Before condoleezza rice made her speech on realism

Before condoleezza rice made her speech on realism


Before Condoleezza Rice made her speech on realism, the Bush administration was embroiled in a reactionary response to the 9/11 attack. Though at first the counterattack was gratifying for many Americans, most came to their senses. As a nation, we recognized it as a knee-jerk reaction opposed to the good faith we had built since the Truman administration.

So what to do about it? Pulling the troops out of the Iraq and Afghanistan at the time would have only weakened the new global geopolitical infrastructure. The idea took hold to reject the past and move forward toward an entirely new world view of global democratization. This involved ridding the plan of all idealism outside of the human rights issue, which is addressed in only a few words throughout the speech.

President Barack Obama made another choice. His Nobel Lecture is full of idealistic ideas, and his entire focus is human rights. He is interested in using individual rights to build the sovereignty of all nations. He rejected the forcefulness of Rice's speech and empowered it with a different voice.

Condoleezza's Vision of America

In the wake of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rice begins her speech by summarizing the current dynamics in the world as follows:

As globalization strengthens some states, it exposes and exacerbates the failings of many others--those too weak or poorly governed to address challenges within their borders and prevent them from spilling out and destabilizing the international order (Rice 2).

It is in this environment that strategies were formulated for national security. In her speech, Rice calls for urgent action of sovereign nations to mobilize world governments in an effort to convert the world to democracy. Rice calls upon people to recognize and use the strength of the United States to implement its values worldwide, not as a means of controlling other nations, but as a means to an end.

From a realist view, Rice rejects the idealistic notions on which the nation was built and stresses "the superiority of democracy as a form of government, both in principle and in practice" (Rice 3). When combined with promotion of human rights, Rice calls this approach unique to the American character, and names it realism.

In defining American realism, Rice talks about ending all of the old conflicts between nations and building relationships with Russia, South Korea, Japan, and China. While claiming recent diplomatic wins for the Bush administration, she admits to open issues with Russia and China, saying Russians do not hold themselves up to American values, and that China must embrace global economic and trade policies. It must also rewrite its energy, human rights and environmental policies to join in this global shift.

As a means of ending the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and resolving human rights issues, Rice asks for a peaceful, democratic relationship of "competition and cooperation" (Rice 3). She presents these as the answer to transnational terrorism, climate change, and poverty and disease.

Rice extends the invitation to emerging nations, pointing out how India, a democratic nation, stands to become a global power and ally "in shaping an international order rooted in freedom and the rule of law" (Rice 6). She recognizes Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile in the same way.

After a long list of successes of the Bush Administration with these nations, Rice outlines a model for democracy that would strengthen the weak states across the world. The plan she presents would implement democratic institutions and policies with the result of spreading the "powers" of democracy across the world a means to end terrorism as well as to teach other countries responsibility for their citizens and economies.

While admitting to weaknesses in the democratic model, Rice is saying that national security depends on ending corruption in weaker government systems and bringing those nations into balance with more powerful nations through free market economic and trade systems. This is her goal for Pakistan, Syria, and other powers in the Middle East, which is to begin with election processes and other geopolitical solutions.

While stressing that global democratization does not seek to undermine religion, it does seek to end to the violence perpetrated by extremist groups. Beyond this, Rice speaks no more of religion, but of education for all, more programs to be led by the United Sates and other sovereign democracies.

She ends her speech with a comment about the success of the democratic ideal. Our focus on realism, Rice says, "has freed America to imagine the world can always be better—not perfect, but better—than others have ever consistently thought possible" (Rice 25). For this reason, and in these ways, Rice calls the United States the anchor for the world.

Comparison to President Obama's Nobel Lecture

Because both administrations are post-9/11 and embroiled in war, in his speech upon acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama also focuses on war and describes himself as a warrior leading two wars. While he makes no excuses for his decisions so far, he questions the rationality of a "just war" as a means to peace. He describes morality, not related to markets and competition, but as an end to violence on a global scale.

Unlike Rice, who rejected all mention of the work of past administrations, Obama bases his reasoning on the knowledge gained from past leaders, and while he accepts their advice, he states the world requires a new action plan for peace.

He puts forth his goal of a reconciliation of the dichotomy between war and the desire for peace. He acknowledges that we will not see a violence-free world in our lifetimes because of men who want full control and will use any means to get it. He admits that sovereign nations, in an effort to stop these men "will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified" (Obama). In making this concession for his own administration, he harkens back to what Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones" (Obama). For this reason, his plan will differ from past plans.

Obama agrees with Rice that, while the world has inherited the aftermath of the Third Reich and The Cold War, that evil exists in the world, that democracy seeks a better future for all, and that "Commerce has stitched the world together," he also says that "we are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud" (Obama). Using civil war as an example, he contrasts today's civil wars around the world with the knowledge of America's civil rights past, and uses this as a foundation for leaping forward.

He also outlines a plan, but it is a plan for peace. His plan focuses on nonproliferation and reduction of nuclear weapons, as well as bringing human rights violations to the attention of the international community for resolution, but his overall goal is a return to morality and justness. He defines these as the ability of each of us to become what we are meant to be. When transcendence is at work at the individual level, he would say, it moves to the local and the national level, and then proliferates worldwide. This is why he says, "A just peace based on the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting" (Obama).

