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(WASHINGTON) -- During the portrait unveiling ceremony for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, neither she nor current Secretary John Kerry explicitly mentioned the foreign policy elephant in the room -- the war in Iraq.
But the audience at the ceremony spoke volumes about her work in a region that threatens once again to erupt in sectarian chaos.
The guest list read like a veritable reunion of Bush administration-era Iraq policymakers and officials: former U.S. ambassadors Chris Hill and John Negroponte, Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townshend, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Chief of Staff Andy Card.
And like her Bush White House colleagues have done in the past, Rice, making what could have been a veiled reference to her role in the Iraq war, said history would be the ultimate judge of all public servants.
“Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same,” she said.
Regarding current events in the Middle East, she did observe that Americans should be more “patient” with governments seeking democracy there and elsewhere.
“I know that these are very difficult times. They’re times when, as people particularly of the Middle East, test the proposition that no one should live in tyranny,” she said. “They’re times that seem chaotic and they seem dangerous, and sometimes there are those who say that maybe there are just those who don’t have the DNA for democracy.”
But the bulk of Rice’s and Kerry’s remarks focused on the similarities shared by individuals who have served as the nation’s top diplomat.
“There are four of us -- Secretary Powell, Secretary Clinton, myself and you, Secretary Kerry -- who have come to office after the terrible events of September 11th, having to chart a new course for our country,” Rice said.
“It is an extraordinary fraternity, and now sorority, we have and it is an honor to be a part of it,” she added.
For his part, Kerry praised Rice’s work as a Soviet expert during President George H.W. Bush’s tenure, as well as her work at Foggy Bottom getting India to reach a civilian nuclear agreement, uniting the members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany against Iran, and bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together at Annapolis, Maryland.
He did not mention Rice’s work on Iraq or Afghanistan once.
Kerry also noted the poignancy of how Rice, a granddaughter of sharecroppers who grew up in the segregated south, will have her portrait hang among those of previous secretaries of state, including Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun, both slave-owners.
“That is an incredible American story and a journey that defines our country. But it’s only one part of Secretary Rice’s story,” he said.
Rice also noted the significance of her tenure in terms of U.S. racial history. While she was urging patience with nascent democracies, she noted that it took America a long time to match the words “All men are created equal” with reality.
“After all, our Constitution, initially in a compromise that would allow the United States of America to come into being, counted my ancestors as three-fifths of a man,” she said.
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