One day after Condoleezza Rice’s Senate confirmation hearing I curled up with the book that provides her best claim to seriousness as a scholar: Germany Unified and Europe Transformed.
Since Rice is likely to become our new Secretary of State and her co-author Philip Zelikow may join her staff, I thought this 1995 book would give me some feel for what her conduct of American diplomacy would be like.
The unification of Germany in 1990 was, after all, an “extraordinary episode in modern diplomacy,” and both Rice and Zelikow played roles in the process, as did Robert Zoellick, nominated as Rice’s deputy at the State Department. It was Zoellick who asked Zelikow to write the internal history of German reunification that became this book.
Germany Unified is, then, the work of engaged scholars. While the authors’ involvement gave them a stake in putting the best face on the history they describe, it also gave them a useful close-to-the-ground look at what was happening.
As they tell it, the story began when Mikhail Gorbachev set the Soviet bloc on a new course in 1985. Encouraging reform in both the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, he hoped to end the Soviet Union’s isolation from the international capitalist system. No one imagined that the reforms he set in motion would so quickly end the division of Germany, or dissolve the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union itself.
Here was a system that seemed to be fixed—a Soviet empire, a divided Germany—yet a series of quick developments undid it. No single player determined the outcome, but throughout the process Rice and Zelikow saw at work the power of forceful leadership. They give the most credit to West Germany’s Helmut Kohl. But they also note the “pivotal importance and firmness of Bush’s personal judgments.”
A continuation of Reagan’s “crusade for freedom,” Bush’s vision of a democratic eastern Europe guided policy through the complex diplomatic maze that ended a status quo that had endured for nearly half a century.
It is not much of a stretch to see the continuity between policy Rice helped to shape under Bush I and policy she has helped to shape under Bush II. In fact, I have wondered all along if Bush and Rice recklessly embarked on the democratization project in the Middle East out of a mistaken idea that the Middle East would be like Eastern Europe.
If Bush II is continuing his father’s campaign to democratize the world, he is doing it in radically different style from his father. Again and again, Zelikow and Rice describe Bush I’s multilateral approach and appreciation for the sensitivities of the various countries involved, pre-eminently the most powerful players, West Germany and the Soviet Union. They present the Bush I administration as taking an opportunity to exercise leadership in this crisis—but quietly, carefully, even cautiously.
Although they seem to approve of his style, Rice herself emerges as a voice for forceful action.
It was Rice, along with another NSC staff member, who wrote a national security directive arguing for movement “beyond containment to the integration of the Soviet Union into the international system.” As events picked up speed, it was Rice who argued in favor of early reunification of Germany. “The Soviets would resist a more rapid pace. Yet they were in a difficult position, and Rice thought that the United States should go ahead and hit the accelerator.”
Yet there is nothing in the book to suggest the reckless and impatient policy that has isolated the United States under Bush II. Nor, in the authors’ meticulous presentation and apparent regard for truth is there a hint of the carelessness with which Condoleezza Rice has handled facts as Bush’s national security advisor.
As California Senator Barbara Boxer pointed out in Rice’s confirmation hearing, Rice has not only been careless of truth in her role as national security advisor but also unwilling to acknowledge what we might kindly call her misstatements. Both traits are unbecoming in a scholar and damning in a Secretary of State. As one senator pointed out during the testimony, America has suffered a steep loss of credibility in the world.
In the end, therefore, I am not sure how much I learned from this book about how Rice might handle the Secretary of State’s job. Much stormy water has passed under the bridge since she and Zelikow wrote this book, and she has moved from a subordinate post in the shadow to a very visible place in the sun. If she could find again some of the circumspect commitment to truth we expect of a scholar, she would make a better—and more trusted—Secretary of State.
Carol Polsgrove, professor of journalism at Indiana University, is the author of Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement.›