WASHINGTON — Condi doesn't want to be Iraq.
She wants to be a Palestinian state. It has a far more hopeful ring to it, legacy-wise.
The Most Powerful Woman in the History of the World, as President Bush calls her, is a very orderly person.
Like her boss, she loves schedules and routines and hates disruptions. As a child, she was elected "president" of her family, a position that allowed her to dictate the organizational details of family trips, according to "Condoleezza Rice: An American Life," a new biography by The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller.
As an adult, Condi was worried about taking the job of top diplomat because it would mean traveling and being away from her things and habits.
So it is telling that in Annapolis she is running such a seat-of-the-pants operation, which seems designed to rescue the images of a secretary of state and president who have spent more time working out in the gym than working on the peace process.
W. couldn't be bothered to stay in Annapolis and try to belatedly push things along and guide Israel with a firmer hand.
After subverting diplomacy in his first term, now W. does drive-by diplomacy, taking a playboy approach to peace. He wants to look like he's taking the problem of an Israeli-Palestinian treaty seriously when his true motivation is more cynical: pacifying the Arab coalition and holding it together so that he can blunt Iran's sway.
When they invaded Iraq rather than working on the Palestine problem, W. and Condi helped spur the greater Iranian influence, Islamic extremism and anti-American sentiment that they are now desperately trying to quell.
Condi has compared trying to broker deals in the Middle East to "Groundhog Day." An Annapolis-inspired breakthrough would be thrilling, but it will be tough for Madame Secretary to turn around her reputation after so many instances of Mideast malpractice.
The tight-as-a-tick team of W. and Condi have been consistently culturally obtuse on the Middle East, even with a pricey worldwide operation designed to keep them in the loop.
First, Condi missed the scorching significance of the August 2001 presidential daily brief headlined "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." "An explosive title on a nonexplosive piece," as she later dismissively described it.
Then she and W. failed to fathom that if Iraq went wrong, Iran would benefit.
When Brent Scowcroft, who lured the young Soviet expert from Stanford to the Bush 1 national security staff, wrote a Wall Street Journal piece before the Iraq war titled "Don't Attack Saddam," she didn't call him to explore his reasoning. She scolded him for publicly disagreeing with W. Scowcroft confided to friends that he was mystified by Rice. She enabled Bush's bellicosity rather than putting a break on it.
"He told me several times, 'I don't understand how my lady, my baby, my disciple, has changed so much,'" a senior European diplomat told Bumiller.
Condi and W. were both underwhelmed by the CIA's presentation of its case on Iraq's WMDs on Dec. 21, 2002. Yet, only days later, Bumiller reports, Rice and W. were alone in the Oval Office when he surprised her by asking her point blank about the war: "Do you think we should do this?"
"Yes," she told the president.
That's not statesmanship. It's sycophancy.
She let Rummy waltz away with the occupation and only got back some control after he'd made a historic hash of it.
It took her too long to push back on Rummy's absurd turf-war tricks, like reading or doodling while she was talking, or dropping a Defense Department document on the conference table as Rice was leading a discussion on a different topic so that he could steal the agenda.
W.'s former chief of staff Andy Card told Bumiller that Rummy was "a little bit old-school" and "a little bit sexist" in his dealings with Rice.
Not to mention a little bit crazy.
In 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon and many civilians died, including children, Condi and W. drew Arab and U.N. ire for not forcing Ehud Olmert to broker a cease-fire faster.
That same year, in another instance of spectacular willful ignorance, she was blindsided by the Hamas win in the Palestinian elections.
As she described it to Bumiller, she went upstairs at 5 a.m. the morning after the Palestinian elections in 2006 to the gym in her Watergate apartment to exercise on her elliptical machine. She saw the news crawl reporting the Hamas victory.
"I thought, 'Well, that's not right,'" she said. She kept exercising for awhile but finally got off the elliptical trainer and called the State Department. "I said, 'What happened in the Palestinian elections?' and they said, 'Oh, Hamas won.' And I thought, 'Oh, my goodness! Hamas won?'"
When she couldn't reach the State Department official on the ground in the Palestinian territories, she did what any loyal Bushie would do: She got back on the elliptical.
"I thought, might as well finish exercising," Rice told Bumiller. "It's going to be a really long day." It was one of the few times she was prescient on the Middle East….
c.2007 New York Times News Service