Condoleeza Rice, International Relations Theory and the Bush Administration

In class today, I tried to convince you that understanding IR from a theoretical perspective was not simply some abstract, pedantic pursuit, but that the theoretical lens through which we view international relations does have real-world implications, many of which are dramatic.

I noted the role of Condoleeza Rice as the chief National Security Advisor to President Bush during his first term and also noted that Rice has long held a realist view of international relations. As you must know by now (I think I’ve mentioned it about 503 times since the beginning of the semester), realists view the state as the only prominent actor in international affairs. This was Rice’s view upon assuming her new position and this was manifested in the security objectives of the incoming administration, which did not believe, initially, that a non-state actor like Al Qaeda was a grave threat to the security of the United States.

Here are excerpts from Rice’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine in the midst of the 2000 presidential election campaign:

Summary: With no Soviet threat, America has found it exceedingly difficult to define its “national interest.” Foreign policy in a Republican administration should refocus the country on key priorities: building a military ready to ensure American power, coping with rogue regimes, and managing Beijing and Moscow. Above all, the next president must be comfortable with America’s special role as the world’s leader…

American foreign policy in a Republican administration should refocus the United States on the national interest and the pursuit of key priorities. These tasks are

  • to ensure that America’s military can deter war, project power, and fight in defense of its interests if deterrence fails
  • to promote economic growth and political openness by extending free trade and a stable international monetary system to all committed to these principles, including in the western hemisphere, which has too often been neglected as a vital area of U.S. national interest;
  • to renew strong and intimate relationships with allies who share American values and can thus share the burden of promoting peace, prosperity, and freedom;
  • to focus U.S. energies on comprehensive relationships with the big powers, particularly Russia and China, that can and will mold the character of the international political system; and
  • to deal decisively with the threat of rogue regimes and hostile powers, which is increasingly taking the forms of the potential for terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Notice the strongly realist bent of all of these national security priorities. The last item is particularly instructive as it demonstrates the emphasis on the power of states. The terrorist threats were believed to come from rogue regimes (such as Iraq, specifically) and not some amorphous group of radical individuals. Note also p. 205 (this is a link to a LARGE PDF file) of the 9/11 Commission Report, wherein Richard Clarke is quoted:


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