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HBO History Makers Series with Condoleezza Rice

Authors: Condoleezza Rice, Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Former Secretary of State, and Katie Couric, Anchor and Managing Editor, CBS News
December 3, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations



KATIE COURIC: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. Nice to see such a full house here today. This is the History Makers Series event, and on behalf of the council, I'd like to thank Richard Plepler and Home Box Office for their generous support of this series.

The History Maker Series focuses on the contributions made by prominent -- a prominent person at a critical juncture in U.S. foreign policy or in international relations, and that certainly describes our guest speaker today. While you may know her as Aretha Franklin's piano player -- (laughter) -- this classically trained pianist earned her respect on a global stage. Condoleezza Rice served as secretary of State, of course, from 2005 until the end of the George W. Bush administration in 2009. She was the second African-American and the second woman to hold that prestigious, to say the least, Cabinet position.

As the nation fought two wars, Secretary Rice sought to advance democracy in the Middle East through diplomacy, to encourage and foster democratic states and strengthen ties to America's allies in a critical region.

Shortly after her confirmation as secretary of State, she delivered a speech in France outlining her vision and philosophy as chief diplomat for this country. She said, quote: "Even more important than military and economic power is the power of ideas, the power of compassion and the power of hope." While the work to foster sustainable democracy and achieve equality for women and minorities around the world continues today, Secretary Rice no doubt remains resolute in the hope that these goals will in fact be fully realized

Prior to her role as secretary of State, she served President Bush as national security adviser, and before that she was provost of Stanford University. She's returned to Stanford, where she's currently the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

So please join me in welcoming Secretary Rice. (Applause.)

And I was asked to deliver one polite reminder before we begin our conversation. If it rings or buzzes, turn it off please.


COURIC: Also, this meeting, by the way, is on the record.

So, Secretary Rice, it's nice to be with you.

RICE: Nice to be with you.

COURIC: I've had the privilege of interviewing you on a number of occasions for a number of different media outlets, so it's nice to be here at the council.

So, it's been almost two years since the Bush administration ended. I'm just curious about your time away from Washington. Has it changed your perspective at all on foreign policy or the ways of Washington?

RICE: Well, it's changed my perspective in one very important way. I get up in the morning and I read the newspaper and I think: Isn't that interesting? (Laughter.) And then I go on to something else.

COURIC: Instead of, "Oh, God?" (Laughs.)

RICE: That's right. Exactly.

With a little bit of time, you do have a chance to look back and to try and gain perspective. Of course, a lot of the issues in which we were involved are still unfolding and will be unfolding for some time. But I'm quite confident that the emphasis that you mentioned on democracy is both the right emphasis and one that will demonstrate that it has been the right emphasis.

I'm also very grateful that when I go around the world -- and I'm still going around the world -- that people remember not just the war on terrorism but the compassion agenda. We've just had World AIDS Day, and the U.S. leadership in that role is very well remembered. I was recently in Africa, and the work to increase foreign assistance and girls' education and health programs in Africa is very well remembered. And so in retrospect, I think the marriage of American power and principle is going to guide our foreign policy for a long time if it's to be successful.

COURIC: We talked about this when I was privileged to do a "60 Minutes" profile about you, but -- and it was interesting for me to revisit some of the things you and I talked about in that profile with the book you've just published called "Extraordinary Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family." And you talk a lot about your childhood in the Jim Crow South. And, of course, I know what you're going to say, but a lot of people here may not. Tell us how that, in many ways, your experiences growing up in the South, dealing with racism, how that impacted your view -- views on foreign policy.

RICE: Well, first of all, it impacted me as a person. But I had parents who were ordinary people, in the title. They were -- my mom was a schoolteacher. She taught English first. And by the way, one of her first students was the great ballplayer Willie Mays. And he remembers her as Ms. Ray, who told him: Son, you're going to be a ballplayer, and so if you need to leave class a little bit early, you go right ahead and do that. (Laughter.) And it didn't sound like my mother but maybe she did.

COURIC: That's very counterintuitive.

RICE: Yes, very much so.

And my father was a high school guidance counselor, a Presbyterian minister. So these were ordinary people.

But in the extraordinary circumstances of Birmingham, a place where you couldn't go into a restaurant, you couldn't stay in a hotel, still they had me, as I -- as I -- as I've often said, convinced that I could be president of the United States if I wanted to be, and they had us convinced as a community of children that you might not be able to control your circumstances but you can control your response to your circumstances, and that was the critical issue.

It led me, I think, to understand in my approach to foreign policy the importance of that principle: that human spirit can overcome essentially anything if given a chance, but also the need for that human spirit to be empowered in some way. And so whether it is the education and empowerment of women or the education of children who might otherwise not have a chance at education, if you want to empower the human spirit to do great things, you have to give people tools, which gives them hope. And that's, for me, the link.

COURIC: And I know you talked about the fact that if you look at people in certain countries and say they don't deserve democracy or it's not -- or perhaps it's not necessarily in their DNA --

RICE: Right.

COURIC: -- in terms of their societal structure, et cetera, you describe that as being tantamount to racism.

RICE: Oh, it is. It's patronizing and it's racist. The idea that there are some people in some corner of the Earth who are so lacking in human character that they really don't care whether or not they can say what they think, they really don't care if they can select those who are going to govern them, they really don't care if they can worship as they please, and, oh, by the way, they don't care about the knock of the secret police at night, I think it's incredibly patronizing to believe that that's true.

And the United States of all places should recognize that democracy takes a long time but that it is very well worth it. Not too long before my experiences in Birmingham, this was a country that believed that, well, black people were just a little bit too childlike to care about things like to vote. And so whenever we say that there is someone out there that either doesn't have a tradition or they're not ready, I think you have to check your prejudices.

