Assessing Condi Rice

Kevin Drum excerpts a review* from a leading history journal of Condi Rice’s The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983: Uncertain Allegiance (Princeton University Press, 1984). He summarizes the review:

Problems distinguishing facts from propaganda. Too quick to pass judgment without adequate knowledge. Failure to properly assess sources who have an obvious axe to grind. Ignorance of regional history.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I would note that this particular book was not only picked up by a major academic press but was a revised version of her doctoral dissertation, which was by definition vetted by a panel of subject matter experts. I’m sure there were flaws in it–there always are–but it was almost certainly well researched.

Reviews in academic journals tend to be rather brutal, as they’re usually aimed at showing how clever the reviewer is. This is likely to be even more true when the reviewer is a Czechoslovakian historian reviewing the work of a political scientist studying the Soviet Union. Given that the review is nineteen years old, it’s rather hard to find out what the credentials of Josef Kalvoda are, other than that he was a Czech national who was a 60-year-old history professor at Saint Joseph College and he had at least two books to his credit, both on Czechoslovakia. Interestingly, criticisms quite similar to the ones he made of Rice’s book are leveled in an otherwise glowing review of one of Kalvoda’s books.

Ogged concludes, “Will someone please admit it? Condoleezza Rice is a moron. She’s in way over her head and it shows.” Whether she’s doing a good job as National Security Advisor is an open question that’s fairly difficult to judge at this stage, given how little we actually know of the process. Rice’s high intelligence is rather well documented, however.

*While Googling to figure out who this Kavorda guy is, it’s clear this review has been circulating for a few months now, although this is the first I’ve seen of it.

Update: Megan McArdle–whose Aunt was Rice’s dissertation director!–and Steven Taylor have comments as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kate says:

    First, he was hot on the trail of Bush’s 30 year old records in the National Guard… now a 20 year old book review.

    Kevin Drum – one man cutting edge of investigative journalism.

  2. I really don’t understand why people respect Drum so much. He is clearly a partisian hack (I don’t mean that as an horrible insult as I am largely a partisian hack). To dig up a 20 year old book and a negative review and try to imply it shows why Rice is ineffective is just lame. As you said she may be wrong but she isn’t stupid.

    If you really want to get depressed read the comments, full of people sure that Rice is an idiot barely capable of functioning let alone thinking.

  3. ogged says:

    Kevin’s point seems quite reasonable: Kalvoda identifies weaknesses in Rice’s book that are the weaknesses of her approach to foreign policy.

    I was being the partisan hack, but I think there’s a lot of evidence that Rice just isn’t very bright. The first piece is her performance as National Security Advisor, the second is that the only person less shaky in public appearances is GW himself.

    James, I’d be interested in documentation of her high intelligence.

  4. Dave says:

    Since when does intelligence equate to a silver tongue?

  5. James Joyner says:

    Ogged, her biography rather speaks for itself. She’s a concert grade pianist, started college at age 15, has her Ph.D. from a major IR school, Hoover Fellow, etc.

  6. ogged says:

    Thanks James. I did know that stuff about her. I’m sure that you, as an (ex)academic, you never met anyone with a good resume who was anything less than whip-smart. 😉

  7. JayH says:

    Started college at 15? That doesn’t prove anything. Maybe she just used her family’s extensive influence to get in…oh, that’s right, her family didn’t have any.

    Give it up, ogged…the lady is very smart…

  8. craig henry says:

    When Peter Paret and Gordon Craig came out with the second edition of “The Makers of Modern Strategy”, they got contributions from a Who’s Who of military historians. And who did they choose to write about modern Soviet doctrine and strategy? Not Kevin Drum or Josef Kalvoda.

    Yeah, it was Rice. And this in in 1984-1986 before she served in government and when she was barely into her thirties.

    So she might have been wrong, but she is hardly a moron.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    Considering the howling from many Democrats that Rice’s nomination was merely to be the “token black woman” of the Bush Administration, does the questioning of her intelligence surprise you? After all, she’s just a woman! And black! What could she possibly know about anything?

  10. bryan says:

    Given Ogged’s penchant for making gross overstatements about Dr. Rice’s intelligence, and his inability to admit that he can’t do a google search OR admit to a mistake, one could almost come to the conclusion that it is Ogged who is a moron and in way over his head.

  11. craig henry says:

    Uh, James. That “glowing review” you quoted came from a Holocaust denial site…..

    Or was that intentional? I wonder what Drum would have said had he found a favorable review of Rice’s book on an Aryan Nation site?

  12. James Joyner says:


    Interesting. There’s not much Google info on a minor academic from the pre-Internet era, so one takes what one can get. Indeed, most of the hits were Czech sites. The review appeared legit on its fact; I didn’t dig into the source.

  13. ogged says:

    Geez, call someone a moron and people get all offended. Like I said, I know her resume, and obviously I don’t mean moron like she couldn’t manage a Burger King, but she’s done a horrible job as National Security Advisor, she’s a shaky public speaker, and her scholarship has been called into question. Given the distance between those facts and her current position of responsibility, I think “moron” fits.

