Excerpted from The Atlantic's latest cover story on Condoleezza Rice.
“I used to deal with Condi when I was head of Mossad and she was national-security adviser, and I had a great respect for her, and admiration,” Efraim Halevy says. “I still do. But I think that in her role of secretary of state, things are not going too well. The main problem is that Condi Rice was never an expert on the Middle East. That’s not her area of expertise. And therefore, she has to rely on others. And the others in this case is a lawyer who is an ideologue”—meaning Elliott Abrams—“who believes that you can promote a certain ideology anywhere and everywhere around the world if you think it’s the right ideology. And you really don’t have to know very much about the basic facts in the region that you’re dealing with, because you have to tailor the region to your ideology.”
Halevy spent four decades in what was regarded as the best intelligence service in the Middle East, and he has only disdain for what he sees as the loony idea that American-style democracy can be implanted here. As an intelligence professional, he believes that the only path to understanding the Middle East, or anywhere else, for that matter, is to look as deeply as one can into the specifics of individual personalities, their hopes, dreams, and weaknesses, their bank accounts, the stories of their families, their tribes, the histories of their friends and enemies—the kind of material a novelist might use. By substituting ideology for local knowledge, he says, the Bush administration chose fantasy over reality, a choice that can only end in disaster.
“To believe that you can promote democracy on the one hand,” he says, staring down at the table and glumly stirring his tea, “and on the other hand, having a parallel system of providing guns and equipment to one warlord and to another warlord, and combining these two different programs in some way and sort of monitoring them in a way which is totally unrelated to the situation on the ground, because the situation on the ground doesn’t matter. Because what you need to do is change the situation on the ground.” Halevy stops stirring his tea and leans back on the couch. “I think that this whole idea of democratization was a flawed concept,” he says, finally making eye contact. “Democracy in Israel evolved from within. It didn’t come because somebody in Washington waved the wand and said, ‘Israel should be democratic.’”
The worst thing about the administration’s active fantasy life, Halevy believes, is that it has sucked Israel into a realm of illusion, where it cannot afford to live.