This is opposed to Rice's harsh insistence, "that freedom and democracy are the only ideas that can, over time, lead to just and lasting stability" (Rice 3). In the same context, Obama said, " . . . for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice" (Obama).

He believes it is possible because he believes the leaders of NATO and other countries have good intentions. He calls the troubles in unnamed countries a "disconnect" between leadership and the citizenry, which necessitates sacrifices in order to pull every nation in the world together for peace. Rice does not give the impression that she trusts world leadership.

Obama rejects the Rice plan that imposes American values on other nations and says that America has never fought a democracy, but he does not miss the opportunity to list the advantages of democracy within the context of individual rights of citizens, such as the right to assemble, freedom of worship, and the promotion of "human aspirations" (Obama). He asks for a world leadership that uplifts its cultures and engages citizens in personal growth and development as a means to change the world.

Like Rice, he says that education is a necessary first step in finding a just peace for both civil and political rights. He also promotes clean water, medicine, and the basic necessities of life, so that citizens move beyond mere survival into a productive state that allows insight.

Rice asked for the cooperation of the sovereign nations, and to some extent that struggling nations to share this power. Obama asks the world's communities to come together to find solutions, as in scientists for climate change, environmentalists for environmental solutions, and farmers to feed the world. From these individual groups, cooperating among themselves, Obama builds nations full of strong institutions that are "the continued expansion of our moral imagination" (Obama).

Where Rice defined it in economic terms, Obama defines it as a desire to improve ourselves out of "an insistence that there's something irreducible that we all share" (Obama).


Historian Stephen Graubard calls Secretary Rice's speech an exaggeration "of the democratization process" (Graubard, 189), as well as the list of accomplishments of the Bush administration. Although he gives them credit for promising developments in Europe, he says she slides over the fact that many countries she names are autocratic or oligarchic. He calls her speech embarrassing because "Rice is blind to the economic, social, and political challenges that confront even stable and prosperous societies" (Graubard, 190).

Graubard claims she has no understanding of how billions live or the "character of today's international order" because she ignores history (Graubard, 190). He says by dismissing the advantages gained under Roosevelt and Truman, she ignores how they were able "to take bold diplomatic initiatives" that included negotiations with enemies as well as allies (Graubard, 190).

President Obama has critics as well. As former Ambassador Richard Burt writes, " there is a growing sense that President Barack Obama's ambitious agenda for changing America's role in the world has run up against a messy international reality that has frustrated his lofty intentions" (Burt, 6). Burt describes a stalled war in Iraq and a "stymied" peace processes throughout the Middle East, as well as a number of problems with trying to end nuclear proliferation around the globe.

Zbigniew Brzezinski criticized Obama saying, "so far, Obama's foreign policy has generated more expectations than strategic breakthroughs" (Burt, 7). James Traub feels that Obama leans too much on the past and he is being too cautious, though Traub gives Obama points for taking into account the successes of earlier administrations and rejecting Rice's forceful attitude.

Former Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt wonders why Obama, who focuses on past successes, hasn't taken advantage of all of it. Burt applauds Nixon's strategic response to establish foreign policy within a clear framework. He calls Obama's policies analogous to Carter's administration. In other words, while Obama relies on specific historical references, he too has failed to take into account all of the advantages history has to offer.

Burt says Obama cannot simply call his policy a work in progress, but at least identify the key elements within the policy. As he says, "If there is a lesson for President Obama flowing from this, it is the need for his administration to complement his vision for international change with a robust strategy for achieving it" (Burt, 9).

Rice and Realism

"The realist leans backward rather than forward; his watchword is prudence" (Traub).

There is little prudence, if any, in Rice's speech. Her goal is to put forth a very aggressive plan that comes close to sounding as if she wants to force democracy on the rest of the world exactly as it operates in the United States. An issue for realists is called the Jeffersonian pitfall of "imperial overstretch" (Burt, 6).

The realist looks for strategies and solutions to the existing problems by looking at it from all angles. While Rice appears to cover every detail in her speech by naming countries and citing specific examples of how things should change in many of them, it leaves little or no room for diplomacy. While Obama might be criticized for too much of a focus on diplomacy, Rice's speech sounds almost as if she is demanding conformance to the plan, even by Russia and China, who have natural political reasons to ignore many of the United States plans.

Another criticism of Rice's speech is that she entirely "failed to consider the role of religion in creating new fissures in the world . . . part of her larger neglect of history" (Graubard, 190). Her dismissal of what was learned remains the biggest criticism of realists.

As Graubard points out, 9/11 was devastating and it changed history, but to create a new American realism without consideration of history is folly. After all, ignoring history and the "Herculean efforts required in the past to gain the support of domestic and foreign public opinion for major policy innovations" (Graubard, 190) is what led to the Bush administration's reactionism.


Condoleezza Rice was a good spokesperson for the Bush administration. She presented the facts as she understood them and as they were presented to her. Her desire was to improve the world, no matter what, and her speech was indicative of this fact and the harshness of the environment in which she found herself.

In formulating a plan within that environment, she adopted a form of realism that could only be called the American realism of her times. Although it provides clear strategy, it does not match traditional realism in many respects.

President Obama opposed, modified, and expanded on realist and idealist ideas, relying on a different viewpoint than Rice's power government. While his is an argument for the use of human strength in numbers large enough to influence governments to act for them, Rice was focused entirely on the American government as the world's largest power, and she wanted to use that to everyone's advantage.

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