COURIC: Let's talk about your first job as national security adviser for President Bush. Well, actually let's have you use some hindsight about President Bush. I note that you all still stay in touch.

RICE: We do.

COURIC: But now that you're out of Washington and probably have even a better perspective on some of the things that transpired during your tenure, what would you consider are President Bush's greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses?

RICE: I think his greatest strengths were and are decisiveness, but informed decisiveness. I don't know where this caricature comes from that this was a president who was uninterested in argumentation, uninterested in details, not curious somehow about the world. It's simply not true. He was someone and is someone who has a very admirable, but sometimes if you're the person in the chair being asked the question, somewhat disturbing tendency to go right to the essence of the issue and to ask the question that maybe you didn't think to ask yourself. And so he had this very strategic mind, and he was able, then, to be decisive. And you need decisiveness.

It was married with a bedrock belief in the goodness of America, and indeed the exceptionalism of America: that America had certain responsibilities that it had to execute on behalf of all of humankind, whether it was fighting terrorism or trying to deliver democracy.

But it was also that America had special responsibility to be compassionate, which is where the entire president's program for emergency AIDS relief came from, was that -- I remember it very well, the session in the Oval Office when he said, you know, a lot of -- is expected of those to whom a lot is given. And so those characteristics coming together I think made for a president who drew on America's strengths in very important ways.

We all have our weaknesses, and I think that President Bush somehow was not able across the air waves to communicate the kind of leader that he was. I have said -- heard so many people, particularly recently, as he's been out on this book tour, say: But, you know, but he's funny; he's got this sense of humor; he's got this active mind. And somehow, when you're standing in front of the press -- with all due respect, Katie --

COURIC: (Laughs, laughter.)

RICE: -- and you are in a press conference where, if you misplace a comma, you have just changed U.S. policy on the Middle East -- (laughter) -- it's hard to communicate who you are. And I think there was a disconnect between who he was as president and the president that people saw.

COURIC: When you saw him appear in public and you felt that the president you knew and you had spent time with and exchanged ideas with was not coming across to the rest of the country, that must have been extraordinarily frustrating for you.

RICE: It was, because I think it made the job of doing difficult things more difficult. And I don't think that I came across as who I am, either, and people say (that's me there ?). Because it really is hard when you're standing there and you're trying to make certain that every word is right and it's not going to be misunderstood, because if you slip and say this or that, then you've just created a headline and a fire storm. So it's hard for everybody.

But it was especially frustrating because all of us who got to see the president in daily exchange knew very much how curious a person this was, how well-informed, and how intent on doing the right thing -- and by the way, not caring about the day's headlines, but rather about history's judgment.

COURIC: I think but that when you're trying your hardest to be eloquent, that's when you're usually the most inarticulate.

RICE: Yes. Right. (Laughter.)

COURIC: Let's talk about 9/11. Obviously, that changed everything. Did you realize that this event, as it was unfolding, would define the rest of the Bush presidency and change the world forever?

RICE: Several days after when -- the first couple of days, 9/11 and the two or three days after, we --

COURIC: Where were you when this happened?

RICE: I was in the White House. It was -- ironically, the president normally would travel with either me or Steve Hadley, the deputy. And that particular day, that Tuesday, he had gone down to Florida for this little education -- a little education event of four hours or so, and so we -- neither of us went.

So here we were in the White House when this happened. I was at my desk. And the first plane went into the World Trade Center, and we thought it was an accident. The second plane went into the World Trade Center, and we thought, "My God, it's a terrorist attack." And I can remember trying to get Don Rumsfeld on the phone, and his phones were just ringing. And a plane had gone into the Pentagon.

And so I was spirited off to the -- to the bunker. But I stopped first and called my family, because I know the Rices and the Rays, and I said, you know, "Washington; awful pictures; I'm okay." But then, I took a call from the president. And I did something that I had not ever done and I never did after that: I raised my voice to the president of the United States. Because he said, "I'm coming back," and I said, "No, you're not." I said it -- "We're under attack, and you're -- you have got to get to safety."

So that day was like being in a fog, where you were just trying to deal with the consequences. Three or so days later, when we were at Camp David, looking at the map of Afghanistan and knowing that we were going to go (over ?) to war in Afghanistan, that's when it occurs to you that you are about to engage in shaping events that are going to shape history in a completely different direction; you are about to be, for him, the war president; and America is in a fight for a long time. And then I think we knew that it was going to be not just something that would fade from the screen.

COURIC: There's still a great deal of controversy over the warning signs that may not have been sufficiently heeded prior to 9/11. Are there things, in retrospect, you wish you had done differently in terms of analyzing, interpreting some of the intelligence that came in?

RICE: Obviously, we didn't do enough, because it happened. But that said, I know what that intelligence looked like. And that intelligence, as murky as it was -- and it was very murky. The warnings say things like, "A big event is about to happen," in the terrorist chatter. "A big event is about to happen." And all of the warning signs were that it would happen abroad -- in Israel, Jordan, or possibly in Genoa at the G-8 that was being held that July. And so we did what you do in response to those warnings. We moved American forces, naval forces, out of port; we took extraordinary measures for our embassies abroad, to try to protect.

As it turns out, just because I thought, well, maybe something, the United States, something's there, we called together the agencies that were domestic agencies. And I called the attorney general and said, you know, "Here's the briefing," and people were alerted. But nothing suggested that there was an attack of that sort coming in the United States.