  14. Jim says:

    Interesting how something 20 years ago (while fundamentally still a student) is being used to characterize Ms. Rice. Would Kevin like something he wrote 20 years ago to be the definite summantion of his intelligence or career. Or to be a little more fair, lets just use his first or second ever blog post.

  15. Jim says:

    I forgot…these are the same people who insist we don’t look at Kerry’s previous speeches to characterize him

  16. ogged says:

    I’ve posted an UPDATE FOR THE DEFENDERS to the original post with links to a couple of articles that might sway the fair-minded among you.

  17. rkb says:

    Fair minded, ah yes.

    The only even handed person at this morning’s hearings was Rice herself, who have a sophisticated and dare I say “nuanced” account of the complexities pre-9/11.

    Ogged, give it up. You haven’t a clue on this one. Perhaps a little sexism and racism is clouding your vision, as well as the distoring lense of partisanship?

  18. rkb says:

    should have been “has a sophisticated” etc. Short time to post, too quick to click.

  19. ogged says:

    rkb, I note you don’t respond to the articles.

  20. Moe Lane says:

    “rkb, I note you don’t respond to the articles.”

    That might be because they’re overwhelmingly based on anonymous allegations made by anonymous critics who we’re just supposed to believe*.

    Hey! That’s you, too! Imagine the coincidence.

    Your 15 minutes are up, Ogged. Hope you got some good memories out of it.


    *Except for the ones who are partisan Democrats… which you claim not to be. I guess that we’re just supposed to believe that, too.

  21. ogged says:

    Moe says “partisan Democrats… which you claim not to be.” I said (in this very thread, even), “I was being the partisan hack.” Come on, Moe, you can do better.

    And here are a couple of quotes from one of the articles; please note who’s doing the complaining in these passages:

    “Administration officials said the situation has left many problems unresolved, especially at lower levels, and led to frequent policy shifts.”

    “Even members of Rice’s staff expressed frustration. The NSC and State Department staffers were stunned to learn, for example, that the Pentagon, with the approval of the vice president, had flown controversial Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi into southern Iraq after Bush had opposed giving Chalabi special treatment.”

  22. Paul says:

    Given Ogged’s penchant for making gross overstatements about Dr. Rice’s intelligence, and his inability to admit that he can’t do a google search OR admit to a mistake, one could almost come to the conclusion that it is Ogged who is a moron and in way over his head.

    That was worth saying twice. LMAO

  23. capt joe says:

    Ogged said ……


    It is obvious that you are one of those syncophants that look for the policitcal affliation (R or D) after the name and then decide what you think of them.

    After listening to your tirade I, for one have no interest in visiting your site. Mr Demile is calling for your close up, you better do…

  24. McGehee says:

    obviously I don’t mean moron like she couldn’t manage a Burger King

    Here’s a thought, Ogged: next time you want to convey a meaning, turn the hyperbole down a thousand. Your calling Dr. Rice a moron would b akin to me calling you a — wait, what’s fifteen steps below “moron”? Does the scale go down that far>

  25. Arie Korving says:

    Did the numbnuts who applaud the Kevin Drum post and are calling Dr. Rice a moron actually go to the site and read the comments?

    First, the author lacks the wit to understand that Dr. Rice is female, referring to her as “him.” A little fact checking before inserting your foot, Professor Kalvoda?

    Second, instead of presenting facts to refute Dr. Rice he substitutes opinions, to wit: ” …since he frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation. He passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of facts. It does not add to his credibility when he uses a source written by Josef Hodic…” (the “he” reference is to Dr. Rice.)

    Finally the snippit in Drum’s blog refers to something called the Czechoslovak Legion which Dr. Rice says was born during the chaotic period preceding the fall of the Russian Empire. The good professor then says that this is ridiculous because the Legion was born in 1914. Let’s see, Czar Nicholas abdicated in march 1917; the end of the Russian empire. 1914 precedes 1917. Only in calendars that run backwards is Dr. Rice wrong.

    I have seen people shooting themselves in the foot, but rarely have I seen anyone do this and brag about it.

  26. ogged says:

    Numbnuts? I can’t believe we’re resorting to name-calling.

    In any event Arie, to quote the great John McEnroe, you cannot be serious. You write, “instead of presenting facts…” and then proceed to quote Kalvoda presenting…a fact. To wit: Rice uses a source (Hodic) without noting that that source is not impartial, but is, in fact, a Communist agent. This fact is probably relevant in a discussion of the Soviet Union. One might even call it a material omission. That’s bad.

    As for the dates, let me offer an analogy. You might ask me, “When was Newton born.” I might answer, “Before Einstein.” That’s a true answer, but I’m either a) being a smartass or b) not an expert on the biography of great scientists. 1914 is before 1917, I’ll grant you that much, but when a specific date is available (and Kalvoda makes a point of naming a particular *day*), then Rice’s gesture in the general vicinity doesn’t inspire confidence.

    To sum up, Arie, my foot is feeling just fine.