Rice was a fresh face in the white male Washington policy-making establishment. Her credentials were impeccable, and she was one of the few people among President Bush's inner circle who didn't seem to have become totally snoggered on the neocon Kool Aid.
That Rice's favorite song was Mozart's "Piano Concerto in D Minor" was a bonus, and I liked calling her "Condi." This was a nice nickname that headline writers immediately took to, and she didn't seem to object that I liked it. At least she never said so. By comparison, I couldn't image calling Paul Wolfowitz "Wolfie," and I knew that he would mind if I did.
In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, I was somewhat perturbed when Rice . . . er, Condi admitted that she was still fighting the Cold War and had not given much thought to the War on Terror.
But I knew that she was one smart cookie, would learn on the run and adapt to the new realities. I even felt a little wounded by the slings and arrows of the know-it-all pundits who called her a lightweight. I had realized at that point that she didn't know me from Mullah Omar, even though my beard is shorter than his and I don't wear a headscarf, but I still felt like I should stick up for her.
Well, the pundits were right.I came to this heart-wrenching conclusion during Condi's wheel-spinning tour of Middle East capitals during the Israel-Hezbollah dust-up last year. Nothing has changed my mind since. To make matters worse, a story broke about her sitdown with high-ranking intelligence officials at the White House in July 2001 and how they sounded the alarm over Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and that Omar guy and the grave threat they represented to the homeland.
After observing and reading about Condi for over five years now, first as the president's national security advisor and then as secretary of state, I sadly conclude that her legacy will be . . . Well, I have no idea what it will be, except that it won't be good, especially when compared to her predecessors, Colin "Torn Between Loyalties" Powell and Madeline "I Tell It Like It Is" Albright, both of whom I was very fond of but most certainly did not have crushes on.
Alas, Condi is a portfolio without a woman. (Her gender doesn't matter, mind you. If she wore pants she'd be a portfolio without a man.)
Condi, who probably remembers every musical ensemble in which she has tickled the ivories and the color and location of every pair of Ferragamos in her wardrobe, remembers nada. Not the meeting. Not blowing off George Tenet and J. Coffer Black. Not their man-the-barricades warning.
Still, I couldn't figure out exactly what it was about Condi that didn't add up. I wanted to call her and ask what the heck was going on behind that toothy smile, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to get past the switchboard.
Then one day I finally figured it out.I assist scholars who visit a rare book and manuscript library. They're a diverse bunch, from a Welshman researching a paper on the alcoholism of poet-writer Dylan Thomas for a medical journal to an academic from California who is writing a book on the theorems of Thomas Harriot, the great early 17th century British astronomer-mathematician. (Pretty wild stuff, eh?)
After a while, no matter who they are, the personalities of these brainiacs emerge. The Welshman turned out to be an extraordinary wag, the academic in possession of the driest sense of humor this side of the Thames.
Well, make that almost invariably. There is one kind of scholar whom no matter how long their visit or how many opportunities we have to interact, have a sort of differentiation deficit syndrome: They approach everything, from the most banal to the most complex, the same way.
Now I'm a little weak on this stuff because I'm not a psychiatrist (and I didn't stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night). But when I take the long view of Condi's tenure in Washington, it is obvious that she approaches her job the same way, whether it's showing off that nifty new carpet in her office or answering questions about genocide in Darfur.
Maybe Condi goes home and belts out an arpeggio or two on the old Steinway or has a boo-boo on her housekeeper's shoulder after a long and frustrating day of trying to make the world safe for democracy. Maybe she feels a secret shame for her part in the collapse of American foreign policy and the enmity that most of America's allies feel toward Washington because of her actions (no, the French don't count) and those of her boss.
"Stuff happens," as a former defense secretary remarked in the days after the Iraq invasion when the first signs of the chaos to come emerged.
I suspect that is exactly Condi's approach. It's all stuff. And it shows.
Or maybe I just feel jilted.
Photography by Stephen Crowley / The New York Times