Memo To: Sen. Lincoln Chafee [R RI]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Finding Common Ground
Dear Senator... I watched several hours of the Foreign Relations Committee's confirmation hearings of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State and most appreciated your line of inquiry, both yesterday and today, on what kind of diplomacy to expect from her. In the President's first term, the "Vulcans" ruled the roost, using Colin Powell's feeble efforts at diplomatic solutions as a a fig leaf for their determination to use military might to get their way in the world. There has been lots of speculation that Condi Rice will be able to separate herself from the other Vulcans, the neo-cons who were really responsible for bringing her onto the Bush team. I did not see much evidence of that and, since she is being confirmed, can only hope she will improve on the job.
The idea you proposed was exactly right, I thought, suggesting that even as she approaches the toughest adversaries, the rogue states, and the anti-American political leaders in Latin America, that she emulate President Nixon's initiative in 1969 in dealing with Communist China. I'd even forgotten his "Ping Pong Diplomacy," first finding common ground with Chinese and American ping pong teams, even though Beijing was supplying North Vietnam with war materials they were using to kill our soldiers. A great example that should remind GOP conservatives of how effective Nixon was in taking the earliest steps to bring Beijing back into the global family. It did not make much of an impression on Condi, though, as the transcript of your exchange with her will almost show. You have to read her body language as well to see how uncomfortable she was with the notion of that kind of genuine diplomatic initiative with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, not to mention the mullahs of Tehran.
Later in the hearings, it got even worse, when Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, and a spear carrier for the Vulcans, took his turn with Ms. Rice and said flatly that he did not think there should be any attempt at finding common ground with Iran. I've appended his comments to yours, Senator, and also make a point about body language. The transcript does not show what I saw on C-SPAN, with Condoleezza smiling and nodding approval at his bluster. She did not have to say a word, but it was her low point in the two days of hearings. I'm afraid she's a Vulcan and will remain so. But thanks for trying.
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SENATOR CHAFEE: Going back to our questions of finding - my questions from yesterday, finding common ground, and as I look back in history - and you're a historian - and the success we had with the thaw with the People's Republic of China, it had a lot to do with the exchange of ping-pong teams, of all things. And I always admired the architects of that doctrine, in that we knew the Chinese ping-pong players were probably going to beat us 21-to-2 or something, but that wasn't what was important; it was the start of finding common ground. And I was wondering, in some of my questions you seem to reject that doctrine of finding common ground.
MS. RICE: Thank you, Senator, for giving me an opportunity to answer that, because obviously we need to look for common ground. There is no reason that the United States has to have permanent enemies. We have had circumstances in which there have been major changes in the world. You know, the Libyan experience shows that if there are countries that are prepared to forswear behavior that is dangerous to the international system, that we can start down a different path.
And I'm glad that you mentioned the ping-pong diplomacy, because obviously in almost every circumstance the exchange of people of civil society, of nongovernmental actors, is often an important tool in thawing difficult relations. And so I don't want to leave the impression that I would be by any means opposed to looking for those opportunities, and I will look for them.
SENATOR CHAFEE: Can we specifically go back to Venezuela again? Where can we find common ground?
MS. RICE: Well, we have, obviously - we talked about the economic relationship yesterday, and there is common ground there. We sit together in the OAS. We sit together in the Summit of the Americas. But the point is that the - we don't have a problem with finding common ground. We have right now a government in Venezuela that has been unconstructive in important ways. And I would just urge that the entire neighborhood as well as the Venezuelan government look at what's happening in terms of democracy in Venezuela, in terms of Venezuela's relations with its neighbors. But this is a matter of sadness, not of anger.
SENATOR CHAFEE: And with Iran? Is there any potential for finding common ground with Iran?
MS. RICE: Well, I think the problems with Iran are well known. And we've tried to make them known to the Iranian government, often through third parties, sometimes when we've been in fora together.
This is just a regime that has a really very different view of the Middle East and where the world is going than we do. It's really hard to find common ground with a government that thinks Israel should be extinguished. It's difficult to find common ground with a government that is supporting Hezbollah and terrorist organizations that are determined to undermine the Middle East peace that we seek.
So I would hope that the nuclear issues will be resolved. It's extremely important to the world that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon. And we are working closely with the European Union on that. I would hope that the Iranian government does something to make clear to the world that they're not going to support terrorists who are determined to undermine the two-state solution in the Palestinian - in the Holy Land.
And those are barriers to relations, and we just have to be honest about it. It's a very different view, not to mention, by the way, that a theocratic government that has a view that the mullahs ought to rule; that has no rights - or it has a human rights record that is really appalling and that treats its citizens, its women, in that way, is not a regime with which I think we have very much common ground, particularly given the way that we would like to see the Middle East develop.
SENATOR CHAFEE: It seems to me, going back into history, the same occurrences were with the People's Republic of China at the time. They were arming the - in the middle of the Vietnam War, arming our opponents in that war. I mean, there was every opportunity to accentuate our differences and everything wrong with them. But nonetheless, through this thawing, this process of exchange and ping- pong diplomacy, now the countries are not killing each other.
MS. RICE: Well -
SENATOR CHAFEE: And interestingly on Iran, I went to a conference in Bahrain earlier in December and the Iranians were there. And I looked up out of curiosity, who are these delegates from Iran. And each of the three delegates from Iran had been educated in the United States; one at the University of Houston, one at the University of Cincinnati, and one at Michigan State. And I wasn't surprised. There is common ground. But given every opportunity to express even the slightest finding of that common ground, I find that you instead fall into accentuating and magnifying our differences.
MS. RICE: Well, Senator, let me just make the following point. You know, when the Forum for the Future was held, the very important meeting that was held to talk about reform in the Middle East, the Iranians were actually invited. The Moroccans wanted to invite them; we said we had no objection. And they didn't come. And I think there's a reason they didn't come, which was that that was a gathering of civil society and business leaders and people, people in the country who wanted to talk about reform. That's an opportunity for Iran to interact with the world.
We showed, I think, our respect for and our humanitarian impulse to the Iranian people with our response to the Bam earthquake, and it was a very great moment in American - in the history of American compassion and generosity. And I hope we'll have other opportunities that are not linked to disaster to let the Iranian people know that we have no desire to isolate them from the international system or from others.
And so I understand your question. It's a complex problem when you're dealing with a regime that really has views that we consider illegitimate. But from the point of view of the Iranian people, this is a people who should be in contact with the rest of the world...
SENATOR NORM COLEMAN, Republican of Minnesota: I am sympathetic to my colleagues' concerns about finding common ground. I join with some of my colleagues believing that we need to find more common ground with Venezuela. I think we have to figure out a way to do that. But I have to agree with you and appreciate your response in separating Venezuela from Iran, a country that's calling for the destruction of Israel, that's supporting terrorism, that - no freedom of religion, abysmal human rights record, pursuit of nuclear weapons. Just in Iraq, talking to Allawi - concern about interfering with what's going on in Iraq.
And I will say, Dr. Rice, for this senator, the idea of finding common ground with Iran and the mullahs makes me sick. So I - there is a separation there, and I believe it's important for some of us to keep our eye on that difference between Iran and Venezuela.
MS. RICE: Thank you.
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NOTE: The government of Iran does not call for the destruction of Israel, as Condi alleges, and there is more religious freedom in Iran than there is in most of the Arab states. There are roughly 25,000 Jews living in Iran, which is 25,000 more than live in Saudi Arabia, and they are free to practice their religion without any harassment from the mullahs.