Condoleezza Rice says former President George W. Bush was more willing to take criticism for asserting American leadership abroad than President Barack Obama, who she suggested is a bit on the timid side when it comes to leading on the world stage.
“I think when people talk about leading from behind — which is a kind of oxymoron — you’re seeing some of that,” said Rice, who served as secretary of state under Bush.
Rice, in the second part of a taped interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, acknowledged Tuesday night there are similarities between the Bush and Obama foreign policies, especially concerning “the war on terrorism.”
But she said where Bush was bold in plotting the course of U.S. foreign policy, Obama seems to hold back waiting for a path to open rather than making one.
“President Bush was willing, against a lot of criticism, to assert American leadership,” she said, adding: “I’m pretty certain I don't see that same level of willingness to assert this: That the United States is indeed exceptional, the United States isn’t just the lowest common denominator of what the [United Nations] security council can deliver.”
Rice said that while it’s true the international community might often disagree with the United States, the only thing it “hates more than unilateral American leadership is an absence of American leadership.”
“The international system is a system,” she explained. “It has certain rules, power relationships, and people respond to those. If the United States is not setting that agenda, then someone else will, and that might be a country that doesn’t believe in free markets and free peoples.”
As an example, Rice cited the growing crisis in war-torn Syria, where the United Nations has tried to intervene without success to stop the killing.
She said it would be “nice” if the U.N. Security Council was able to rally support around “the view that [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad has to go.” But, she noted, “The Security Council rarely does hard things.”
She suggested the Obama administration should instead “step forward and help organize” a response that makes it clear to Assad’s opposition that the future of Syria has got to be Democratic. Without that kind of leadership, she said, the “regional players” will pursue their own agenda.
“There is a cost when the United States does not stake out a ground,” she said.
Rice, however, said she understands that many Americans believe the United States has asserted itself too much around the world in recent years at great cost — not only in money but also in lives lost to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I certainly understand the argument, which I share, that we have a significant job of internal repair to do,” she said. “We’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have and borrowing it. I understand that the American people will not lead if we’re not strong at home.
“But we don’t have the luxury of retiring to the side lines in order to repair at home and then re-entering the international system, because it will have moved on,” Rice added.. “And it will have moved on in directions that are not good either for our interests or our values.”
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