It’s about the practice of diplomacy and Rice’s willingness, in at least one instance, to breach protocol in a significant way.
In August 2008, after war erupted between Georgia and Russia, the Bush administration was seeking to play a role as mediator. One day, Rice writes in “No Higher Honor,” she received a call from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that the Russians had three demands.
The first two Rice considered feasible: Georgia would have to sign a pledge that it would cease the use of force, and it would have to send its troops back to the barracks. The third was decidedly more complicated.
But then Sergei said, “The other demand is just between us. Misha Saakashvili [the Georgian president] has to go.” I couldn’t believe my ears and I reacted out of instinct, not analysis.
“Sergei, the secretary of state of the United States does not have a conversation with the Russian foreign minister about overthrowing a democratically elected president,” I said. “The third condition has just become public because I’m going to call everyone I can and tell them that Russia is demanding the overthrow of the Georgian president.”
“I said it was just between us,” he repeated.
“No, it’s not between us. Everyone is going to know.”
And then, Rice says, she got on the phone and started calling the world — national security adviser Stephen Hadley, then the British, the French and others. The U.N. Security Council was informed, too.
The move may not have been very diplomatic but it was plenty shrewd.
Rice’s reaction calls to mind an observation by our colleague Glenn Kessler, who wrote his own book on the secretary of state and once described Rice’s relationship with Lavrov.
”Diplomats said Lavrov has perfected the art of irritating Rice -- so much so that she often responds in a very sharp, acerbic, and even emotional way,” Kessler wrote.
Lavrov, he added, had “honed his negotiating skills during a 10-year stint as Russia’s UN ambassador” and is “a showman who doesn’t hesitate to use a diplomatic stiletto.”
But, if Rice’s memory of the 2008 conversation is any indication, she had a stiletto of her own.