Now, I think this was a systemic failure, because we were stovepiped between domestic intelligence, or FBI, and law enforcement, and foreign intelligence and the CIA. And both by tradition and law, they could not share information. And perhaps, if they had been able to share information, somebody might have been able to put together a picture of what was coming. But even with the sharing, I doubt that you would have put together that particular picture.

COURIC: After 9/11, government agencies opened up the flow of information to foster better intelligence sharing. But that may have opened the government up --

RICE: Yeah.

COURIC: -- to the kind of leaks that we've seen, or the kind of exposure we've seen from WikiLeaks. Fareed Zakaria just wrote a piece in Time where he said the leaks are in some ways an unintended consequence of Washington finally getting its information act together. So have the flood gates been opened too much? How do you find the proper balance?

RICE: Well, let me say first that I think what has happened is a crime. It's up to the Justice Department to figure out exactly what crime it is. But it's got to be prosecuted and punished, or it's going to keep happening. And the -- I hope that the penalty is really severe, because maybe that'll deter this kind of behavior. The United States can't exist in a world in which we can't share information within the government, and with the -- with the expectation that it's going to somehow end up in -- on the front pages of newspapers. You can't do business that way. So I hope it's prosecuted, and I hope it's prosecuted severely.

Secondly, though, it did occur to me that probably the sharing, it looks, maybe has gone too far. And I know that Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates are looking into this. The idea that somehow cables from our embassy in Germany are being read at the staff-sergeant level at our military bases seems to me rather odd. (Laughter.) And I think probably the flow of information has gotten a little -- a little loose.

COURIC: Sloppy.

RICE: A little sloppy. The third thing is, you know, you really don't have to write down everything you think. (Laughter.)

COURIC: (Laughs.) You save that for your diary.

RICE: Yeah. Some of the -- some of the cables, I have to say, I thought -- not the -- not the analysis of circumstances and so forth, but some of the cables I thought to myself, "You know, did you really need to write that down?" (Laughter.)

COURIC: So do you think these leaks have been damaging, or just embarrassing?

RICE: No, I think they've been damaging. I think they've been damaging, because people will watch what they say to us. In some cases where -- in, interestingly, some authoritarian countries, where people were saying one thing to their populations and to their parliaments, and another to us, it's going to be not just embarrassing, but it could have real consequences.

COURIC: Consequences.

RICE: That's right.

COURIC: So, for example, in Yemen.

RICE: Exactly. And so I think that's a real problem. And for several of our diplomats, I think their relations with the countries and the leaders with whom they have to deal every day are irrevocably broken. So it's done real damage.

COURIC: Let's talk about enhanced interrogation techniques. Do you have any regrets about that program?

RICE: No. Look, I knew there would be second-guessing about what we did. The president was very clear. He wanted to do what was legal and necessary. And he was very clear that the Justice Department would have to say -- unprompted, the Justice Department would have to review and say what was legal. And we would live within those bounds, both domestically and internationally.

But when you are in a war, not a law enforcement activity, it is your responsibility to try to stop the next attack. And the long pole in the tent for stopping the next attack is information.

Now, I knew that there would be second-guessing about not just enhanced interrogation but about the Patriot Act and about terrorist surveillance and so forth and so on. And it's perfectly legitimate in a democratic society to have people debate what was done and to change the course. And in fact, as we got more knowledge about how al-Qaida operated and got on top of things, a lot of this did change.

But the one thing, second-guessing, I could never have lived with is if it had happened again, and if we had left somehow on the table things that might have prevented it from happening.

So my view was that if it was legal and necessary, then the president of the United States, under circumstances in which we'd just watched 3,000 people die and believed that many more were going to die, the president had an obligation to do it.

COURIC: And the most productive thing that came from these enhanced interrogation techniques in your view?

RICE: I'm not going to go into details because I don't know and don't remember, frankly, what the fire wall is between what is still classified and what is not. But I will say this. The best thing that we did was to take al-Qaida's field generals off the battlefield: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh.

I'm very sorry that we weren't able to deliver Osama bin Laden to the -- to justice. But when we took those field generals off the field and when we were able to determine how al-Qaida actually operated and what they were plotting and planning, the country was a lot safer.

COURIC: On Iraq, books have been written, as you know, many, many books; documentaries have been made about how intelligence was incorrectly analyzed and cherry-picked to build an argument for war. And memos from that time do suggest that officials knew there was a small chance of actually finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

RICE: Well, wait a second, what?

COURIC: (Chuckles.) There are -- there are some things that seem to suggest that in the buildup to the actual war that there was some doubt about that, wouldn't you say --

RICE: No. (Laughter.)

COURIC: Well --

RICE: Actually, I don't agree with that (person ?) at all.

COURIC: You don't?


COURIC: Even with -- when Tony Blair met with the president in Washington --

RICE: Well, you always -- are you 100 percent sure when you're dealing with an opaque, secretive country in which there have been no inspections for years? No, you're not 100 percent sure. But the preponderance of intelligence analysis -- the preponderance of intelligence analysis from around the world was that he had had weapons of mass destruction. We knew he had used weapons of mass destruction. That was not a theoretical proposition.

COURIC: Right. That's correct.

RICE: He'd used them --

COURIC: Against the Kurds.

RICE: Against the Kurds, against the Shia and against the Iranians. So he'd used them several times. And the preponderance of intelligence was that he was reconstituting or had actually, in the intelligence estimate, reconstituted his biological and chemical capabilities.

There was some debate about how far he had gotten on the nuclear front, some saying that with foreign help it could be a year; others saying it would be several years.

