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Rice Needs Fluffing

WASHINGTON, D.C.—It was in a Washington Times interview last week that Condi Rice hinted she would seek the presidency. Asked if she would run to stop Hillary, Rice "pointedly declined to rule out running for president in 2008," wrote Bill Sammon.

"I have never wanted to run for anything. I don't even think I ran for class anything when I was in school," she said.

"But you could save us from Hillary," pleaded Times editor Wesley Pruden.

"I'm going to try to be a really good secretary of state," said Rice. "I'm going to work really hard at it. I have enormous respect for people who do run for office. It's really hard for me to imagine myself in that role."

"So are you ruling it out?" Sammon asked.

"Oh, that's not fair," responded Condi, "but . . . I really can't imagine it.

Sunday on Meet the Press she put it this way:

NBC's Tim Russert: "There was a great American named General William Sherman. And this is what he said: 'If nominated, I will not accept. If elected, I will not serve.' Will you issue a Sherman-esque statement?"

Rice: "I don't want to run for president of the United States."

Russert: " 'I will not run'? "

Rice: "I do not intend to run for—no. I will not run for president of the United States. How is that? I don't know how many ways to say 'no' in this town. I really don't."

Whatever her intentions in the end, Condi is all anybody wants to talk about in Washington. The red gown at the Gridiron dinner. Her all-woman team—Karen Hughes, Bush counselor extraordinaire, and Dina Powell, White House diva—apparently trying to transform Colin Powell's dull messenger-boy department into what's already being called the "Lifetime channel" of perky news and comment, like Condi's tack on abortion: "I think that there are a lot of things that we can unite around, and that's where I would tend to be. . . . I believe the president has been in exactly the right place about this, which is, we have to respect the culture of life and we have to try and bring people to have respect for it and make this as rare a circumstance as possible."

However, she says, "we should not have the federal government in a position where it is forcing its views on one side or the other. So, for instance, I've tended to agree with those who do not favor federal funding for abortion, because I believe that those who hold a strong moral view on the other side should not be forced to fund it."

Finally, she adds: "I [am], in effect, kind of libertarian on this issue, and meaning by that that I have been concerned about a government role in this issue. I'm a strong proponent of . . . parental notification. I'm a strong proponent of a ban on late-term abortion. These are all things that I think unite people and I think that that's where we should be."


Fueling 'democracy'

Bush and Rice talk about the democratic "cedar revolutions" in the Middle East while just about everybody else watches oil prices. The Saudi oil minister last week forecast that prices will stay between $40 and $50 per barrel for the rest of the year, while Adnan Shihab-Eldin, OPEC's acting secretary-general, says a major disruption like the Iraq war—e.g., an attack on Iran—could send prices up to $80 over the next two years. These prices are not just a reflection of the sorry plight of the dollar—the figures are rising in both euros and dollars.

Today's announcement that OPEC oil ministers have agreed to lift the organization's production ceilings by an extra 500,000 barrels probably doesn't mean much since the members already are producing over the ceiling of 27.5 million barrels. "They are raising the ceiling because it's already produced," Libya's energy secretary Fathi Hamed ben Shatwan said, according to Agence France Presse.

This news is accompanied by a widening belief that world oil production may well have peaked. Since oil was first extracted in large quantities just over a century ago, world politics has been concentrated on containing a surplus, not parceling out a shortage of oil.

If we are indeed facing a diminished supply, talk of democracy will go into the trash bin, and we will dispatch our military to guard a supply that we can call on to sustain our way of life. Shorn of all the PR, that's what Bush is talking about when he extols democracy abroad.

U.S. forces are already deployed around the world to protect the foreign oil supply on which the U.S. relies. Since the energy crisis of the '70s, the U.S. has reduced its reliance on Middle Eastern oil while attempting to diversify the supply by draining more oil and gas from Canada and Mexico. We are well on the way to transforming the former Soviet republics in Central Asia into a chain of armed U.S. redoubts to guard the Caspian oil finds. In Latin America we are trying every way possible to overturn Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, a longtime oil provider, and we have put Special Forces into Colombia to fight the drug war, but also to protect oil pipelines. And in West Africa we are eagerly eyeing new sites for military bases to protect our exploitation of oil reserves in these former colonies of old European empires.


New China much more sturdy

Not only must we take care to protect our own sources of oil around the world, we also must ensure that our main competitor, China, doesn't trump us. The booming Chinese economy is the world's second-largest energy consumer, with much of its oil coming by tanker from the Persian Gulf across the Indian Ocean, passing through the Strait of Malacca and into the South China Sea. The Strait of Malacca is one of the most heavily trafficked waterways anywhere in the world. Ships loaded with fuel heading east pass the tip of Aceh state on Sumatra, run down the strait, and exit past Singapore. This strait is a main focus of American military deployment in Asia and a potential choke hold on China, should we end up, as some neocons think, in a world struggle with Beijing.

Aceh, ground zero in the recent tsunami catastrophe, is also headquarters of Exxon-Mobil's large liquefied-natural-gas plant and the center of a long struggle between independence-minded guerrillas and the central Indonesian government. In the past, the U.S. has maintained military relations with Indonesia. These were broken by human rights abuses in East Timor, but now have been resumed. We have no bases in Indonesia, but U.S. ships call at several ports, and we have joint counterterrorism investigations and training programs.

Near the strait is the tip of Thailand, a staunch U.S. ally. The Malaysian coast faces Indonesia across most of this narrow waterway; Malaysia backs the U.S. operations in Asia and supports the war on terrorism. It has shied clear of involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan on grounds that neither had U.N. backing. Still, Malaysia has welcomed U.S. ships under military agreements and has awarded blanket overflight clearance to U.S. military planes. The country's also a center for counterterrorism training. Australia provides most of Malaysia's military assistance, but the U.S. plays a major part in expanding and modernizing its air force. The U.S. regularly sends forces to Malaysia for jungle training, and Malaysia sends troops to Hawaii for training.

With the closing of U.S. bases in the Philippines, Singapore (at the bottom of the Strait of Malacca) has become a major forward deployment base in Asia and plays a key role in our Asian counterterrorism operations. We have access to wharves, including one for aircraft carriers, and air bases in Singapore. U.S. aircraft are regularly deployed to Singapore, and U.S. National Guard units are engaged in training the country's troops. The Arizona Air National Guard trains Singapore F-16 pilots, while the Texas Air National Guard trains Chinook chopper pilots. Singapore is tied to the U.S. through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and India. Singapore helps train Iraqi police and has granted U.S. blanket overflight clearance for the Iraq war. We provide Singapore with more than two-thirds of all its arms.


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