Monday, December 22, 2008

Where, Oh Where: Secretary Rice’s Final Visit

Photo from DipNote Blog
I’m really oh, drat - a latecomer on this -- but apparently as of September 7, 2008, the current Secretary of State (66) has traveled to 83 countries in 88 days and has racked up over one million air miles. If that’s not impressive enough, just take a look:

Total Travel Time: 2118.19 hours (88.26 days) Total Countries Visited: 83 Total Trips Taken: 80 Countries Visited and Mileage: 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008

There is only so much time in a day so according to the official website Secretary Rice uses her airplane as a mobile office while she is en route to her destination. The Secretary's plane is a reconfigured U.S. Air Force Boeing 757 that is outfitted with a cabin for the Secretary, seats for the staff, and security and a communications section for continuous information anywhere in the world. And no, she does not need any card; she has her own frequent flyer program.

Several days ago, DipNote bloggers posted this question for the blogosphere to chew on: Where Should the Secretary Make Her Final Official Visit?

Somebody encouraged her to “visit Mexico as a final visit, emphasizing the importance of our relationship to that country.” Another one suggested that she “Pick a country that the United States has never been or had relations with and make that the most wonderful experience by bringing our Country values to them.” The writer implored that she “Open the doors to people who never had the chance to communicate with us Americans. It would almost be like the days of Columbus who sailed the seas looking for new lands. Bring gifts and warm thoughts, our beliefs and customs. Above all bring the HEART OF AMERICA to them!”

Uhm, perhaps the lost tribes of the Amazon? But let’s get this straight - lowly diplomats conduct first contact not the sitting Secretary of State. If we try this with the uncontacted tribes of the Amazon, some poor entry level officer of the expeditionary stripes would have to bid for this Indiana Jones' gig and then fight his/her way into (and obviously, out) the forested areas in the Brazilian/Peruvian border. The assignment would have to be paneled and travel orders need to be cut .... you know, the drill. But doing that between now and January 1st -- well -- good luck!

The best suggestion so far for 66th’s last official visit? “Space!”

Of course, the final frontier! The writer justifies the trip this way: “Only outer space can underline the message that Dr. Rice has been not only a "Columbus", but also an "Astronaut" teaching global diplomacy without frontiers.”

Move along Neil Armstrong. I like space, too. But with time running out, perhaps we should settle for something more ambitious on earth like Somalia or Zimbabwe between now and January 20?

But wait – Somalia has been a failed state for many years now (we don't even have an embassy there), so what would be accomplished with one last visit there unless the pirates are planning a mass surrender? Zimbabwe? I think only if Bob, the Mugab needs some hand holding in deciding whether to relocate to another country outside the continent (uhm, he just said, "Zimbabe is mine"; I don't think he wants to pack). Of course, there’s always Baghdad, but how do you say goodbye to the largest embassy in the galaxy without pissing off the smaller ones? This has been a really long trip. I can perfectly sympathize if she is having a hard time picking a destination.

Of course, it might be helpful to point out that 1) her foreign contacts are already preparing for their engagement with the next SoS (this ambassador in DC noted that there was no point in meeting with the Bush people anymore, so he suddenly finds he has too much time on his hands); and 2) what could not get done in the last four years, cannot get done in the next 28 days. So – the best advice is probably to go where she’d have the most fun. Her passion reportedly has always been music and Russia; and she has already played Brahms for the Queen at Buckingham Palace. So, the last visit ought to be one last trip to old Russia – perhaps a river cruise between Moscow and St. Petersburg? Or she could play with the St Petersburg Philharmonia, the oldest Philharmonic Society in Russia? Numerous renowned musicians of the XIX century performed in its hall: Lizst, Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler, Rubinstein, Schumann, Viardo, Sarasate and more. Not at all bad company.

I'm sure all living SoS can attest to the challenges and difficulties of being this country's top diplomat; she deserves a break. Besides the plane has a full tank until January 20.

Update 12/25: Sorry folks! Not Mexico, Zimbabwe, Russia, space, etc. - 66 is going to China! I hope she brings "heart of America" to our top financiers. Read James Fallows current piece in The Atlantic on America's Chinese banker.

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