So no, it's simply not the case that there was, if you're in a position of decision-making, evidence to say that it was likely that he did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Now, what we found is that he was indeed breaking out of the constraints that had been put there -- we all know the scandal of oil-for-food -- that he was not as far along in that reconstitution as the intelligence had suggested. But the idea that somehow Saddam Hussein was not pursuing or was never going to pursue weapons of mass destruction, I think, is as misplaced as an argument that he had fully reconstituted.

COURIC: Well, if there weren't, ultimately, weapons of mass destruction found, what was then the rationale for war? Without that, is there another rationale other than the world is better off without Saddam Hussein?

RICE: Well, that's a pretty good rationale. (Laughter.) But let me -- let me go back to the premise, the question, in the absence of weapons of mass destruction, what was the -- it's true that you can only -- that what you know today can affect what you know and do tomorrow, but what you know today cannot affect what you did yesterday.

So the premise that somehow, because weapons of mass destruction were not found in stockpiles, the rationale for the war was flawed leaves out the fact that at the time that we decided to go to war, we thought there were weapons of mass destruction. So let's stipulate that.

Now, we didn't worry about weapons of mass destruction particularly in the hands of Russians. The Russians had the hundred thousand -- a hundred times the weapons capability of Saddam Hussein. The problem was that Saddam Hussein had taken the world to war in really destructive wars twice, Iran and the Gulf War in '91; dragged us into conflict again in '98, as President Clinton had responded to the problem there; violated repeatedly Security Council resolutions. The efforts that we were making to keep him in his box, whether it was oil-for-food or the -- or trying to keep his air forces on the ground through flying no-fly zones -- he was shooting at our aircraft every day, he still refused to acknowledge that Kuwait was an independent country, and so on and so on.

This was the most dangerous tyrant in the middle of the Middle East, and he had repeatedly flaunted (sic) the efforts of the international community to control him after '91. And so I think there is an argument that in those circumstances, getting Saddam -- getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a very good thing.

COURIC: So absent of the presence -- or if you had known at the time that Iraq wasn't as far along with its weapons program as it ultimately turned out to be, would all of those other things you mentioned provide rationale for the war?

RICE: Katie, I'm going to repeat: What you know today can affect what you do tomorrow, but not

COURIC: No, but just put yourself back there --

RICE: I did -- I can't -- I can't --

COURIC: I mean, you're saying that that seemed like a good rationale. Do you think it is?

RICE: I can't speculate on what I would have thought if I had known. I think it's not a fruitful exercise. We knew what we knew, and we made the decisions based on that intelligence and that knowledge.

Now I still believe that even in the absence of finding weapons of mass destruction, the world and the Middle East are much better places without Saddam Hussein. And you always can know what happened as a result of what you did. What you can't know is what would have happened had you not done it.

The Iraq that we're talking about today, our debate about Iraq today -- our concerns about Iraq today are, of course, about continuing violence. But the conversation is whether Shias, Sunnis, Kurds can within their new democratic institutions form the first multi-confessional democracy in the Arab world. That's a really interesting discussion, and it's different than a discussion that we might have been having about whether or not the nuclear competition between Ahmadinejad in Iran and Saddam Hussein in Iraq is a greater danger than having taken Saddam Hussein out.

COURIC: Do you --

RICE: So I actually think that might have been where we were.

COURIC: Do you think that democracy will hold in Iraq?

RICE: I do. The Iraqis are a tough people, and they're not easy. But I do think that they've got a chance in these new institutions to find a way to resolve their differences without somebody having to oppress somebody else, which has been the whole history of Iraq and in fact the whole history of the Middle East.

It will take some time. The first couple of outcomes may not, in fact, be very pretty to watch. But history has a long arc, and I think they've got a pretty good chance.

COURIC: Two other global hot spots and then I'm going to open up to members to ask questions. But Afghanistan: It seems to be such a quagmire and its future seems to be so uncertain. What do you -- what do you see happening in Afghanistan?

RICE: Well, Afghanistan is an uncertain future. Look, it was always going to be hard. It's fifth-poorest country in the world. When you fly over it, you know why terrorists can hide there. You fly over those mountains, you realize that ungoverned area between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- it's a very hard place.

It is, however, not a place where terrorists are plotting and planning to launch 9/11. It is no longer a place where women are being executed in soccer stadiums, as they were being by the Taliban. It is a place where girls are going to school. It's a place that has a -- not an ideal government, but a government. And so things have improved in Afghanistan.

The question is, can we and our allies be patient enough to create circumstances or help the Afghans create circumstances in which the Taliban is not an existential threat to the government? The Taliban is going to be a hit-and-run organization for a long time.

COURIC: What about bringing them to the table, though? I was there in August, and many women who were in shelters, who had fled from their husbands or their fathers, they were absolutely terrified at the prospect of the Taliban having some kind of negotiating power, which it has with President Karzai, and what that would mean, and that women's rights would be sold down the river in order to bring them into the fold.

RICE: Well, it's one thing to bring Taliban foot soldiers into the fold. I think it's another to bring Taliban leadership into the fold and to expose the citizens of Afghanistan to exactly the kind of danger that you just addressed.

And look, there has to be a defense of the Afghan constitution and women's rights. It is true that in a very traditional society, many Afghan women cannot fully exercise the rights that are guaranteed to them in the constitution. Nonetheless, one advantage to constitutions is at least those rights are enshrined. And as we learned in our own country, the enshrining of those rights gives people who -- impatient patriots the ability to argue in a context to say you don't have to be something else; you just have to be who you say you are here. You just have to give us the rights that are already here.

So I think defending the Afghan constitution's going to be -- have to be a very important part of any negotiation that happens, hopefully, not with the upper ranks of the Taliban.

COURIC: And finally, Secretary Rice -- or do I call you Professor Rice? What do I call you now?

