About two weeks after the 2004 presidential election, on November 13, the British embassy held a surprise 50th birthday party for Condoleezza Rice. On her arrival, Ambassador David Manning presented her with a red Oscar de la Renta gown. When Rice changed into the dress and emerged like Cinderella, she was met by her Prince Charming, dressed in a tuxedo, the man she once called "my husband", President Bush.
The following week, Bush appointed his national security adviser as his secretary of state. Bush's relationship with Rice is perhaps the strangest of his many strange relationships. The mysterious attachment involves complex transactions of noblesse oblige and deference, ignorance and adulation, vulnerability and sweet talk. Like his other female enablers - Karen Hughes, his political image-maker and undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, and Harriet Miers, his legal counsel - Rice is ferociously protective. She shields him from worst-case scenarios, telling him to ignore criticism, and showers him with flattery that he is a world-historical colossus.
As national security adviser, before 9/11, Rice protected Bush from warnings by the counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, about al-Qaida attacks - and demoted Clarke. Before the invasion of Iraq, she lent her imprimatur to the disinformation about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and peddled it to the media. She did not demand an Iraq postwar stabilisation plan. Nor did she object to the Pentagon's seizure of Iraq's civil governance responsibilities from the state department. Before Israel's attack on Lebanon, she did not caution against the possibility of Israeli failure against Hizbullah. She was party to the decision to lend full war materiel and intelligence support to the effort if Israel would undertake it.
In the beginning, the didactic academic lectured her pupil that he stood at a crossroads like in 1947, at the making of the cold-war policy. After 9/11, she inculcated in Bush the notion that he was a world-builder and could imprint his design on a scale to match the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 that established the sovereignty of nation-states.
A few months after Rice became secretary of state, in July 2005, she transported senior staff to a West Virginia retreat where her head of policy planning, Stephen Krasner, delivered a lecture on the Peace of Westphalia followed by one on the Truman Doctrine to explain the magnitude of Rice - and Bush's - ambition for "transformational diplomacy".
This May, as the situation in Iraq drastically worsened, Rice told senior staff that she wants no more reporting from the embassies. She announced in a meeting that people write memos only for each other, and that no one else reads them. She said she wouldn't read them. Instead of writing reports, the diplomats should "sell America", she insisted. "We are salesmen for America!"
On Tuesday, kicking off the mid-term elections campaign, Bush delivered a speech that cited Bin Laden's screeds, Lenin's What Is To Be Done? and Hitler's Mein Kampf, and promised "complete victory". Rice contributed her own comparison of the "war on terror" to the American civil war. "I'm sure there are people who thought it was a mistake to fight the civil war to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold," she said.
But the more delirious the rhetoric, the more hollow the policy. "There is no plan for Iraq," a senior national security official with the highest intelligence clearance and access to the relevant memos told me. "There is no plan."
Sidney Blumenthal is a former senior adviser to President Clinton
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