WASHINGTON, D.C. - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her office recently expounded on the world and its trouble spots like the professor she once was and desires to be again. I began with a general question. Why does she think there are so many trouble spots simultaneously challenging the United States? In addition to Iraq and Iran, there are North Korea, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, where it appears Daniel Ortega may be returned to power in the Nov. 5 election.
Rice said, "We're at the beginning of a big historic transition. When I was here the last time working for President George H.W. Bush, we were at the end of 50 years of containing the Soviet threat and ultimately defeating it. And so we got to harvest the end of that. . . . This time we're at the beginning of a new, big historic transition where we're trying to lay the foundation for the ultimate victory of democracy and triumph against the ideology of hatred and the defeat of terrorism and the rogue states."
Is she confident all of this will happen, or is it wishful thinking?
"I have no doubt that it will [happen], but it certainly won't be on our watch and it may be several watches into the future."
She's right and our enemies believe we don't have the stomach for a protracted war possibly lasting decades. Rice said, "I believe we have the will to do this." But she acknowledged that "Americans need to see progress. I don't doubt that."
She rejects criticism that the Bush administration won't conduct one-on-one talks with North Korea. She calls it a "myth that we haven't talked directly to North Korea. Within the context of the six-party talks, [assistant secretary of state] Chris Hill has had dinner with them, just Chris and his North Korean counterpart. What we haven't done is negotiate one-on-one with them because if they get into a position where it's just an American agreement they're breaking, like the case in '94, then they don't face the pressure of a China or a Russia. The North would like nothing better than to have this be about North Korea and the United States. We are saying this is about North Korea and the region.'
And what about Nicaragua's election and Daniel Ortega's possible return to power? "We'll see whether or not, in fact, Nicaragua wants to go back that way," she said. "Our goal is to make sure [the election] is free and fair."
Venezuela? "I think you'll see a lot of backlash against Venezuelan policies. We used to have very good relations with Venezuela, but it requires a president in Venezuela who respects democratic institutions . . . and who is not meddling in his neighbor's affairs."
Rice and I disagreed on the issue of a Palestinian state. I think the Palestinians want the state to obliterate Israel, the proof being the five wars fought by Arab states, terrorism, and the continuing anti-Israel rhetoric from mosques and media throughout the region. According to Rice, "The great majority of the [Palestinian] people just want a better life. I just don't believe mothers want their children to grow up to be suicide bombers. I think mothers want their children to grow up to go to university. And if you can create the right conditions, that's what people are going to do."
I asked if she just thinks this, or does she know it?
"I think I know it," she said.
"Do you think you know it because you want to believe it, or do you think you know it because of conversations with [them]?"
Rice admits to having had "lots of conversations with Palestinians," but then added: "If human beings don't want a better future, don't want their children to grow up in peace and have opportunities, then none of this is going to work anyway."
-©2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.