RICE: You could call me -- I -- you could call me Condi.

COURIC: Okay. (Laughter.) What about --

RICE: Or Condoleezza, if you want to brave that.

COURIC: (Chuckles.) What about Iran and North Korea? Obviously, these were countries that you were keeping an extremely close eye on and tried to deal with them in various ways during your tenure. Is the behavior of these countries surprising to you? Do you -- did you expect North Korea to grow increasingly belligerent in -- you know, with its recent attacks on South Korea? And Iran's nuclear ambitions don't seem to be -- they seem to be going full throttle.

RICE: Well, I think the story's somewhat better on Iran, but let me address North Korea first. First of all, anybody who tries to judge the motives of Kim Jong Il and his family is engaging in a very iffy proposition. It's a very closed place, as we know. Clearly, some kind of succession problem is being played out. And I think many people believe that when that succession problem was played out, it might lead the North Koreans to be more belligerent.

I don't think they're suicidal. And the efforts that the Obama administration, particularly Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates and the South Korean government have undertaken, I think, has given the North Koreans pause, and probably the Chinese pause as well, which is maybe an equally important part of this.

And so I do continue to believe North Korea can be deterred, but it's going to be a dangerous period because with the internal ups and downs there, something is driving them to be more belligerent. And we saw it right at the end of 2008, when they were walking away from things that they had already agreed to do. Something was going on internally.

On Iran, I think the picture is somewhat better. I think the years now of cumulative sanctions on Iran going back to 2006 roughly and the increasing severity of those sanctions, married with the really idiotic economic policies of Ahmadinejad and the impatience of the Iranian people that was exhibited in June of 2009, has made this a somewhat weaker government. And it may be that -- not to mention the problems that they're having in their program, which the IAEA has talked about. Perhaps this is a time when the Iranians -- someone within Iran who understands this isn't all going to well might be willing to strike a deal.

COURIC: So -- well, we have a lot of very smart people in our group this afternoon. So if members have any questions that they would like to ask Secretary Rice -- go ahead. If you could introduce yourself, that'd be great. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Madame Secretary, my name is Roland Paul (sp). I'm a lawyer. Concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, President Bush reminded Bob Woodward in one of their interviews that Saddam Hussein could have very quickly reconstituted, as you referenced, chemical and biological weapons. Our arms inspectors found the same thing, and everybody agrees that he sooner or later would have been determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

But I was always mystified by the Bush administration never pushed this as a very strong argument after the war unfolded and we learned there weren't any stockpiles

RICE: You know, one thing that I would do differently: we should have pushed the argument before the war exactly as you have stated it. We -- I think, in a sense, the president became a fact witness, using intelligence in a way that probably wasn't wise.

The strategic argument for Saddam Hussein was cancer in the Middle East has caused wars before, out from under the constraints that were put on him in '91, still firing at American aircraft on an almost daily basis with the capability to reconstitute his biological and chemical weapons, some chance that he has -- and oh, by the way, he's used them before -- and with the capability to reconstitute his nuclear weapons. How long do you want to wait to deal with this problem? That was the argument.

And I think for a variety of reasons, given the way that this unfolded, going to the U.N., making the speech about the weapons of mass destruction, it became all about the weapons of mass destruction, and the strategic argument got somewhat lost.

And so I remember saying to some senators exactly what I've just said to you. Look, I don't lose a lot of sleep over Russian weapons of mass destruction. Yeah, I worry about, you know, maybe a terrorist -- (inaudible) -- but I don't lose a lot of sleep about that because Russia is, even if an adversary from time to time, a responsible state. But weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an irresponsible state with a dictator who's used them, that's a proposition that the United States cannot live with in perpetuity. It's time to deal with it.


RICE: Marcus, hello.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Madame Secretary. How are you?

RICE: Fine.

QUESTIONER: Thanks for joining us, and thanks for cooperating with the book I did on you some years ago.

RICE: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Marcus Mabry --

COURIC: Are you a plant? (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Marcus Mabry from The New York Times. No. (Chuckles.) I wonder, based on what Katie was saying to you earlier, looking back over the whole landscape of seemingly intractable, today, foreign-policy challenges that we face, the Obama administration still faces; after your tenure, is there a place, is there an issue -- whether it's North Korea or whether it's Israel-Palestine, whether it's Afghanistan, whether it's Iraq -- is there a place where you felt you made an effort that maybe didn't come to fruition; there might have been one more step, one more agreement that you worked for that maybe didn't happen -- is there a place where you felt if progress had been made, today we would have a substantively different challenge in one of those intractable places?

RICE: Actually, I think the place that I wish we had been able to close the deal was on Palestine and Israel, because I think there was a deal to take. Ehud Olmert, at the end of his term -- as you know, he got into political and legal trouble in the spring of 2008, and he basically made the deal -- offered the deal to the Palestinians that I think is ultimately going to be the deal they'll have to take.

And for a variety of reasons, largely, they didn't think he could deliver. And after all, maybe -- you know, there was an election coming and so forth and so on. I sometimes think they thought they might get a more favorable Israeli government. They got Benjamin Netanyahu instead. And I wish that we had -- and we tried in the last months, in kind of November, to at least to get the Palestinians and the Israelis to deposit that deal with the United States. And maybe we would have been starting from there instead of going all the way back to whether or not settlements get frozen.

You know, we'll talk more about this -- I will talk more about this as I write the book, but, you know, there were even -- Olmert even had a concept of how Jerusalem might unfold with a capital for each -- a capital for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, a capital for the -- for Israel in West Jerusalem, some kind of management of the holy sites by an international group. It was pretty close to what, if we ever get a deal, is going to be there. And I wish we'd had a way to deliver it.

