January 2009 Interview: Dr. Clarence Lusane
Dr. Clarence Lusane teaches comparative race relations, modern social movements and black political theory at Howard University and American University. His most recent book, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice: Foreign Policy, Race and the New American Century was the topic of discussion at a conference at Syracuse University. Five days before Barack Obama’s historic Inauguration, I thought it would be interesting to present an interview which explores two other pioneering African American political figures. Dr. Lusane, Welcome to Blackademics.
Dr. Clarence Lusane:
Very shortly after Bush came to power in 2001 we had the World Conference Against Racism in August and September. In fact it ended two days before September 11th. And the controversies leading up to that with the new administration ended up with Colin Powell, who had been slanted to go, being pulled from attending the conference. And one of the people who was advocating strongest about pulling out and demanding that Colin not go, was Condoleezza Rice. Because she had determined that the issues around Isreal and Palestine, the issues around declaring Slavery a crime against humanity, the issues around reparations were not acceptable. And if those were going to be some of the focus of discussion, the U.S. did not need to be there. And this is prior to the overall disengagement of the U.S. from international institutions like the U.N. and some other agreements. So she was articulating this and it manifested itself in what had been an eagerness on the part of Colin Powell to go. We had meetings with Colin Powell in 2000 and 1999 when he had been in the Clinton administration and he had left, and then when it was clear that he was going to become the Secretary of State. We had meetings with him, saying that this was happening, what is the U.S. going to do? The Clinton administration had issues but they were going to be there and Colin’s response was like ‘yeah, we’ll look at it when I come in. I know there were some issues but of course the U.S. has to be there, especially now that we have a Black Secretary of State.’ So Colin was all eager to go, despite the fights that were going to happen. They pulled him out of it, and like I said Condoleezza Rice was one of the key architects because Bush didn’t have a clue what the conference was about. But Cheney and the rest of them saw it within the framework of how they needed to reconfigure U.S. relations with the rest of the global community. So Colin was pulled out. In 2002, about 7 or 8 months later, Colin went back to South Africa. He went back for the Global Environmental Conference, where he was boo’d. But the real point of him going was actually not even to go to the conference. It coincided with him going to visit other countries in Africa who had oil. They were renegotiating these deals with Angola and Equatorial Guinea. So he came to the conference, go boo’d basically said ‘later for you all’ and went off to these other meetings. So the reality of what the U.S. was doing pretty much started to shape what people thought in Africa and the rest of the world. They were like whatever we may have thought or hoped or prayed or was possible. The illusions are gone now. Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice are basically going to represent U.S. interests above all else.
Okay, so how has Condoleezza Rice’s race vs. her gender affected or influenced her job. Does one have more weight than the other?
That’s a good question. When she came in and when she was appointed Secretary of State, there were many more references to her as a woman than to her as Black. Papers around the world from China to Turkey to Iran to Bolivia all referred to her as the iron maiden. There were all kind of terms that they used to refer to her and a lot of those were gendered. But what was the most dominate thing was that she was seen more than anybody else as close to George Bush. More than anybody in the administration, and some people argue more than Laura Bush. The two of them together are joined at the hip.
Dr. Horace Campbell:
She called him ‘my husband’ once.
Yes she did, she got caught slipping. There’s a dynamic, and I’ve seen the two together and it’s sort of a weird deal. So I think at a personal level, she can do no wrong as far as George Bush is concerned. Now she had enemies within the administration. And there are definitely people within the administration who have argued that she is incompetent. Some blame her for Iraq. That she gave George Bush wrong information and misinformation and she’s supposed to be managing the flow of information to him and let him know what was the real deal and what wasn’t. So there are people who blame her within the administration for problems, but he’s basically like, ‘that’s not going to happen, she’s going to be there’. Then there’s the very hard effort they put in to create this image of multiculturalism and inclusion. It would be very difficult for them to go after her after they got rid of Colin as well. And she basically does what George Bush wants her to do. So she reflects his incompetence. I just don’t see them getting rid of her down the road. But she was nervous when she came to do the testimony before the 9/11 commission, I’d never seen her as nervous. If you go back and look at the video the entire time, there was a glass of water in front of her and she never touched it for the entire time. She sat like this, her head was down most of the time and she was freaking out. There’s some other things that happened even before that. So she was very nervous that she was being sacrificed to the wolves, like Libby is in terms of Karl Rove. There’s been times that she’s felt vulnerable but she’s basically protected.
Last question. You talked about multicultural imperialism in your book. Could you finish up with that, and discuss how multiculturalism is used to institutionalize repressive policy?
In terms of multicultural imperialism, we’ve mostly been talking about Black Americans but you can see it across the board. For example, Alberto Gonzalez. When Gonzalez was appointed Secretary of the Department of Justice. Prior to that his role in drafting the logic around creating Guantanamo and the whole issue of Geneva Conventions don’t apply and all of that. When these issues were raised in the Latino community, it went through the same gyrations. And it was extremely difficult to find leaders and activists in the Latino community that were opposed who his appointment as Attorney General despite some horrible kinds of policies that he has identified himself with and again, his role in the Bush administration. It’s a corporation. Same with Cho over at the Department of Labor where it’s basically been an attack on Labor since day one with her being in there. Before that, they wanted to appoint Linda Chavez. So there’s been a leap from the Reagan days of recognizing this. And then I think it is going global. You will find across the board. In Germany they’re talking about the Turkish guy to be part of the foreign policy team. So there’s a sense now, the axis has shifted from east west to north south. That’s going to require a really different kind of configuration and and different kinds of ideologies in defense of imperialism, one of which is multicultural imperialism. Then there is the imperial feminism, It just wasn’t part of the way the book ended up being constructed. But that is certainly a part of, the way in which the framework of feminism is being used and you see it in the Middle East. One way of undermining Middle Eastern resistance is this notion of feminism and arguing that women have to be brought into a particular kind of democratization a western form of democratization. And they’ll only be liberated within that kind of context. So we’re seeing these kind of arguments that are being promoted that weren’t being promoted 5 or 10 years ago.