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A Tough Test Looms for Condoleeza Rice

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A Tough Test Looms for Condoleeza Rice

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A Tough Test Looms for Condoleeza Rice

A Tough Test Looms for Condoleeza Rice

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The current crisis in the Middle East is the biggest challenge yet in Condaleeza Rice's tenure as Secretary of State. Author James Mann talks about his piece on Rice in today's Washington Post, and what will be required of her in the months ahead.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

The U.N. ceasefire resolution between Israel and Lebanon was strongly backed by the United States. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was at the forefront of the administration's efforts to broker the deal.

At the Security Council last week, when the resolution was adopted, Rice laid out the administration's hopes for what the deal may accomplish.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): The people of the Middle East have lived too long at the mercy of extremists. It is time to build a more hopeful future. This resolution shows us the way. It is now the solemn responsibility of the international community to help the people of Lebanon and the people of Israel to transform this tragedy into opportunity.

ELLIOTT: James Mann is the author of Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet. He writes in today's Washington Post that the current situation in the Middle East is the biggest challenge of Condoleezza Rice's career. Mr. Mann joins us on the line. Hello.

Mr. JAMES MANN (Author, Rise of the Vulcans): Hi, good to be with you.

ELLIOTT: You write that the Middle East is Condoleezza Rice's war now. What's the challenge?

Mr. MANN: Well, the challenge is not merely what's going on in Lebanon, but the larger Middle East, the fact that the situation from the standpoint of American foreign policy seems to be deteriorating or in danger of falling apart. So it's not just Lebanon, but certainly Iraq and problems elsewhere.

She has for the last two years or so, as secretary of state, been the principal spokesman for the idea that the United States wants to transform the Middle East, to bring democracy to the region. The problem with that rhetoric right now is that there's no sign in Lebanon, for example, that those words apply to the current situation.

In fact, when she said at the beginning of the war between Israel and Hezbollah that these were the birth pangs of a new Middle East, it really, unfortunately, undercut American policy in the region because it produced a bunch of anti-American sentiments.

ELLIOTT: How did people in the Middle East react to that comment? What did they hear when she said that?

Mr. MANN: Well, the comments came at the time of the outbreak of war. So in the Middle East, it was taken as meaning that the new Middle East meant more and greater violence. That's not what she intended, but it was the wrong time to say it.

ELLIOTT: What diplomatic skills do you think she needs to employ in the coming days?

Mr. MANN: This is a particular juncture where rhetoric isn't enough. She's going to have to engage in some tough bargaining and some tough talk both with America's allies, like Israel, and also with people the United States government doesn't agree with, including possibly Syria or Iran. She's got a cease-fire agreement, but in order to get a larger working accommodation in the Middle East that's beyond a cease-fire, she's going to have to talk to a lot of governments without giving speeches about democracy in the Middle East. That's not going to help. That's a worthy cause, but not something that she's going to help by preaching on.

ELLIOTT: James Mann is the author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and he's the author of Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet.

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