Monday, October 15, 2007

Rice's Undercooked Diplomacy

Noted Russian expert and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, went to Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin. Vlad was not in the mood to be polite to Condi. Witnessing the shock and awe of Putin's delivery was US Secretary of Defense, Robert "Bob" Gates. Makes one wonder if the intelligence for an expected warm welcome was a slam dunk into a frigid Russian lake next to Putin's dacha. Imagine the call reporting back to the US president who had looked into Pooty-Poot's (Bush's nickname for the guy with a nuclear arsenal too) blazing eyes and knew his soul. This is what American foreign policy consists of these days. In a snippy granular rejoinder, Rice met with Russian Human Rights activists in Moscow at the Ambassador's residence, Spaso House, expressing opposition to Putin's Soviet era policies and his blatant diminishment of democratic ideals.

Mr. Putin’s surprise suggestion last month that he might yet remain in power — possibly as a newly empowered prime minister, possibly as the eminence atop the “party of power” — has left the White House stumped. The administration is uncertain how to deal with a man who has consolidated power almost exclusively in his own hands, even as Mr. Bush continues to call Mr. Putin “my friend.”

That is why a certain discomfort regarding Mr. Putin’s future hovered over two days of talks here attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

“If you don’t have countervailing institutions, then the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development,” Ms. Rice said Saturday, raising concerns about the state of Russia’s judiciary, legislative branch and news media, but declining to criticize Mr. Putin by name.

The administration’s occasional scoldings have accomplished little except to harden anti-American views at the Kremlin and in the state news media. (A swaggering Mr. Putin opened the discussions on Friday with a sarcastic harangue over the American plans for missile defense.)

Rice, determined to cook up one honeymoon success out of thin air on her worldwide trip, jetted back into the Israel/Palestine 2000 year old dust-up for a 2007 West Bank photo-op throwing bon mots of getting the Peace process back on track. Yawn. Note to Condi - you have no worries on winning a Nobel Peace prize. Ever. Take heart in the fact that you are a certified head to toe fashionista though.

"We frankly have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo op," she said.

Israelis and Palestinians, Rice added, are making their "most serious effort" in years to resolve the conflict.

"Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state," she added.

Rice is on a four-day shuttle mission, trying to create some common ground ahead of the meeting. A State Department official hinted on Sunday that the conference might be postponed because of the gaps between the two sides. (AP Pool Photo/Muhammad Muheisen)

Meanwhile, Putin dismissed rampant rumors of an assassination attempt, confirming his intention to meet with Iranians in Tehran at the Caspian Summit and privately with President Ahmadinejad. Germany and Russia focused on trade talks during their high level discussions. Along with Germany's chancellor, Anne Merkel, he gave a press conference outlining his intent.

"A reliable source in one of the Russian special services, has received information from several sources outside Russia, that during the president of Russia's visit to Tehran an assassination attempt is being plotted," Interfax said.

Russian media are mostly controlled by the government and it would be unthinkable for a major Moscow news organization to report an alleged plot against the president without prior official approval.

But a planned private meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could give him a chance to seek a compromise over Tehran's nuclear program and to demonstrate his independence from Washington on Middle East issues.

Oh dear, this stuff is going to keep John LeCarre on his laptop for the next twenty years. This is a Russian president's first visit since the days of Joseph Stalin. That leaves many western establishments with a cold feeling that may perhaps be warmed up with a keepsake Iron curtain.

More on Condolezza Rice, her history and stunning rise can be found in the 2007 release from Marcus Mabry, Twice As Good: Condoleeza Rice and the Path to Power. Twice as good refers to a piece of conventional wisdom in the African American community that one has to be twice as good to merit the same opportunities as Caucasians. W.E.B. Du Bois called it the Talented Tenth.

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