One way to judge Secretaries of State is by their reaction to crises. Do they view them as challenges or burdens, opportunities or obstacles? Condoleezza Rice was sworn in as Secretary of State amid the greatest diplomatic upheaval in centuries. She is handling it with panache and conviction.
As National Security Adviser during President Bush's first term, Rice managed the crises of the aftermath of 9/11 with skill and determination. As Secretary of State, she has to switch gears. Her ultimate challenge now is to distill a new, peaceful international order out of several disparate forces: the collapse of the European system of world order, the technological revolution, worldwide ideological ferment, the global quest for popular participation in government. She has already assembled an outstanding staff and, in her whirlwind trips to Europe and Asia, is establishing a global leadership role by putting forward Bush's emphasis on democratic reform. As the only other person to make the transition from National Security Adviser to Secretary of State, I can testify to the complexity of the adjustment. Ultimately, a Secretary of State can succeed only if he or she is close to the President and is treated by him as the center of the policy process. Rice, indeed, enjoys the closest relationship with the President of any Secretary of State of the modern period.
Colleagues throughout the government have seen the degree to which the President relies on her judgment, and no foreign leader can doubt that she speaks for the White House. All this gives her a nearly unprecedented level of authority.
Despite recent progress, Rice, 50, is too much of a student of history not to know that we have witnessed but the first scene of a play in many acts and that final judgments must await the last scene. But it is not too soon to acknowledge the scope and intelligence of her effort and applaud the serenity with which it is being carried out.
Kissinger served as Secretary of State for Nixon and Ford
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