DAVID E. SANGER: Good afternoon. If everybody would grab a seat, we'll get started.
I'm David Sanger. I'm the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times, and welcome to this discussion about Condoleezza Rice's foreign policy. It should be an exciting conversation. I can't remember at any point in time when there were three books out on a sitting secretary of State before she's even finished her term. So that tells you how much interest there is in what has happened.
A few reminders:
If you would turn your cellphones to "stun," that would be great.
Normally, council sessions are off the record. With three reporters -- four reporters sitting up front, it seems kind of ridiculous, in this case. So we are thoroughly on the record, but we all promise not to make any news.
And we will run until the stroke of 1:30, at which point we will let you get back to whatever it is you were doing.
Let me briefly introduce our three speakers today. You have more formal bios in the back here. On the far left is Marcus Mabry, who has written "Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power." It is a remarkable book in many ways, but particularly interesting for me, as somebody who had covered Dr. Rice at her time at National Security Council and as secretary, but had never really known much about how she had dealt with many of the issues of her youth and particularly finding her place in Alabama and in Denver and elsewhere. And the book is -- really, I think, takes us into areas that I personally had never read before there. And I think you'll find all parts of the book interesting but that in particular.
On -- Marcus was, I should say, the chief of correspondents at Newsweek but has come over to The New York Times. He has gone immediately to the dark side. He's an editor. (Laughter.) But let -- but that is where he is today.
On my immediate left, Elisabeth Bumiller, whose book is not yet out, so you will get today sort of the first preview. I don't think I've -- have you talked publicly about what's in the book before?
ELISABETH BUMILLER: No. First time. (Chuckles.)
SANGER: This is it. See, she -- we may get news.
And Elisabeth's book, which is out in January --
SANGER: I'm sorry. December.
BUMILLER: They changed. It's changed. (Chuckles.)
SANGER: Oh. (Laughter.) This just in: It's out in December!
"Condoleezza Rice: An American Life," available for Christmas purchases. And Elisabeth was -- had many jobs at The New York Times. I first met her when she was at The Washington Post and showed up in Tokyo with her husband, Steve Weisman, and we all covered Japan together, and then had the great fortune of covering the White House with Elisabeth -- tremendous colleague. She started on a slow news day. It was September 10th, 2001. But we got her some news stories the next day and kept rolling after that. And Elisabeth and I would have great late-night and early-morning conversations that would usually begin with things like "So which one of us is going to Duluth tomorrow to cover a speech in front of the Kiwanis Club?"
SANGER: So Elisabeth covered the White House for -- five years?
BUMILLER: Not quite five.
SANGER: Not quite five.
BUMILLER: I didn't make your record. (Chuckles.)
SANGER: She saw what happened to me and bailed out slightly earlier.
And her book is more of a classic biography that runs from Dr. Rice's roots all the way up through her time in secretary of State.
And our diversity addition here is Glenn Kessler. He does not actually work for The New York Times. He works for a small local paper in Washington. Its name escapes me. (Soft laughter.)
He has written "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy." It was the only one of these books that was actually on my desk as I was leaving to come over here, which is why I show it to you now. And it is really focused in on Dr. Rice's first two years as secretary of State and gives you a real ground view of that that comes -- it could have been subtitled "My Travels with Condi." I realized that Glenn had dug deeply into his subject matte when I was reading the North Korea chapter, a particular passion of mine, and he had some description of a memo sent by somebody to somebody, and I realized I didn't know either of these participants. And I thought: This guy really did his research.
But it is great in its -- I just read the Sudan chapter. It's wonderful for an explanation of how she has handled each of these.
So we are going to have each of our participants talk for about five minutes. I'll ask them a few questions to get them started, and then we will turn to your questions.
Marcus, why don't we start with you?
MARCUS B. MABRY: Sure. Great.
David, thank you for that introduction, and it's lovely to be here at the council in Washington. I spend a lot more of my time at the council in New York, where I was Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow about seven years ago, at the turn of the millennium. So it's great to be here in Washington. It's always interesting, the different cultures between -- at the council between our New York and Washington offices, having spent a lot of time in it. And I find that interesting always.
