On Native Ground
TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES WITH CONDOLEEZZA RICE
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- What does evil look like?
She wears a black designer suit and is trailed by a gaggle of aides and security personnel.
She doesn't enter a room until the bomb-sniffing dog has made a pass and the guys with the nice suits and earpieces know exactly who is inside waiting.
She keeps a tight schedule, and doesn't linger in the room any longer than necessary.
She recites the talking points and doesn't allow you to get a word in edgewise.
She invites you to come to one of the fanciest hotels in the world on a Sunday afternoon to get lied to.
If ever there was an illustration of Hannah Arendt's phrase, "the banality of evil," it was my sitting in a dimly-lit room at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston on May 21 to have a brief audience with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
I never expected to be sitting next to Rice, but the State Dept. called on Thursday asking The American Reporter if we wanted to send someone to meet with Rice.
My first reaction, after disbelief, was, "it's a long way to drive to get lied to."
Inviting reporters from the local press and giving them access to top figures in the Bush Administration has been an often-employed strategy. The hope is that they will be so sufficiently awed that they will ask soft questions and reprint the talking points in an orderly fashion.
To the credit of the three other reporters with me, there were no soft questions. We went as far as we could given the constraints of the interview format to ask her about Iraq, Iran, Darfur, Latin America and why a Catholic school was granting an honorary degree to a woman who is making policy decisions that are the polar opposite of Jesus' teachings.
We had 25 minutes to interview Rice, who was in Boston to accept an honorary degree and give the commencement speech at Boston College. We did so under the watchful eyes of her aides who were photographing and recording the event. There was virtually no chance that anything unexpected would happen.
Rice saw no inconsistency between one of the architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and accepting that degree from BC.
"Sometimes the use of force is necessary in order to do justice," said Rice. "Sometimes you need to get rid of really, really, really bad regimes."
Rice did not discuss the really, really, really bad regimes that are currently allied in the so-called war on terror, the really, really bad regimes that the United States has installed in the Middle East and the really, really, really bad regimes we haven't invaded because they are of strategic importance to the United States.
She repeatedly spoke of Saddam Hussein's evil, but made no mention of how the U.S. helped install him as a dictator in the 1960s or how much U.S. military aid was provided to him - including technology for nuclear and chemical weapons - when we backed Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s.
She brushed aside the shoddy intelligence used to justify the U.S. invasion and expressed confidence in the case against Iran, despite the echoes of the things that were said about Iraq before the war.
In short, Rice recited the Bush Administration's talking points like a robot. I expected nothing else. But even though the afternoon was an exercise in futility, it was a chance to see this woman and perhaps get a glimpse behind the steely facade.
I drove back to Vermont, pounded out a story and got home Sunday night in time to catch the last half-hour of "Baghdad ER," the HBO documentary about 86th Combat Support Hospital, the first stop for wounded U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
As I watched the stream of mangled young men and women pass by, and the heroic efforts of the hospital staff to save them, I thought about Condoleezza Rice and the surety in which she gave her answers regarding Iraq and the need to go to war.
I would like to see her talk to the families of the dead and wounded in Iraq. Not a careful choreographed photo-op like I had, but really sitting and talking with those families. Let Rice - hell, let President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of them - face the families and honestly and truthfully try to tell them that the war was just.
She certainly wasn't going to tell me.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.