COURIC: Do you have any hope for the current situation?

RICE: Everything in me says, look, they don't have an option, the two of them, right? The Palestinians need a state, and the Israelis need a Palestinian state. So sooner or later they're going to get this, and they're going to close the deal. And I do think some of the underlying circumstances are better. The Palestinians, under Salam Fayyad in the West Bank, are showing what a Palestinian state could look like. It's got security forces that people trust, it -- basically democratic institutions. It's got growth at almost 9 percent. It is clearly not a terrorist state. That's what the Palestinian state could look like.

Israeli -- the Israeli politics -- thanks to first Ariel Sharon and then Ehud Olmert and now Benjamin Netanyahu, there is almost nobody in Israel who believes in Greater Israel anymore, except the very far right. And the Arabs have realized that there is a country in the Middle East that's a problem, and it begins with I, but it's not Israel. It's Iran. And they would like to have this thing settled.

So I have to think -- I'm a political scientist, and I have to think when everybody's interests start to come together that way, you're going to have to get a solution. But they've got to get back to the table. This -- these preconditions, and "I won't negotiate until you do this," and -- that's got to stop, and they've got to negotiate.

COURIC: Since -- I meant to ask you earlier, since Russia is your foremost area of expertise, I read recently that you're the only secretary of State who's not supporting ratifying the START treaty. Is that accurate?

RICE: Well, I didn't -- I didn't sign the editorial -- op-ed that just -- look, I -- given the nature of the people who wrote that op-ed, it's not surprising that it's a very fine op-ed, it's persuasive. And I find myself in substantial agreement with a lot of it. I'm working very actively to try to bring about the best bipartisan result for this treaty, because we've always had bipartisan support for treaties, and we need to have bipartisan support for this treaty.

There are some issues that have been raised about modernization I think that the administration has responded to. And if the funding is there, our nuclear infrastructure will be modernized. That's important as the numbers come down.

And there are real questions about defenses. When we got out of the ABM treaty and a year later signed the Moscow treaty, bringing down offensive-weapons totals, the point was to delink offense and defense, because we're not in the Cold War now, where the United States and the -- and Russia worry about mutual annihilation of one another. We need to have full range to do whatever we need to do on the defensive side. And so I think that these are things that can probably be handled, and I'm going to speak to the treaty at an appropriate time. But it's not a matter of disagreeing in large part with what the secretaries have said.

COURIC: Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER: Yes, Stephen Schlesinger, Century Foundation. Getting back to Iraq, why didn't the Bush administration allow the U.N. inspection to continue until -- and maybe they would have found no weapons of mass destruction during that period.

RICE: What we were getting from the U.N. inspectors -- and you can look at what Hans Blix said in his report to the U.N. on -- in January of 2003 -- was that the Iraqis were not fully cooperating. And yes, I mean, I guess you can inspect for a long, long time, and if you're not getting cooperation from that government, you don't know whether you were finding weapons or not.

We also had military forces that were built up in the region to provide, if you will, a sword for Saddam Hussein to actually cooperate. And at some point in time you have to decide whether or not you think this proposition of inspections is going to play out. And we decided that we didn't believe that we were ever going to get the kind of cooperation from Saddam Hussein that would answer the very real questions about his weapons program.

I'm also, frankly, just very glad he's out of power. Now, to be frank, we tried to take him out of power without going to war. We tried to take him out of power by -- we got a report from an Arab state that shall remain nameless that he would take a billion dollars to lead -- to leave. We said, deal. Right? (Laughter.) We tried to (find ?) him --

COURIC: Has that -- has that been made public before?

RICE: Yeah, I -- it may be in President Bush's book. I'm not sure. I don't remember. But we did. We said, if he'll go, everybody's happy.

Secondly, there was the question, which you probably have read, and it's in the Woodward book, about Dora Farms. On the eve of the war, we thought that Saddam Hussein was at a place called Dora Farms and thought that if you could launch a strike against him there you might not have to go to war. Nobody was anxious to engage in war. But as I said, at some point in time you say, enough is enough. And that's we found ourselves.

COURIC: Go ahead.

QUESTIONER: I'm Lucy Komisar. I'm a journalist. Following up your comments about WikiLeaks, which you said should be criminally charged by the U.S., WikiLeaks and its founder considers itself a publisher, which in the new system of publishing on the Internet seems to be appropriate, and he calls himself an editor in chief dealing with editors and journalists around the world. Among them are the editors and journalists at -- of The New York Times. So if WikiLeaks should be charged criminally for putting up this information, should The New York Times be charged criminally for doing the same thing?

RICE: Well, I -- as I said, the Justice Department will have to determine what the legalities are here. I just hope they're very, very actively determining exactly that.

WikiLeaks took purloined documents and spread them. Now, I have -- may have my own views on whether or not legitimate newspapers should have taken up that task, but -- and gone ahead and published them. But it was WikiLeaks that made them available, from whomever they got them.

If our laws don't deal -- and very often our laws are not capable of dealing with changed technological circumstances; I fully understand that -- then somebody ought to look at the law and see how we can deal with these particular technological circumstances.

It cannot be the case that documents that belong to the United States and are classified by the United States of America and that if I walked up to you and handed you a classified document, I would be committing a crime -- now, it cannot be that WikiLeaks handing to the entire world classified documents is not a crime.

But somebody should figure out -- I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a Justice Department lawyer. But unless you find a way to punish that behavior, the United States of America is not going to be able to operate.

COURIC: How do you feel about major newspapers and websites publishing information --

RICE: I knew you were going to go there -- (laughter) -- after I said what I did.