The book is called -- my book is called "Twice as Good: Condoleezza Rice and Her Path to Power." I think it says a lot, as David mentioned, that Condoleezza Rice has three biographies that will be out about her at the same time while she's still in office, while she will still have, you know, at that point more than a year in office as secretary of State.
I think it goes to the heart of who she is, the role she has played in American public life, the extraordinary role she has played in American public life. She is not the first female secretary of State; she's not the first African-American secretary of State, yet she has wielded a power, I think, that is beyond what her predecessors in those other historic roles wielded, and I think that's been very significant.
I think also as an individual, not to cast aspersions on General Powell, who I admire greatly, and also Secretary Albright, who I also admire, but they are not the interesting, complex personality that Condoleezza Rice is. And I think that's why you see three books about her at this point -- her closeness to this president, the influence she's had on American foreign policy, influence that may last for generations, for good or bad, and then I think also who she is personally.
So what this book does is -- I go back to her childhood. She spent a lot of time in Birmingham, where she's from, talking with the 80-year-old church ladies who are still around who knew her then; spent a lot of time in Denver and at Stanford, and finally in Washington.
I know we don't have much time, so I'm not going to go into much detail about stuff I talk about. I was going to say, the reason I went back over Rice's life was because I wanted to understand the contradictions of who she is. Again, I talk about how she's a more fascinating personality than perhaps anyone who's held this job, in my lifetime at least, of secretary of State, and I wanted to understand what the influences were that had made her in many ways contradictory. And when I say she's a contradictory person, I mean both in terms of policy, in terms of her personal life and in terms of her politics and all those ways; she is not what you'd expect, given her history. So I wanted to understand how that is.
I first got interested in her actually -- I was at Stanford as an undergrad majoring in Soviet Studies, which -- she of course was at Stanford as a professor teaching Soviet Studies. And at that point -- I never had her, unfortunately, as a teacher, because she actually -- that is -- I was surprised by, in my research -- and I spent two and a half years researching the book -- I was surprised in my research to come across colleagues of Rice, very, very close and fond colleagues who had worked with her both in a university setting and in a Washington setting who told me she had a mediocre mind. That shocked me. Now, we're talking about people who have a pretty high standard of what a non-mediocre mind is, but what is undisputed -- where she's undisputedly supreme is in her teaching. So I'm sorry I didn't get to do that.
But using the common history we have and the common people we knew at Stanford, that was where I started with the investigation of Rice and who she was as a person. I think, again, the one note I'll leave you with is the thing that most surprised me -- these are the two things that most surprised me in looking over her life and trying to -- I was trying to extend -- trying to examine the past to understand the present, and because I'm in international relations, you know, person, to use that -- to predictively anticipate, you know, what will be the range of options that she would pursue in the future?
Most surprising to me, I think, was the fact that Rice -- and this was again, why I think it's important to go back and try to understand what makes a person -- a political person they are today -- Rice failed at piano, as you all probably know. She wanted to be a concert pianist. She was -- ages from 2 to 17 concentrating on that with a singular discipline more than anything else in her life. At 17 -- at that point, she's a sophomore at the University -- at 17, at the University of Denver -- she discovers that she's actually not good enough to be a concert pianist.
The first thing -- the way she reacted was incredibly, I think, instructive of who Condoleezza Rice is. Imagine most 17-year-olds or most people who have spent their, you know, short life, at that point, dedicated to one pursuit, or imagine most artists who are dedicated to a particular art. People in any of those three categories, if they were to have that taken away from them before they even began, most people would be somewhat upset. Condoleezza Rice never demonstrated that. No one in her life talked about -- had told me they ever knew any motive response to that. I talked to her piano teacher from the University of Denver, Dr. Lichtmann, Theodore Lichtmann, and he said she reacted to it kind of as if it was no big deal.
