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Condoleezza Rice's 2016 Opportunity

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Mary Manjikian wrote a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month discussing her improved career prospects as an expert on Russian affairs, caused by the increasing tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine as well as other geopolitical issues. As she put it:

Like many academics, I had found myself for the last decade or so both teaching and researching in a field that was very different from where I had started. At some point during the 1990s the West either gave up on reforming Russia or lost interest and moved on to other challenges in the world--depending on your perspective. Either way, academic and government funds for the study of the Russian language and Russian affairs largely dried up. Fewer students studied Russian as undergraduates or graduate students, and among study-abroad destinations, Russia was no longer "hot."

Well, Russia is hot again. Very hot.

I thought of this article after having a discussion with a friend on the topic of Condoleezza Rice and how the current crisis in Ukraine may increase her political viability either as a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. Rice was a Soviet specialist and while that skill set wasn't in high demand during her more recent tenure as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, that knowledge may become relevant again if dealings with Russia remain at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

Rice has been mentioned as a contender for the GOP presidential or vice-presidential nomination in the past. That seemed to be something that was in the rearview mirror but current events may be changing that perception. Rice hasn't run for political office before, so the top spot on the ticket may be an excessive jump, but it isn't hard to imagine her joining the ticket as a partner and expert in foreign policy for whoever the 2016 GOP nominee is, particularly if that nominee has more of a domestic policy portfolio.

Naturally, Rice would face serious challenges if she wanted to go this route, including the mistrust of social conservatives as well as from more libertarian-minded conservatives (like Senator Rand Paul) who would want a clear break with the foreign policy of the Bush years. For those foreign policy skeptics, the Iraq War would certainly be a very large elephant in the room.

That having been said, both factors could be overcome, particularly if Rice was selected for the vice-presidential nomination rather than running for the top spot. Social conservatives may determine that this isn't a battle they need to engage in, particularly if New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is correct regarding their diminished leverage in contemporary national politics. Rice's libertarian/anti-Iraq War critics may be the harder ones to beat. If nothing else her, rise would, whether accurately or not (there are issues of perhaps inexact terminology here), probably be seen as a victory for neoconservatives over libertarians and thus something worth fighting over to the bitter end.

The presidential election in 2016 is still a long way away and I have no personal knowledge of Condoleezza Rice's thoughts on this matter. However, she is making her voice heard on issues relating to the future of the Republican Party and I'm sure thoughts about the presidency or vice-presidency have crossed her mind. The Ukraine crisis may turn out to be an opportunity for Rice as an avenue for her to get back into the public eye and to regain political relevance.