Leading by the Force of Example
On the radio, Dan Yorke is talking about the possibility of Condoleezza Rice’s ascension to the post of Secretary of State. Yorke speaks often and forcefully in support of women’s rights and respectful treatment of them, so I’m sure it pains him to say it, but he’s concerned that Condoleezza’s gender will represent a problem for the United States’ dealings with regimes such as those in the Middle East.
Perhaps the first typically American response — certainly mine — is to say, “tough luck.” She’s our representative, and if a backwards dictatorship or oligarchy doesn’t like it, well, then that country’s going to have a hard time drawing out the benefits that come with being a friend to the world’s only superpower. However, as John Kerry tried so hard to symbolize, sometimes we have to compromise our principles in the short term to make more profound gains in the future.
Such questions are right along the line of disagreement between fortitude and nuance that characterizes so much of the American political debate, right now. Both sides make legitimate points. In this specific instance, though, I don’t know that the gut response is as unnuanced as it seems.
Our foreign policy currently has as its focus the relatively rapid remaking of entire regions so as to preclude catastrophic terrorism. Consequently, we must force and lure regimes toward radical change. Perhaps it shows how serious we are if we take the risk of choosing a diplomat with whom those regimes will be reticent to work — forcing them, in that one respect, either to be the sorts of governments that we believe they must become or to emphasize the ways in which they are more sympathetic to our enemies than to us.
In the comments, Marc asks whether Madeleine Albright’s name came up. I didn’t hear the entire segment of Yorke’s show, so I can’t say. It’s interesting that the circumstances between the Clinton ’90s and now are so dramatic that the comparison mightn’t come immediately to mind. (It didn’t to mine.)
Although we’re still too close to those years to judge accurately, it seems likely that some text-book producer of the future won’t be able to come up with a more accurate section title for the 1990s than “A Break from History.”