She -- when I asked Secretary Rice about it, the way she framed it was, "Well, I had to find another major." (Laughter.) That was it. The biggest surprise was that from that day on, Condoleezza Rice never made another long-term plan from the time of 17. So she never set as a goal to become secretary of State. In fact, she had told everyone -- all her friends and family she was coming back to Stanford after the first term; she was tired, and the president asked her to, and she changed her mind, because she thought that they had ended the world, and she thought maybe she could do something to help them leave it in a better place, or at least a better foundation by the time she left office.
She never planned to be a professor at Stanford, never planned to be a professor; never planned to be a provost at Stanford, never planned to achieve any of these historic firsts she has. And she is the most powerful African-American woman in 230 years of American government; that is rather extraordinary for someone who never aimed for any of that.
So I talk in the book about many tragic flaws and triumphs that made that made her who she is today. And a lot of those tragic flaws -- I'll stop here -- relate directly to why we went to Iraq, why she made the mistakes she made.
I guess the other biggest surprise to me was that I think the rap in Washington on Condi Rice was that she was too weak in the first term to counter Donald Rumsfeld. I was surprised to find out in my research, I don't think that's true. I think there are many, many -- again these tragic flaws that -- things that account for both her triumphs and now for her failures, especially on American foreign policy, that were seeds that were planted very early on. But weakness was never, ever one of them. It was arrogance. It was a belief in hierarchy and order that she had obviously taken with her by the time she got to the first President Bush's White House, but also that she saw vindicated under Brent Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush.
All these things led to Rice reacting too slowly to Rumsfeld's destruction of the interagency process. By the time she reacted -- once she reacted, it made a great difference. And by the end of the first term already, she was getting into operational things that she always said the National Security Council should never be involved in. But she saw they were going southward, and she had to get involved and she did. And it was beyond Rumsfeld's -- it was not what Rumsfeld wanted to happen. So it was never a question of weakness but it was a question of many of these other tragic flaws that did make a difference and led us to where we are today in Iraq.
SANGER: Well, thank you very much, Marcus.
GLENN KESSLER: All right, see if I can put that down. (Laughter.) My -- is this on? Yeah, all right.
My book, "The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy," is, as David described, it's not a full-scale biography like Marcus's book or Elisabeth's books, though I do sketch a personality portrait of the secretary of state with some, you know, key moments in her life. Instead, my book mostly focuses on foreign policy. I take readers inside the meetings that Rice has with foreign diplomats, the president and her staff.
On one level, I think, it will appeal to foreign policy specialists, because many of these details have not been written about before. But I also intended the book to interest readers who knew very little about foreign policy but simply wanted to understand what has happened over the last seven years. If there are any college professors here, I -- please consider my book as a teaching tool on diplomacy. (Laughter.)
I also describe the interplay between reporters and the administration. For instance, I show how Rice and her staff worked hard at the beginning of her term to overcome her image as a weak national security advisor, in order to create the illusion of a powerful diplomat who had possible presidential aspirations. It was a brilliant strategy that actually worked effectively well, a textbook case in political imagemaking that to this day still gives her the highest approval ratings of any administration figure.
My goal throughout the book was to be clear-eyed and balanced. It is mostly a work of reportage, though I do make judgments about Rice's successes and her failures, what she's done right, what she's done wrong. I think the reporting in my book actually backs up those judgments, though I realize some of these conclusions may seem painful to people in the administration.
The president's unflagging support has been crucial to Rice's impact overseas. Colin Powell never had the trust of President Bush, so foreign officials told me they were never sure if Powell was selling the administration's policy or he was trying to get allies for his own policy battles back home. Before Rice became secretary, the president paved a way for her influence by pointedly telling foreign leaders, when they came to the Oval Office, Ms. Rice is like my sister, which is a very powerful statement from the president of the United States. He reinforced that message at home, telling diplomats at one point that he and Rice are, quote, "completely in sync: When she speaks, you know she's speaking for me."
Now, Rice works hard to keep up that connection with Bush, now that she is no longer in the White House. If a meeting is not planned that day, she will call him in the morning to check in. Usually on weekends, she'll call him on Saturday or Sunday to discuss the week. And every night, she sends him a private note, describing the diplomatic issues that she encountered that day, essentially a foreign policy version of the intelligence or military briefings the president receives daily.
