Condoleezza Rice's mix of aggressive diplomacy and pragmatism is illustrated by her efforts to end the seemingly intractable conflicts in Sudan, Africa's largest country, where millions have died or been displaced by a series of civil wars.
Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell last year had accused the Sudanese government and government-backed militias of conducting genocide against the largely black African population in Sudan's Darfur region. But U.S. policy was frozen on a central point.
The rest of the world wanted the United Nations to authorize the International Criminal Court to undertake a war crimes investigation. But hardliners in the administration, who had convinced President Bush to withdraw the U.S. signature from the treaty establishing the court, were opposed to any actions that would be seen as giving the nascent body legitimacy.
But once Rice became secretary, she concluded that the U.S. position of declaring genocide but blocking an international criminal investigation made no sense. But she also did not want to set a precedent that would undermine the administration's opposition to the court.
So Rice hit the phones, making calls from day to night, to get her foreign counterparts to agree to a U.N. Security Council resolution that would allow the United States to abstain -- and thus permit the court to begin its work.
"She felt the war crimes were so enormous that we had to be on the side of the international community in speaking with one voice against them," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said. "She not only had to win the day [with the French and the British], she had to explain the case inside the government."
In the meantime, Rice dispatched her deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, to put pressure on the Sudanese government. In April, he met with Sudan's first vice president, Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, at a conference in Oslo, where Taha complained how difficult it was to provide security in Darfur. Two days later, Zoellick traveled to Khartoum and told Taha he had a solution to his problem -- Sudan should permit NATO to airlift a huge increase in African Union peacekeepers. Taha blanched, but agreed.
With that agreement in hand, a week later Rice raised the issue at a NATO meeting in Lithuania, catching her counterparts by surprise. The French initially were skeptical, but NATO quickly agreed to undertake its first mission ever in Africa -- and it is flying thousands of fresh troops to Darfur this summer.
John Prendergast, a Sudan expert at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, asserts that for all the movement, the State Department has not improved the plight of the 2 million people driven from their homes. In particular, the African Union force remains hobbled by having "no mandate to protect civilians" while the administration's "insistence that the situation is improving was proven wrong again by recent fighting."
-- Glenn Kessler