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The Second Term Abroad

Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A18

CONDOLEEZZA RICE's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday offered a likely model for the Bush administration's second-term foreign policy. The nominee for secretary of state was polished, well prepared, and good at making the president's case and answering the sometimes passionate critiques of his record in Iraq and elsewhere. She pledged "to put a major emphasis on public diplomacy in all of its forms" and twice declared that "the time for diplomacy is now." But she gave no indication of change in any of the policies that her diplomacy will defend, whether in Iraq, the larger Middle East or elsewhere.

Better presentation and a more professional style could certainly help U.S. foreign relations, which have been damaged not only by the war in Iraq and other substantive acts but by the arrogant highhandedness, incoherence or simple neglect that much of the world has experienced from Washington. Outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was well respected abroad but his influence was limited by his restricted travel and by the contradiction or undercutting of his initiatives by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and even one of his nominal subordinates, Undersecretary John R. Bolton. Ms. Rice, in contrast, stated forcefully yesterday that the State Department will be "the primary instrument of American diplomacy" under her leadership. She appears to be assembling a highly experienced and respected team, passing over agenda-driven appointees such as Mr. Bolton in favor of more pragmatic professionals such as Robert B. Zoellick, who will leave his Cabinet post as U.S. trade representative to become deputy secretary of state.

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Ms. Rice probably will be confirmed by the Senate this week, as she should be. If she works at co-opting and soothing rather than deliberately provoking major U.S. allies; if she travels more and telephones less than Mr. Powell did; and if she devotes attention to neglected regions such as Latin America, she can improve on the first-term record. Many U.S. allies, from France and Germany to South Korea and Mexico, appear eager for a fresh start with this administration. Still, there is a limit to how much can be achieved without change in underlying U.S. policy. If Ms. Rice's testimony is any indication, little to none is in the offing. She staunchly defended the administration's strategy in Iraq, including troop levels that have proved inadequate. She restated policies toward Iran and North Korea that have put the United States at odds with European and Asian allies while failing to prevent both countries from moving to develop nuclear weapons. She had nothing new to suggest about the growing trouble in Haiti, or Venezuela, or the Darfur region of Sudan, all places where effective U.S. engagement has been lacking.

Ms. Rice did pledge to get personally involved in seeking to exploit the opportunity for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Energetic intervention by the new secretary of state has the potential to substantially improve the U.S. strategic position in the Middle East and repair relations with European governments, in addition to helping Israelis and Palestinians end four years of bloody conflict. Here again, a simple change of style, in the form of regular and visible intervention by Ms. Rice, would bring some improvement on its own. Real success would require a greater willingness to press an American agenda for peace with Israel as well as with the Palestinians. Whether Ms. Rice rises to that challenge will do much to determine whether she succeeds in her aim of making the coming four years "the time for diplomacy."

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