I think, in many ways, the president is the idea generator in this relationship. Before entering the Bush administration seven years ago, Rice was known as a foreign policy realist: You deal with states as they are. Now, she has adopted wholeheartedly the president's nostrum that the characters of states matter and that it is important to change the nature of those states in order to bring peace and security to the globe. And in fact, I'm very curious to find out what Rice thinks after she leaves the administration, because she has a history of kind of shifting with whoever she is working for at the time.
Rice's close relationship with the president, plus her lack of family obligations, has freed her to become the most-traveled secretary of State since Henry Kissinger, in contrast to Powell, who was the least-traveled secretary of State in 30 years. Rice, I think, is also a more skillful one-on-one diplomat than Powell. She has brought new vigor to U.S. diplomacy, quickly repairing relations with Europe, securing a groundbreaking deal with India just months after she took the helm of the State Department.
But I argue in my book that her options and opportunities as secretary of State are deeply limited by one very ironic fact -- she was one of the weakest national security advisers in U.S. history. Her inexperience and her mistakes in that job have thus shaped the world and colored the choices she must handle as secretary of State.
The invasion of Iraq, the missed opportunities with Iran, the breach in relations with Europe, the North Korean nuclear breakout, the creation of secret CIA prisons in Europe, the failure to bolster Palestinian democracy -- all of these problems were the direct result of decisions that she helped shape at the White House. Now, as secretary of State, she has tried mightily -- and with limited success -- to unravel the Gordian knots that she tied in the first term.
I'll give one example before I turn it over to Elisabeth -- Israel and the Palestinian territories. During the first term, though Powell was secretary of State, Rice as national security adviser really had control of the Israeli portfolio. At the direction of President Bush, she dealt directly with the chief of staff of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a man known as Dov Weisglass. I spoke at length with Weisglass for my book, gleaning new insights about roles -- Rice's role on Middle East policy. First, it was Condoleezza Rice who pushed the Israelis to withdraw from Gaza. She believed that the road map plan officially being promoted by the Bush administration was, quote, "At best a marginal plan and likely wouldn't work." She told Weisglass to think of what she called "a move of significance," something that would allow the United States to say, look at what Israel has done; now the Palestinians have to do something.
The result was Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, a plan that Weisglass and Sharon carefully shaped with the Americans. In fact, Weisglass originally brought Rice a plan to withdraw from a few settlements in Gaza, a handful. Rice told him that the U.S. would support such a move, but she urged the Israelis to think bolder, arguing that withdrawing from all of Gaza would be a political breakthrough. So the Israelis redrafted the plan along the lines that Rice suggested.
Until I learned of Rice's key role, I hadn't really understood how -- why she was so emotionally involved in the withdrawal from Gaza when there was -- in the face of so much skepticism elsewhere, particularly in Europe. The problem with the Gaza plan was that it was conceived as a unilateral step because Israel believed Yasser Arafat could not be a partner for peace. Once Arafat died just before Rice was confirmed as secretary of State, that calculation should have changed, but it didn't.
A new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected but he felt he could never get enough support from the Americans to claim any credit for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Hamas was able to declare that Israel left Gaza because of terrorist attacks, not because of negotiations. Moreover, Rice supported the idea of including Hamas in the Palestinian legislative elections, even though Hamas had not given up its militia. She, along with President Bush, wanted to prove there could be a democratic election in the Middle East and militant groups would suffer at the polls.
The Israelis of course were very worried about Hamas's participation in the election. Sharon at one point threatened to block them. Tzipi Livni, when she was in the Justice Ministry, in late 2005 flew to the United States and met with Rice and others to express her concerns. She had looked at the constitutions of dozens of countries and studied the transitions of power in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Our militias were always required to give up their arms before participating in elections. Livni pleaded, don't let Hamas run.
Everywhere she went in Washington, she got the same message: Don't worry, Hamas won't win. It's truly what Rice believed. And, Rice and other officials added, if Hamas gains some seats, look at Lebanon, where Hezbollah appears to be acting like a responsible political party. (Soft laughter.) This was 2005, after all. The Americans said it was important to get Hamas into the political system, and then they would disarm. Of course now, U.S. officials would recall their comments to Livni with bitter irony.
