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Oh, Sister ...06/21/2005 10:28:14 pm

Condoleeza Rice

Condoleeza Rice is not your father's Secretary of State. When I saw the FOX headline today, "Rice To Syria: Knock It Off," I figured it was a little tabloid-style flourish by the fair and balanced network. But it wasn't. That's exactly what she said - reacting to the assassination of the anti-Syrian Lebanese politician George Hawi.

"I do not know who was responsible for this and I don't want to say that I know who was responsible, because I don't," Rice said. "But there is a context and an atmosphere of instability. Syria's activities are a part of that context and that atmosphere and they need to knock it off."

More dramatic, however, and certainly more important in the long run, was her speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Monday. It's not a speech that I could imagine Colin Powell giving, somehow - let alone Madeline Albright or Warren Christopher. This is a Secretary of State who is clearly comfortable going full-bore and risking (egads!) the discomfit of her hosts and America's erstwhile Arab "allies." Some excerpts:

For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.
We know these advances will not come easily, or all at once. We know that different societies will find forms of democracy that work for them. When we talk about democracy, though, we are referring to governments that protect certain basic rights for all their citizens -- among these, the right to speak freely. The right to associate. The right to worship as you wish. The freedom to educate your children -- boys and girls. And freedom from the midnight knock of the secret police.
In Saudi Arabia, brave citizens are demanding accountable government. And some good first steps toward openness have been taken with recent municipal elections. Yet many people pay an unfair price for exercising their basic rights. Three individuals in particular are currently imprisoned for peacefully petitioning their government. That should not be a crime in any country.

Now, here in Cairo, President Mubarak’s decision to amend the country’s constitution and hold multiparty elections is encouraging. President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. Now, the Egyptian Government must put its faith in its own people. We are all concerned for the future of Egypt’s reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy -- men and women -- are not free from violence. The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees -- and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice.

The Egyptian Government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people -- and to the entire world -- by giving its citizens the freedom to choose. Egypt’s elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election.

Opposition groups must be free to assemble, and to participate, and to speak to the media. Voting should occur without violence or intimidation. And international election monitors and observers must have unrestricted access to do their jobs.

Those who would participate in elections, both supporters and opponents of the government, also have responsibilities. They must accept the rule of law, they must reject violence, they must respect the standards of free elections, and they must peacefully accept the results.

Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy. There are those who say that democracy is being imposed. In fact, the opposite is true: Democracy is never imposed. It is tyranny that must be imposed.
There are those who say that democracy is for men alone. In fact, the opposite is true: Half a democracy is not a democracy. As one Muslim woman leader has said, "Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken." Across the Middle East, women are inspiring us all.

In Kuwait, women protested to win their right to vote, carrying signs that declared: "Women are Kuwaitis, too." Last month, Kuwait’s legislature voiced its agreement. In Saudi Arabia, the promise of dignity is awakening in some young women. During the recent municipal elections, I saw the image of a father who went to vote with his daughter.

Rather than cast his vote himself, he gave the ballot to his daughter, and she placed it in the ballot box. This small act of hope reveals one man’s dream for his daughter. And he is not alone.

And so it is that the evil imperialist American hegemonists continue wreaking their havoc and ruining the world, with this insistence that everyone should be able to "vote" and "choose" their leaders - even in countries where the current dictators do their bidding anyway. What wily scheme are they hiding behind this message of "freedom" and "basic rights?" I smell a secret pipeline, or at a minimum another ginned-up war to distract the American people from the problems of rising ATM fees and runaway brides.

It certainly couldn't be that this Condi Rice is really saying that the United States has broken with six decades of purely pragmatic self-interest and is now gambling on supporting the ideals of its own founding across the world, even at the risk of unfriendly governments being elected?

Why, if that were the case, surely those old liberals in the U.S. Senate, like Ted Kennedy, would be heartily supporting it, instead of attempting to throw a wrench into the Bush Administration's foreign policy by blocking his nominee for the ambassadorship to the United Nations (John Bolton).


The truth is that Condoleeza Rice is advocating and expressing a foreign policy based on a combination of high principle ("certain inalienable rights") and genuine far-sighted self-interest (a Middle East without repressive governments that foster sick resentments amongst their most idle citizens), and it is a potent mixture that, with the grace of God and the hard work and sacrifice of some unbelievably brave people, gives us all the best chance of avoiding a true clash of civilizations - one that would make the current war look like a skirmish.

And she's doing it with style.


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