COURIC: -- if you do have a certain point of view about it?

RICE: I would have -- I would have preferred that it -- that it not be done. And I think there were requests that it not be done. But I understand that there's a kind of irresistible urge or desire. Perhaps some would say that they believe it's their responsibility to do so.

When I looked at what is there, I really wonder how much our debate as a democratic society has been enhanced by the publication of gossip about what one of our diplomats said about the president of this country or the prime minister of that country. I don't -- I don't, frankly, see the public value.

COURIC: But are there -- are there parts of it that might be useful? For example, when Arab nations express their concern over a nuclear Iran after Ahmadinejad sort of portrays himself as a friend of all Arabs, et cetera, et cetera, when we see real trepidation among some Arab states about it, could that actually be useful in our foreign policy?

RICE: I would have -- rather have left it in the hands of President Obama and Secretary Clinton to decide whether or not that was useful or not. I don't think that it is -- and I think -- I would have thought that it is not useful to have that exposed in the way that it was, and that it's going to be a very long time before a lot of those people express anything to us. And that is a real problem.

COURIC: Back there? Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Secretary Rice, Ken/Kim Davis. Do you believe that some of the strategic criticism of your Iraq decision is a function of how the Bush administration prosecuted the war, the tactics?

RICE: I don't think the tactics in the war -- certainly, the difficulty in the post-war period, and the reconstruction, I think, is part of the problem because you didn't get immediate results that were -- that were very favorable and very -- that looked as if the war had been worth it.

I think once the surge went forth in 2007, and it became clear that maybe Iraq could emerge as a stable country, then the strategic argument begins to make more sense to people. And I think that's why you have people now willing to at least contemplate -- the question of whether or not an Iraq with Saddam Hussein in this 2010 would have been a good thing is really a good argument. And so, yes, I think the post-war period had an effect on peoples' ability to see the strategic argument for a Middle East without Saddam Hussein.

COURIC: Why do you think the intelligence was so off about that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators?

RICE: You know what? Actually, that's not what U.S. intelligence said. And --

COURIC: But that's what some pretty key officials like Dick Cheney said.

RICE: Some people thought -- and, by the way, when the statue came down, there was a lot of greeting as liberators. Go back and look at those pictures of people pulling down Saddam Hussein's statue.

MS. : (Off mic.)

RICE: No. I'm just saying at that particular moment in time you had people who were cheering American soldiers.

But, look, nobody did this on the basis of a belief that somehow Americans were going to be greeted as liberators. It was done on the basis, we believed, that Saddam Hussein was a threat, and you needed to deal with Saddam Hussein.

I think the question of why the intelligence on the weapons was not as good as it might have been, there a lot of decisions to change the way that intelligence is not so much collected, but analyzed, how competing views are dealt with, how those are communicated to the president, the whole creation of the DNI was meant to deal with that problem.

COURIC: Sir, back there? Yeah, thank you.

QUESTIONER: Michael Skol of Skol and Serna, a retired foreign service officer

Madame Secretary, you raise the theme of American exceptionalism. Do you believe that one of the issues in North Korea and other places is that China has a fundamentally different view of itself as a global superpower, that it's exceptional in very different ways? And do you think that's going to change at any time?

RICE: I actually think that the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was a competition about exceptionalism. There you had two very ideological powers. In the sense of a view of how the world ought to -- how human history ought to play out, you don't sense that with China. You sense with China a country that's still trying to grow into its international role, a country that is driven overwhelmingly by its domestic concerns about growth.

Hu Jintao used to tell us that you needed 25 million -- he needed 25 million jobs a year to sustain the harmonious society in China because they needed to be able to bring all of those people from the outer hinterlands, and get them into the cities. And so you have a sense of a foreign policy that at least in its current inclination is more mercantilist than ideological.

Now, that may change over time. And certainly the Chinese have felt that their experience and the way that they came through the global financial crisis means something good about the Chinese system. So maybe you will see some ideological elements emerge. But I think you don't see that just yet with China. In fact, one of the hardest things is to get China to play a global role that is commensurate with its increasing influence, which is why whether China really does try to constrain North Korea is still a question.


QUESTIONER: Andy Nagorski, EastWest Institute. Madame Secretary, you mentioned in the context of START, the offense-defense question. Now, with a little bit of distance, how do you evaluate the decision to change the missile defense plans in Europe, and the possibilities of joint missile defense with Russia?

RICE: Well, already, we are seeing a Russia that has a different definition of what joint missile defense means. And I think our allies, particularly in Eastern Europe, are going to be somewhat skeptical of the idea that there should be a kind of division of labor in missile defense in which Russia takes responsibility for the eastern part of Europe. And I think that's not going to be really popular -- (laughter) -- in Poland and the Czech Republic and places like that.

I'm all for cooperative missile defense with Russia. I think there's a lot that can be done with warning and sensors, and even maybe with interceptors. I think those are all very good things. But we have to remember that the NATO system is a NATO system of allies, and that whatever Russia does within that system should be joint between NATO and Russia. It's not as if Russia has somehow now become a member of NATO with special responsibilities inside the defensive system.

So I think this can work, but already you're getting some tensions about what the Russians think this means. And that's not surprising because it's early in the process. I'm actually as concerned about the strategic side. I think that what we want to do with missile defense is to be as robust technologically as we can possibly be. And so when you have language that says a current system or a current set of plans are not a problem for Russia, which is what Russia is saying, you are -- if you're not careful, you are walking into a circumstance in which if you change qualitatively or quantitatively what you're doing in missile defense, the Russians say, "But wait a minute. We said the current plans were not a problem." And I think you want to have as robust a missile defense as you possibly can.