I should note that parenthetically that Bush had some sage advice for Abbas. In a private meeting in the Oval Office two months before the election, Bush said, "Don't have an election if you think you'll lose." (Laughter.) Anyway, we all know the result -- Hamas won, and Rice's efforts to create a Palestinian state suffered a tremendous setback. She's tried hard all year this year to make progress, and she's now pushing forward an idea of a peace conference in Annapolis next month, but there were many opportunities lost.
In my book I also write about Rice's policies towards Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Lebanon, the larger Middle East, Sudan, Europe and India. My bottom line of Condoleezza Rice is that she's a smart, sophisticated diplomat, but she fundamentally lacks a strategic vision. Her approach has been largely tactical, a series of ad hoc efforts designed to deal with an unfolding series of crises that stem from decisions that she helped make in the first term. Her closeness to the president has given her tremendous clout in the administration, making her a far more powerful figure than Colin Powell, and in fact you can see now, with the departure of Rumsfeld and the kind of the baiting away of Cheney, that her influence has increased even more this year. But generally, I think she did not use that influence to force a fundamental rethinking of the administration's policy towards the rest of the world.
BUMILLER: Okay, I'll be quick.
I don't have a book. I have just a little post-it here. (Laughs, laughter.) This is the book, and it'll be out in -- Random House just moved up the publication date to December 11th because -- it was scheduled for the first week of January, which, as you know, is filled with Iowa caucuses and a primary in New Hampshire.
Anyway, thank you very much for having me. Thank you. I'm very pleased to be part of this cottage industry of Condi Rice books -- (laughs, laughter) -- and thank you to my competitors here for putting up with me when I haven't even -- the book isn't even out. But I'm the only one here who's had the advantage of reading all three books, so I can tell you -- (laughter) -- so that's the good news. But then, I'm a little constrained in what I can say before my publication date, but I'll just talk about my overall theme.
I had two goals in this book. One was to demystify Condoleezza Rice over 52 years, and the second, and more important, was to try explain what really happened in Washington at the highest levels between 2001 and now. It's a story of many policy failures, also some successes and of the intense human interactions that led to those. As you heard from David, it's a soup to nuts biography; it's a, you know, both a personal voyage of a young black woman out of a segregated American South and a very public journey through what I think is an extraordinary half century in American history.
It's the reason I -- the subtitle, there's a reason, "An American Life" -- to me, it's also a very wonderful story about America as much as about Condoleezza Rice. It's based on 10 lengthy interviews with Condoleezza Rice -- eight solely for this book, which were conducted in 2006 and 2007, and then there were also two earlier interviews I had with her in 2003 for The New York Times for a long profile I did about her. And much of -- as is often the case of the Times, much of that never got in the paper. So I also spoke to about 150 other people, friends, enemies, colleagues, administration officials, foreign officials in my reporting.
The book, I'll be very brief. It starts with Rice's ancestors -- some of whom are white, one of them an Italian, she says, on plantations in 19th century rural Alabama. It ends last month with General Petraeus, and that is testimony about the war that Rice helped to prosecute and conceive. In between, there are chapters on her childhood under -- as with Marcus' book -- under Bull Connor's reign of terror in Birmingham when it was the central front in the American civil rights movement.
There's also chapters on her very formative years in Denver. People skip over Denver, but it's really where she became a lot of who she is. It's just not as dramatic as Birmingham; it's not as controversial as Stanford, but it's where she got a lot of her ideas. Also her studies under Josef Korbel, who is Madeleine Albright's father, the Denver professor who produced the only two women secretaries of State -- (light laughter) -- and very two different ones they are. It's also where she fell in love with a football player for the Denver Broncos, the story of -- Marcus knows about this, but not many other people know.
