I suggest this after watching her performance last week in the U.K. and Iraq, where she made various official and personal visits with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. She was much more comfortable, even elegant, in the realm of Blackburn Rovers football (soccer) in Straw's hometown than she was in the company of a thousand guards and a half dozen often robed and bearded Iraqi politicians, each with his own militia.
Rice and Straw's awkward body language in their meeting with Iraqi prime minister-designate Ibrahim Jaafari in Baghdad was not primarily because of jetlag, or the vagaries of late winter weather in the eastern Fertile Crescent. Rather, it reflected the continuing bizarre specter of the American and British foreign ministers admonishing the Iraqis to hurry up and form a government so that an indigenous political process can stop the violence that now staggers Iraqis in their day-to-day lives.
This is indeed strange history in the making: Western officials who invaded a country, wiped out its mechanisms of order, unleashed pent-up ethnic furies, and indirectly rule it with their military divisions are advising the natives to speed up their grasp of democracy: Compress into two years the political modernization process that Great Britain and the United States themselves required over half a millennium to refine, from the Magna Carta to the American revolution.
The absent realism and excess romanticism in the Anglo-American policy in Iraq result in a broadly psychedelic, occasionally imbecilic, foreign policy. No wonder these two official managers clearly feel more relaxed in the world of their hometown sports teams than in the alien realm of Middle Eastern history and nation-building. This is perhaps not such a surprise coming as it does in the wake of a century of British-then-American military interventions in the Middle East that have usually left the region tense and violent.
The natives can only fall back on five and a half millennia of indigenous experience of a defining historical process that obviously escapes the American and British foreign ministers: That is, five and a half thousand years of different local groups of people negotiating relationships of coexistence and power-sharing with each other, and, occasionally, with foreign powers who send us their armies.
Iraq suffers brutal inter-communal violence and is dangerously close to breaking into a full-fledged civil war because of the consequences of three parallel dynamics that have plagued its modern history. The older and still active tradition is that of Western armies that regularly march into the place and rearrange it according to the strategic interests or personal whims of London, Washington, Istanbul, Berlin, Paris, Moscow and other intermittently imperial capitals. The height of this audacious Western tradition occurred around 1920, when Great Britain and France, in a dazzling display of designer diplomacy, single-handedly manufactured a collection of new Arab countries that suited their strategic goals. Few of these countries are stable today, and many of their leaders suffer deeply frayed legitimacy.
A third process that has never succeeded in asserting itself in the face of the first two is that of the many local ethnic, tribal and religious groups—usually with their armed men—negotiating the appropriate power-sharing, pluralistic arrangements that would foster stability. It takes time for local forces to work out a governance system that is realistic and durable, as the British discovered in the centuries after 1215 and the Americans learned in their civil war 75 years after their own independence.
Thanks to the convergence of the worst aspects of all three of these traditions, Iraq witnesses now a rising tide of ethnic-religious warfare that is gradually fraying the traditions of once pluralistic Arab societies and once cosmopolitan modern Arab cities.
In Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Alexandria and other cities, people of different local and foreign backgrounds usually coexisted in easy harmony. They normally displayed the spontaneous, relaxed demeanor that is most evident on Condoleezza Rice's smiling face when she talks about Alabama football or holds up her Blackburn Rovers football club shirt.
The awful combination of local tyrannies and Western armed aggression has transformed Iraq into one of several places in the Middle East where ethnic-religious groups that once lived together according to their own negotiated norms are being overwhelmed by a deadly, terrifying penchant for ethnic exclusivity enforced by unfettered militancy.