By ANN McFEATTERS
Block News Alliance
January 20, 2006
The stiletto-heeled proponent of the Rice Doctrine is fond of pinning interestingly artful sobriquets on her ideas. For example, the policy of U.S. agents snatching suspects off the streets in foreign countries and taking them to third countries that sometimes practice torture to force revelation of information is called "rendition." Rice staunchly defends it.
The policy of starting wars with troublesome enemies is called "pre-emptive action." She's a big proponent when the administration deems it necessary.
Now she has come forth with "transformational diplomacy." The idea is not just to have diplomats stationed in foreign posts report to the United States what is going on around them, but to have them act to influence what goes on in host nations to spur the emergence of democracy.
In a speech at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service this week, Rice indicated that she intends to shift diplomats around the world like pieces on a chessboard. What Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once disdainfully referred to as "old Europe" will get short shrift. Rice finds it troubling that "we have nearly the same number of State Department personnel in Germany, a country of 82 million people, that we have in India, a country of 1 billion people."
Thus, countries such as Indonesia, India, China, Brazil and South Africa are to get more attention. There also will be traveling transnational teams of experts on such issues as disease outbreaks and drug smuggling.
Sadly, Rice did not pledge to try to eliminate the rotten practice of having rich people who contribute big bucks to the political party in power and presidential campaigns serve as ambassadors in such enticing spots as London or Geneva.
But her intention of forcing ambitious diplomats to speak less French and more Arabic, or more Chinese and less German, is smart. Her determination to staff more outposts in countries that have little U.S. presence now is admirable. Her policy of urging U.S. diplomats to link up more often with "real" people and not just with counterparts is wise.
The new emphasis has the imprint of Karen Hughes, the former presidential adviser who now is charged with improving the poor standing of the United States in the Arab world. Hughes realized how naive her own approach to the Arab world was after her first visit there last year in her new job after she insulted some Arab women with false assumptions.
Rice notes that almost 200 cities in the world with populations of 1 million or more have no U.S. diplomat. She'd like to see one-person diplomatic outposts spring up in remote parts of the world. Rice doesn't say how they would be protected.
But she has grasped an enormously important issue - the world is soundly rejecting American paternalism. Rice pledges that her brand of transformational diplomacy will be "rooted in partnership ... In doing things with people, not for them, we seek to use America's diplomatic power to help foreign citizens better their own lives and to build their own nations and to transform their own futures."
Foggy Bottom, the delicious nickname applied to the State Department because of its neighborhood in Washington, needs to be shaken up. It must adapt to a world that no longer responds as U.S. diplomats have long expected.
Rice was right at Georgetown: "The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. In this world, it is impossible to draw neat, clear lines between our security interests, our development efforts and our democratic ideals. American diplomacy must integrate and advance all of these goals together."
In the midst of yet another corruption scandal, both political parties are endorsing ethics rules to ban or limit fact-finding trips abroad by legislators if sponsored by lobbyists. While such trips should not be paid for by special interests, it is disquieting to think of our lawmakers becoming even more isolated when we need to know more about the world, not less. More government-sponsored travel by lawmakers to remote posts staffed by U.S. diplomats is one answer.
And now that the elusive Osama bin Laden is making threatening noises again, we are reminded how much more we must learn about our enemies and where they live.
Many would disagree strenuously with Rice on rendition and pre-emptive strikes. But on transformational diplomacy, she may be on to something.