The second half of the book -- actually, more than the second half of my book focuses very heavily on her years as national security advisor at the White House, on the missed clues to 9/11, on the Iraq war and on her very, very close relationship with the president. To me, there's also a lot of stories about her very bad relationship with Rumsfeld and her very, very tense relationship with the vice president, which, to me, is not as well-known. I mean I -- she spoke about that to me, and I think Cheney was in many ways a far more formidable adversary than Rumsfeld was, and we can see a bit of that playing out even in this morning's New York Times. The -- in any case, I feel you can't really understand what Rice is trying to do now at the State Department unless you look back at those White House years, where some of the most important and dramatic events in her life and in the life of the nation occur.
Finally, the book ends with numerous chapters on her time as secretary of State, not quite as detailed as Glenn's, but obviously the theme here is where she had tried to repair much of the damage that occurred during those years in the White House and also to her own reputation. I also look at how her relationship with the president has changed since she's gone to the State Department. For one thing, it's quite obvious she's become far more assertive and has pushed him on a number of issues -- obviously Iran, North Korea, the Middle East -- to do what didn't happen in the first term. Although, I also argue that the president was going there on his own. I think people forget that Cheney says this, Rice says this, and Bush is nowhere -- well, Bush actually decides, you know. (Laughter.)
And then, I also talk about --
MR. : The decider.
BUMILLER: The decider.
I also looked at her political ambitions, which have gone back for decades. She was talking about running for the U.S. Senate from Colorado, believe it or not, way back at the University of Denver when she was a graduate student. She's toyed with the race for governor of California. I -- there's a lot of betting on what she might do when she leaves the White House; she says she's going back to Stanford.
Politically and ideologically, I had to answer the question "Who is she?" A realist? An idealist? A neocon? I argue that she's a pragmatist, who for four overwhelming years, from 2001 to 2005, got swept away by her devotion to the president and the hawks who held the power.
Personally -- because I think before that and after that, we've seen a pragmatist. Well, personally I see her as highly intelligent, a rigorous woman, who actually behind the scenes is not the sort of starchy schoolteacher you often see in public. And in private she can be quite irreverent and vulnerable and human.
And at the end, of course, I have to concludes the jury is still out on her tenure as secretary of State. You know, she's had success -- some success with diplomacy in North Korea and with Iran, and we'll obviously see what happens next month in the Middle East -- in Annapolis, I should say. A lot of people say it's too late. But I think what the story of her life shows is that she -- her ideology is really succeeding, and I think what -- that's her goal. And I think that what we'll see is that she will throw everything she has into trying to take some success away in these last 12 months of the Bush presidency.
So thank you.
SANGER: Well, thank you all.
Let me start with a question or two, and then we'll open to everybody. The end of her time as national security adviser -- I remember going in to see Dr. Rice for some kind of pre-inaugural story or another, and asking her what would be lasting from the Bush administration. And she said the democracy agenda, the freedom -- you know, the freedom agenda. After working on these books, while we are still what, 15 months away from the end of the administration, was she right? Will that be her lasting legacy? Will it be something else?
You're shaking your head no.
MABRY: I mean --
BUMILLER: He wants to --
MABRY: Do you count that as the success of it or the idea of it or the failure of it, I mean, as a lasting --
SANGER: As the thing that the next president, whether a Democrat or a Republican, will pick up and run with.
MABRY: No. I think the failure of the democracy agenda, the internal contradictions of the agenda, which goes exactly to Rice's life, this kind of long-time realist who suddenly becomes a transformationalist, an idealist, under this president, which means nothing. And it means nothing because everyone who I talked to, from, you know, Professor Alan Gilbert at the University of Denver, who taught her in grad school, who was a leftist radical, who was convinced Condi Rice was a leftist radical; to Brent Scowcroft, who I talked to before I ever talked to Rice, a few times, and General Scowcroft thought -- was convinced she was a rock-ribbed realist, and then under George W. Bush, she's a transformationalist.
As Elisabeth said, she is -- what she is, is a pragmatist. And that's what it's all about, the ultimate kind of realpolitik, as it were. There is no wedding to any ideology. I think what she was saying to you, David, was what we all have seen: the phenomenal performer that is Condoleezza Rice, who -- what she believes has nothing to do with what she says, often. I think that was definitely one of those cases. So I don't think she believed at that time.
