Condoleeza Rice on North Korea: The First Administration

There is an old Marxist adage that the future is certain but the past is constantly changing. We continue to reconstruct what happened under the Bush administration for work we are doing on sanctions and engagement; a first pass is a short monograph on economic statecraft.

In deconstructing this period, we read Condoleeza Rice’s memoir, No Higher Honor. For students of American foreign policy, Rice remains somewhat of an enigma. Sharp and detail-oriented, her memoir is by far the most substantive and thoughtful of those we have reviewed (Cheney here and here, Rumsfeld, on which more later, Bolton, and  W himself). Although offering a spirited defense of the administration, she is also much more willing to entertain doubts. But as others have noted (for example Glenn Kessler’s The Confidante) Rice–and the country—may have paid a price for the fact that she didn’t voice some of those doubts more forcefully. Given the fact that she had the president’s confidence, could she have done more to stave off some of the disasters, and around Iraq in particular? Given the president’s priors, it is far from clear.

In the North Korea case, though, Rice ends up anchoring the strategy of re-engagement during President Bush’s second term. However we judge that period, it would not and could not have happened without her.

But let’s back up and walk through it in chronological order, beginning with the first term when Rice was the president’s national security advisor.

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