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Ex-Rice speechwriter: She doesn't have 'vaguest notion' of Middle East history

Michael Roston
Published: Friday January 19, 2007
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An ex-State Department speechwriter today told the Wall Street Journal that his former boss Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lacked a clear understanding of modern Middle Eastern history.

The article by Neil King, Jr. takes up the tendency of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to analogize current US policy in the Middle East with America's experience during the Cold War.

"When Ms. Rice talks about the challenges the U.S. faces across the Mideast, she points, somewhat surprisingly, to Europe after World War II and to the West's decades-long face-off against the Soviet Union, which happens to be her area of expertise," King writes. During a recent trip to the Middle East, the Secretary of State "engaged in several long historical tutorials with reporters in tow."

Rice's tendency to apply Cold War lessons to the Middle East has been criticized, even by a former speechwriter, as resulting from a "limited frame of reference," according to King.

Adam Garfinkle, a foreign policy journal editor who still has a bio listed on the State Department's website from his time as a speechwriter, says that "The administration's reservoir of historical analogies seems limited to the 1914-1991 period. And it's all about Europe."

Garfinkle added, "No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have even the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history."

The full article can be read by subscribers at the Wall Street Journal website. An excerpt is provided below.

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"The reason that I cite some of these other times, like Europe, is that it is so clear in everybody's mind that the United States and its allies came out victorious at the end of the Cold War," she said in Kuwait. "But if you...look at the events that ultimately lead to that, you would have thought that this was failing every single day between 1945-1946 and probably 1987 or 1988."

Her contention is while things may look bad now in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, history is on the administration's side. She pushed a similar argument to reporters last month. The Middle East is "moving toward something that I am quite certain will not have a full resolution and that you will not be able to fully judge for decades," she said.

Critics dismiss Ms. Rice's references to the Cold War as both convenient and a sign of her limited frame of reference. The challenges facing Europe in 1946, they say, bear little similarity to those of the Middle East in the 21st century.

"The administration's reservoir of historical analogies seems limited to the 1914-1991 period. And it's all about Europe," said Adam Garfinkle, a former Rice speechwriter who edits the foreign-policy journal The American Interest. "No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have even the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history."