KESSLER: Well, I mean --
SANGER: I'm shocked to believe a public official would tell us in an interview something -- (soft laughter) --
MABRY: I know. It never happened.
KESSLER: Right. Well, just to follow on that, I mean, Rice had once said to me, you know, that she's a problem-solver, tries to solve problems. And what I think is that she -- and that's maybe where this pragmatism is -- yeah, but she can only look at the problem right in front of her. And so I don't think she -- what she can say and believe -- I think she -- when she said that, she believed that democracy -- in the democracy agenda. But as you look at what has happened over the last couple years since she said that to you, they have completely abandoned much of that. You know, they've now -- you know, their idea behind the democracy agenda, if you go look at her speech in Cairo, was, you know, we've stood up for 60 years of stability, and it got us nowhere, and now we're going to bring democracy. And just a few months ago, you know, there were billions of dollars of weapons deals to prop up the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the very countries that a year and a half ago she had said, you know, had to change internally.
But you know, she's going to do the weapons deals, because right now that's the problem she faces, because she's worried about Iran, she's worried about the other things. And she doesn't necessarily see those -- I don't think she sees those internal contradictions. She's just kind of like a ship moving forward, and this is where I'm -- not sure where the direction is, but you know, I have to tack this way or tack that way in order to go around that particular iceberg.
BUMILLER: I'd just add really quickly I think one reason she embraced it -- and it was the president's idea -- was -- or Natan Sharansky's idea -- (chuckles) -- but it resonated with her experience in Birmingham. I mean, she has talked about this; her very close friends have talked about how she was very offended in her youth when -- that she was told that blacks, African-Americans, weren't ready to vote for their own -- you know, to be in charge of their own affairs. And I think she was very offended when she -- people would tell her that the Middle East isn't ready for democracy; they can't -- so I think it really goes back to her roots, and she has tied it together in some speeches. I'm not saying she's right; I'm just saying that's where she grabbed onto it.
MABRY: See, I don't buy it. I think that it is exactly her way to pragmatically, brilliantly use that history like any other history, because she is not emotionally wedded to the history in a way, say, most African Americans are, which is where this fallacious view that she's not really black comes from, because that's ridiculous. The reason I called the book "Twice as Good" is because that was the directive given to her growing up in Birmingham, not by her parents but by other adults -- you have to be twice as good to get half the credit as a white person.
She doesn't talk much about those racial politics in public. They are incredibly, I think, central to her drive. And so for instance, the way she so pragmatically uses this whole, oh, blacks can vote, and it's just like doing the same thing in Iraq; people are saying Iraq isn't ready for democracy.
At the same time, a great example of this -- you know, she was talking to, I think, the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, shortly after the Iraqi government had finally been constituted. And obviously there was great criticism over the government, and how democratic was it, in fact? And so Rice then says to this largely liberal group of internationalists in San Francisco, well, you know, Iraq has made many mistakes but nothing as onerous as the decision to count my ancestors as three-fifths of a man.
Well, that shut up the audience but it was irrelevant; it had nothing to do with it. And if you contrast it with -- my first chapter is called Debut. And it's actually Rice's speech to the Republican National Convention in 2000 -- where she used the secularly sacred history of the civil rights movement, as a little girl growing up in segregated Alabama, in a very, very different way. She just strategically used it, and it was brilliant. And I just think, case by case, you know, line by line dissection of it -- she uses it to basically argue for why George Bush and the Republican Party is the liberator of African Americans, and why the Democrats are racist. That's what she does: twisting political reality of today on its head, erasing 40 years of American history.
And again this is a little girl who grew up in Birmingham and lost a friend, you know, in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. She is not emotionally wedded to any of these things or any consistency, and feels no emotional connection to that stuff in a way, I think, most people do. It's extraordinary. It leads to her discipline and her strength; it also leads to the incredibly bizarre relationship she has often with the truth and with reality.
SANGER: One last question: Transformational diplomacy is a phrase we have heard throughout this second term. On the one hand, it could be considered an effort by this administration to try to equate what it's doing to what, as Dr. Rice frequently said, happened in the Truman administration in 1948, you know, when we created a new national security structure. Or it could be considered, as one of her aides said not long ago, to be an excuse for saying, we don't have to worry about the first term; the second term -- everything is new; everything is transformed.