COURIC: Let me ask you just quickly about the whole notion of American exceptionalism, because that has even become controversial, that term in this highly-charged political environment. Do you think that -- I mean, there's so much hand-wringing about America being on the decline, not being able to compete economically in terms of its education -- educational levels, and how we're preparing kids to be the workforce of the future. And I'm just curious if you are concerned about that, and what impact or how that might influence our position in the world, and our ability to be a leader in foreign policy.

RICE: I think it's -- our single biggest problem is lack of confidence, lack of optimism of Americans about the future because --

COURIC: But is that founded?

RICE: Well, yes, it is. And it's -- we see it in two major issues that we face that we're having a hard time facing up to.

Now, I still believe that the United States is exceptional in its conception, the American idea, no tie of nationality, ethnicity, religion to the territory. It's exceptional in the way that it has integrated people from around the world for generations. It's exceptional in the way that it's been willing to fight for the rights of others, even when they didn't know their names. You know, any ordinary country might not have stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight for the liberties of those people. And so, yes, I do think there's an exceptionalism.

But I am very concerned that some of the essence of what has made us that way is fraying. First of all, one of the reasons that the United States is exceptional is we've integrated people from all over the world. And when I listen to the immigration debate in the United States, it's a country I don't recognize. We can't possibly live with 12 million -- 10 (million) to 12 million people in the shadows. They're not going home. Who are we kidding?

We can't live with circumstances in which people actually talk about taking away citizenship rights from children born in this country if they're born of illegals. We can't be in a country that people are so fearful that they won't go to an emergency room because of fear of deportation. Something's really wrong in our immigration policies.

And when you have a comprehensive immigration reform that John McCain, George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy all want, and you can't get it through the Congress, you realize how incredibly easy it is to demagogue this issue. And the only thing that keeps the United States of America from the sclerotic demographics of Europe and the tragic demographics of Russia is immigration.

And I really, frankly, don't care if it is the ambitious person who comes to make $5, not 50 cents, or Sergey Brin's parents, who bring him here at 7 years old from Russia, and he founds Google, the most ambitious people have always wanted to come and be a part of America, and that's our life's blood. So we've got to get our immigration policies in line.

Secondly, K-12 education. When I can look at your ZIP Code and tell whether or not you're going to get a good education, something is really wrong. And we are sacrificing not the kids who can -- whose parents can send them to private schools or the kids whose parents send them to Palo Alto High School, where I live, but the kids who are most dependent on the public schools that are failing them to give them a way out.

And it's going to have an effect on us in two major ways. And I think it's a national security problem for us. First of all, it's going to make our people uncompetitive, which means that if we can't train and educate people to the jobs that are available -- because, you know, the $18-an-hour unskilled labor job is gone forever, and so if people are not able to take the jobs that are available, then we are going to turn inward and we are going to try to protect, and somebody will always be able to outprotect us, and the economic pie is going to get smaller and smaller, and this is going to continue to spiral down.

But there's an even more dire circumstance that emerges from this education problem. You know, we're not united by blood or nationality or ethnicity. We're not united by religion. We are united by an idea. And it was an exceptional idea. It was that class didn't matter. It didn't matter where you came from; it mattered where you're going. You could come from humble circumstances. You could do great things. It's the log cabin. And that's not true for too many of our kids today.

And so yes, I -- it may be, for a foreign policy specialist among a lot of people interested in foreign policy, a bit blasphemous to say what I'm about to say. There are a lot of problems out there -- proliferation, Afghanistan, the Middle East -- but the United States needs internal repair more than it needs to do anything else.

I was recently in Halifax, Canada, at a meeting that the defense minister of Canada put on. And there were a lot of Europeans there and Asians, and they were all saying: But you know, we're really worried now. The United States may -- because of its problems, it may not lead.

And you know, if -- the funny thing about the United States is, when it does lead, nobody likes it -- (laughter) -- and when it doesn't lead, everybody doesn't like it.

And so I said to them, you know, we may need a little time. We may need a little time for internal repair, because without it we won't be optimistic enough or confident enough to lead.

COURIC: Are you optimistic that internal repair can actually take place?

RICE: I am, but it's going to require --

COURIC: Espelially given the polarized government we have.

RICE: Yeah. Yeah. But you know, our -- look, our politics has always been a little rough. You know, it was -- it was, after all, Thomas Jefferson that leaked a letter saying George Washington was senile because he was mad at Alexander Hamilton. I mean, you know, we've had some bad politics for a long time. (Laughter.)

COURIC: (Chuckles.)

RICE: But I do think that our politics is sped up and it's very loud right now.

Look, I like cable television as much as anybody, and I watch it, and it's fun. But it's like sport, right? It's -- nobody listens to anybody. Everybody shouts at any -- everybody. And toward the end I have a headache, frankly.

And somehow our political institutions, which were not built for speed by the Founding Fathers, need the ability to slow down, quiet down. People -- you can't be in a position that a microphone's shoved in your face about every controversial issue, and you have to declare today, and everybody goes to their corner, and then they can't move, because we'll say: Oh, my goodness, they moved~!

And so I do think the politics has to slow down, and we need to pick two or three things that we're going to do and do them well.

And I'm an optimist, and I've seen the United States do a lot of impossible things before that, you know, the next -- they seem inevitable, but this is a big agenda, and particularly on K-12 education, we're losing time. With every year that passes and every class of children that don't read by the time that they're third grade, you've lost another group of people who will never read. And so it's not something that can wait very long.

COURIC: Well, Secretary of State, Professor, Condi -- (chuckles) -- thank you very much. (Applause.)












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