Two years ago this week, Condoleezza Rice was before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, seeking confirmation as secretary of state. By then, 1,366 American soldiers had died in Iraq, 10,300 had been wounded and 58 percent of Americans disapproved of President Bush's handling of the war. Iraq had been the principal issue of the presidential election two months before, when a record 137 Americans were killed. In her 3,700-word opening statement to the Senate committee, Rice not once mentioned the casualties. Nor did she mention the Iraq war. Her only references to war, other than plugging Pakistan as "a vital ally in the war on terror" (she calls Pakistan's dictator, Pervez Musharraf, "a good friend") had to do with World War II and the Cold War. She was not only in a time-warp. She was in an empathy warp.
Publicly, Rice has shown more emotion about Brahms' second piano concerto, which she's promised herself to learn "before I leave this Earth," than she has about her own and her employer's mistakes, which now have the United States fighting three losing wars -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, on "terror" -- and winning only one: the domestic one on liberties. As a national security adviser, Rice, an old Chevron director who once had an oil tanker named after her, was the pipeline through which the greased machinations for serially failing strategies made it to the president's ears. "Constantly mother-henning me," is how Bush once described that role. As a secretary of state, Rice has been the frequent flier to nowhere. Every one of the foreign-policy hot spots she inherited -- North Korea, Iran, Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, the Horn of Africa -- is in worse shape today than in 2005, when things were bad enough. As a member of the Bush administration, she's been a perfect fit.
So, when Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., brought up the matter of Americans dying in Iraq and making their families suffer consequences Rice may not understand personally, Boxer was not making an isolated observation. She had Rice's sorry record before her. This, specifically, is what Boxer said: "Now, the issue is who pays the price? Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So, who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact."
Reactionaries spent the last two decades glorifying the virtues of motherhood, parenting and "family values." Boxer's words should have rung true. Instead, led by Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, the reactionary class attacked Boxer for her "far-left" insensitivity to single women. Boxer's observation, so rarely made -- most Americans have as much personally at stake in this war as they do in weather patterns on Jupiter, which is partly why it's dragging on -- was ideologically neutered.
Boxer never questioned Rice's empathy. She merely pointed out that Rice and Boxer herself will never know the personal sacrifice that families losing sons and daughters to the war must live with every day. She should have pointed out that Rice's empathy for the war's human cost is nil, because it derives from the deepest disconnect between the administration and the country, as proved yet again by Bush's speech last week: the most astounding expression of presidential contempt for the nation to date. This Boxer did point out: "Madame Secretary, you are not listening to the American people. You are not listening to the military. You are not listening to the bipartisan voices from the Senate. You are not listening to the Iraq Study Group. Only you know who you are listening to, and you wonder why there is a dark cloud of skepticism and pessimism over this nation. I think people are right to be skeptical after listening to some of the things that have been said by your administration."
Should the personal play a role in this? Put it this way: I don't know if anyone who's not a parent can feel what a parent does over the loss of a child. I doubt Rice can. What's clearer is that this administration has been fighting the war as if its human consequences were as outsourced as its location. What's clearest is that someone is being mother-henned who shouldn't be, and tens of thousands of young men and women aren't, who should have been.
Pierre Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at email@example.com or through his personal Web site at www.pierretristam.com.
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