On Condoleezza Rice

Adam Shatz in the LRB:

Condoleezza Rice, like everyone else, is ‘worn down and discouraged by the war’, the New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her new biography (Random House, $27.95). Early morning work-outs on her ‘elliptical trainer’, shopping at expensive boutiques and American Idol provide some relief. But Rice has found her greatest ‘escape from the anxieties of her day’ – the anxieties she’s done so much to foster – by playing the piano with her chamber ensemble, whose recitals in the capital have ‘attracted a bipartisan audience’. ‘It’s the time I’m most away from myself, and I treasure it,’ Condi explains, and we wish she’d do more of it. She once dreamed of a career in classical music, and although she gave it up to study Soviet politics, you could say that she never stopped being a performer. Here she is in a red Oscar de la Renta gown, sashaying down the stairs of the British ambassador’s ‘palatial residence on Massachusetts Avenue’; there she is appearing before American troops wearing ‘a long, military-style black coat that blew open to reveal a skirt just above the knee and a pair of sexy, high-heeled black boots.’

Condi was, notoriously, one of the ‘Vulcans’ who presided over Bush’s various foreign policy disasters, but she was never a neocon. She wrote ‘leftist’ papers in graduate school and voted for Jimmy Carter before joining the Republican Party. Throughout the 1990s, her views on foreign policy were defined by a cautious realism, bearing the heavy imprint of her mentor, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Bush père. In a Foreign Affairs article widely read at the time as a position paper for the son’s presidency, she chastised the Clinton administration for its ‘Wilsonian’ impulses and said there was no reason to panic about Iraq or North Korea since both governments were ‘living on borrowed time’. But that was before 9/11, when everything changed, including Rice’s belief in a foreign policy tempering ‘strength’ with ‘humility’.