WASHINGTON -- Traveling salespeople always have a hard job. That's especially true when the economy isn't exactly booming -- and the product you are selling will go off the market in a year. That kind of describes Secretary of State Condi Rice as she tries to pitch American foreign policy to domestic and international "customers" in the last 12 months of the Bush administration. That's not to say she isn't trying, but it's proving to be a tough sell.
January started with Ms. Rice trying to convince "moderate Arab regimes" that Iran is a major threat; that a peace deal can be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians; that NATO and Afghanistan's neighbors need to do more to help quash a resurgent Taliban; and that the price of oil is too high.
At the end of the sales pitch -- which included an eight-day presidential swing through the Middle East -- Iran's nuclear program continued unabated; Hamas had increased attacks on Israeli civilians; and 3,300 more U.S. Marines have to be sent to Afghanistan because neither NATO nor "the neighbors" did anything. Though the price of oil dropped somewhat, that too might not last longer than next month's OPEC meeting.
Undaunted, saleswoman Rice returned from the Mideast, repacked her suitcases and headed off to the posh resort at Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Conferees were gathered to discuss "eco-collaboration" in between apres-ski cocktail receptions. At Davos, Rice tried to convince Bono, Al Gore and other assembled celebrities that the Bush administration really is "green" and that we care more than they know about global warming. Unfortunately, reality intervened, and the attendees were distracted by stock markets plummeting around the world. Apparently, the participants were more concerned about their portfolios in a global economic meltdown than about melting polar ice caps.
From Switzerland, saleswoman-in-chief Rice raced back to Washington, repacked her bags in less than 12 hours, picked up new traveling companions and flew off to Medellin, Colombia -- the hometown of America's staunchest ally in Latin America, embattled Colombian President Alviro Uribe. The ostensible purpose of the two-day mission was to secure congressional approval for a new free trade agreement -- thus the 10 Democratic members of Congress who accompanied her.
Trade pacts are always a tough sell with Democrats in an election year -- more so with a lame-duck president. And none of the congressmen who accompanied Rice was empowered to say how Speaker Nancy Pelosi will rule on the deal. But at least they allowed President Uribe to state his case and respond to critics who allege that he has done too little to address human rights abuses.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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