Monday, August 01, 2005

Why Did Secretary Rice Miss APEC?

I know that Asians are puzzled that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice failed to turn up at the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group meeting in Korea, sending instead Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. As an American, I am puzzled too.

Dr Rice is of course a Soviet specialist, something not in much demand these days. But she may have inherited the mind set of senior Soviet era foreign policy specialists, such as Mr Kissinger and Mr Brzezinski, that stresses the "big issues." (Asked why he never visited key ally Australia Mr Kissinger said, "we have never had trouble with Australia"). So perhaps Dr Rice thinks that Moscow, Beijing, and so forth are the really important places in foreign policy.

If so, she is absolutely incorrect. From an American point of view, Japan is the key ally in Northeast Asia and Australia in the far south. The ASEAN countries, who will feel the sting of this slight very deeply, are home to half a billion people, mostly having respectable standards of living and education, some having democratic regimes, and all sitting on the most important sea and land lines of communication in Asia. They need much more attention, not less.

Robert Zoellick, an accomplished trade negotiator, for all his strengths, is not the man for that mission. Trade is important, but so too is security, not his strong suit.

Then of course there is India. It remains to be seen whether the brave start made by Mr Bush and PM Singh will be pursued. But the buzz in DC is that Ms Rice is yielding tactically to the bad guys and ignoring the good guys. APEC would bear that out.

I am never one to be pessimistic. But in retrospect the US diplomacy of the 1970s got a great deal wrong. It paid no attention to the key issue of domestic political systems, instead going for a countries are weights to be balanced in pans approach--only to see one weight, the USSR, disappear, creating problems about which few had thought at all, and its counterweight, China, emerged unbalanced as a regional destabilizer. And, oh yes, wasn't India supposed to collapse in a whirlpool of ethnic cleansing, regional division, misgovernment, and poverty? This is what happens when instead of attending to detail, national security advisers or secretaries of state attempt to focus on the (inevitably misidentified) "big issues." I smell it in the air again. anw


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