Condoleezza Rice’s Tell

This video of Conoleezza Rice has been getting quite some attention around the web. Before offering some quick remarks, I’d just like to say hat’s off to Michael Wilkerson, a WPR alum finishing up his Stanford degree, who as best as I can tell was the first person to get this.

A few things jumped out at me about this. First, as Friday Lunch Club noted, the very ex-post-facto realpolitik take on foreign policy that Rice espouses with regard to Saudi Arabian human rights violations. Interesting that this realist pass is only extended to American friends, not adversaries. I’ve long suspected that history will judge the Bush administration harshly for having failed to realize that isolation has become an obsolete foreign policy tool in this advanced stage of globalization. Rice’s acknowledgement came a bit quicker, though, than I’d expected.

Second, this might be a stretch, but I couldn’t help but notice how dramatically Rice’s body language changes the moment, very early on, that she mentions “enhanced interrogation.” Beginning with a relaxed talking manner, her hands clasped behind her back, she suddenly becomes very physically demonstrative, with her arms and hands coming out to form what looks like a defensive shield around her body. I’m not a behavioral psychologist — any more than any of us is, I suppose — but this struck me as what poker players call a “tell,” revealing a great discomfort in discussing these subjects.

Third, the reference to “murderous tyrants” with regard to 9/11 perpetuates the pattern of subtly linking those attacks to Saddam Hussein and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The word “tyrant” suggests the leader of a state or some other more formal territory that includes inhabitants. Its formal definition includes the condition of being a “ruler.” Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, is the murderous leader of a transnational terrorist network. Outside of a few caves in the FATA, he doesn’t rule over anything.

Fourth, quickly following Rice’s most endearing moment — when she insists that her student questioner be allowed to finish his line of thought — she engages in a very clear display of abuse of power, condescendingly calling him, “Dear,” and and just as condescendingly reprimanding him for not doing his homework. The lack of respect reflected much more poorly on Rice, who up until then had demonstrated an admirable willingness to face the heat, than on her interlocuter.

Finally, none of this would be more than anecdotal were it not for what Spencer Ackerman catches here. Ackerman notes that it’s possible Rice has actually made some news with her remark implying that the techniques were legal becasue they were authorized by the president. Obviously this is far from a deposition under oath. But it might just be a glimpse into what actually happened.