!

For those who may ask why I seem to be putting so much effort into being a thorn in Condi's side, I offer a closing anecdote. Most people know by now that Condi plays piano. It turns out that quite a few members of the Stanford faculty are rather good musicians, enough that they used to give (and may still give) regular chamber music recitals. At one of these recitals (which even got broadcast by the cable channel Stanford used to run) I heard Condi perform several movements from the Schumann piano quintet with some of her colleagues. In a phrase now immortalized by her current boss, she did "a heckuva job!" I just wish she would stay at the piano!

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