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Commentary: Condoleeza Rice

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

It's clearly a case of Condoleeza Rice Agonistes. Has any secretary of state been so besieged since the hapless Dean Rusk under Lyndon Johnson? Where Rusk had to defend the Vietnam War, Rice has had to endure the sacking of Iraq - by insurgents, Shiites, Sunnis and our own allied forces-the impudence of Iran, and the decimation of Lebanon, while, on the side, reassuring the people of Cuba, via TV Marti, that the U.S. does not intend to invade, no matter what happens to Fidel Castro.

How odd that he should appear in the midst of everything, right in the middle of a mid-east mess when Dr. Rice withstood a finger-wagging session with Javier Solana of the European Union and held her head in despair during a press conference on the fate of Beirut. All of a sudden, there was Castro, felled at last but still hot in memory in his camouflage and beard, looking like a villain from Gilbert and Sullivan, flailing his way toward the final curtain. And there was Secretary Rice, struggling to put across that a commission she chaired does contemplate the birth pangs of democracy in Havana, but not direct aggression from Washington.

Goods could be sent, went the report, and a free press created, also elections held, but only at the invitation of an interim government. Lots of luck. Acting leader Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, may have the "charisma of a turnip," as Carlos Fonts, a Cuban businessman now living in Dallas, once said of him, and Raul may not last, but don't count on the dissidents to follow. Rather, some observers foresee the military, or the Communist Party, or both, moving to the fore, none of them eager to ask the Bush administration to set things straight. Why should they? They have President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to supply cheap oil and a barrel of other benefits, involving trade, investment and credit.

But the big question is: can a cease fire take hold in Lebanon after Condi's "war to end all war" the continuation of which she insisted on for days, promising a "new Middle East," when what was desperately needed was to get through the night. The rest would unfold, inevitably, with further bloodshed almost certainly down the road. But if the killing could be curtailed for now, for as long as possible, that would be wonderful.

The next big question is this: what will the end of August bring in Tehran? Will President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad halt the enrichment of uranium, or not? And if not, what next? Rice was helpful when she persuaded Bush to talk with the Iranians, but unrealistic when she and the administration refused to begin negotiations until the thing about which they were to negotiate, Iran's nuclear program, already was settled. The effort was doomed from the start.

Condoleeza Rice is a remarkable person, but thus far she's no Henry Kissinger who pushed through the opening to China; or George Shultz, who helped bring down the Soviet Union; or Jim Baker who assembled the broadest of coalitions to fight the Persian Gulf war. To be a great secretary of state, Dr. Rice must accomplish something. It's not enough simply to preside over losing situations. I hope she gets that chance.

Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA

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