News & Politics

Kessler Sees Condi as the Next Arnold

For those disappointed that 2008 won’t have a “Condi versus Hillary” contest, be patient. That catfight for the White House didn’t materialize, but Condoleezza Rice might have a future in politics.

“I see governor of California as a distinct possibility,” says Glenn Kessler, author of a new book, The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy. “She leaves the State Department, makes some money. Once Schwarzenegger steps down, she runs.”

Rice, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Kessler has been the Post’s diplomatic correspondent covering Rice since 2002. His book catches her walking and talking and flying, huddling with diplomats, joshing with reporters, and protecting her patron, President George W. Bush.

Kessler says that Rice writes Bush a note every night—on paper, with pen. The Secretary of State does not write e-mails.

Rice, like Bush, prides herself on working out and staying fit. Kessler tells about Rice kicking off her shoes at a dance party hosted by Coit Blacker, a friend of Rice’s. Blacker speculated to his partner “that if he aimed a quarter at her butt, it would bounce off like a rocket.” He did; it did. “She was flattered,” Kessler writes, “—and proud.”

Don’t expect a thorough biography. Kessler offers a narrative of Rice’s diplomatic years, her few victories and many blunders.

“History likely will not be kind to her,” Kessler says. “In her favor, she was close to the President, but she’s trapped by many of the decisions she made as national security adviser. She’s not in the league of George Shultz or James Baker.

This criticism comes from the journalist described as Rice’s favorite reporter by an article in the Atlantic.

“She was at the core of decision-making on going to war in Iraq,” Kessler says. “She was in charge of managing the process. It’s not something she’s good at.”

Kessler grew up in Cincinnati. Both parents are from the Netherlands. Kessler got a degree from Brown University and a master’s in international affairs from Columbia. He did business reporting in New York, political reporting in DC for Newsday, and in 1998 went on the business desk at the Post.

“I always wanted to write about international affairs,” he says. “It just took me 20 years in journalism to get there.”

Bush describes Rice as “my sister.” Kessler says they are indeed like family.

“Their history started with 9/11,” he says, referring to the attack on the World Trade Center. “That’s where their connection is.”

Like Bush, Rice came to Washington with a relatively narrow view of global conflict. Her expertise was Soviet and Eastern European affairs. She had little experience in the Middle East, Asia, or Africa. And she didn’t know Washington when Bush asked her to be his national-security adviser.

“In some ways,” Kessler says, “it was an unfair position the President put her in.”

Kessler says State Department reporters get a uniquely intimate look at a Cabinet secretary because they travel around the world on the same plane for weeks at a time. “She wanders back to talk to reporters,” he says. “She sets aside an evening with the press on long trips. It’s a little family.”

After reading the book, Rice might want to throw Kessler out.

This piece originally appeared in the September 2007 edition of the magazine.