Is it either of those? Is it both? Is it something different?
KESSLER: Well, you know, technically, officially tranformational diplomacy is this term that she uses to describe this effort to move -- you know, kind of rebalanced what's going on at the State Department, where you have more people in India rather than so many people in Europe. And at the same time, they'll completely reshape the way the U.S. delivers foreign aid and decides who should get foreign aid.
You know, it has acquired a somewhat sarcastic, sardonic role with the State Department, where she generally ignores all but about 20 people working in the building, as -- you know, "transformational diplomacy" means you don't have to listen to anyone in the bureaucracy. (Laughter.)
You know, in terms of, you know, the grander meaning behind that, you know, there is a line in her confirmation statement when she said "The time for diplomacy is now." And that was actually a line that was suggested by Bob Zoellick, who was -- who became her deputy at the beginning, and that was to indicate there was a break -- there was a break between the first term and the second term.
Now, you can argue -- and I do that in my book -- that for much of the second term, she's been very much still under the constraints that she had placed herself under working at the White House in terms of trying to actually do real diplomacy. There were moves to, you know, open up Europe; there were, you know, things that were, from a public relations standpoint, were designed to repair those relationships. But not until this year did you actually see sustained engagement, diplomacy on issues such as North Korea, where you actually, you know, are starting to see some results, though I'm still waiting for the North Koreans to kind of pull the rug out from this effort.
But, you know, I don't think that historians will look back and necessarily see transformational diplomacy as some great buzz phrase that meant as much as it meant when Dean Acheson and George C. Marshall were remaking post-World War II Europe.
BUMILLER: I -- I was going to say, you want to turn it --
SANGER: Did you have anything to add on that --
BUMILLER: I had something to add -- something, yeah.
SANGER: Let us get questions from all of you. I think we have some kind -- do we have a microphone around or -- yes, we do. We have two microphones around. So when we call on you, please wait for the microphone, tell us who you are and ask a question as opposed to a non-question. (Laughs, laughter.) Right here on the --
QUESTIONER: Charlie Stevens from SAIS. Would you compare and contrast Rice's leadership and management of the NSC with her leadership and management of the State Department?
BUMILLER: Yeah. As you know, there were -- many of her critics said that it was -- the NSC was dysfunctional under her leadership. She is not a manager, I think. She had Steve Hadley has her manager under the -- at the NSC, and to some degree that she's got Negroponte now as her manager at State, so that's -- that was never her strong suit. I mean, I don't think there's -- I think at the NSC, she saw her job principally as the president's adviser and friend. And that was -- and then there was, as a result, there was a lot of -- as you know, there was a lot of criticism that she didn't manage the process properly, and it became a very critical issue in the run-up to the Iraq war and then during the war, when you had all these different agencies of government and of course the Pentagon all in the mix of this chaos.
I think at State there are some of the same issues. She has got a small group of aides, and there's a lot of -- Glenn can answer this question better than I -- a lot of complaints in the building about her management.
Do you want take this one away?
KESSLER: Yeah. Well -- yeah, I think she was essentially like a body person to the president in the first term. And I think she has a real inability to kind of honestly figuring out to how to implement things, implement policy or implement ideas, and she was particularly miscast, I think, in the role as national security adviser.
Now, to be fair to her, I think the president got the kind of national security adviser that he wanted. The president runs -- you know, he has a very corporate management style, and if you're the secretary of State, you're like the vice president for Peace; if you're the secretary of Defense, you're the vice president for War; and staff is staff. There's this famous story that Paul O'Neill told about him, the president once ordering Andy Card out to get him a cheeseburger because he was, quote, "The White House chief of staff."
And so as a staff person, you don't really have the authority. And when she became secretary of State, she ended up getting a fair amount of authority in a way that I -- you know -- and she has used that to push policies, to push ideas. As a manager, she is not -- I mean, she likes to say -- I mean, she's said to me on a number occasions that she loves management; she used to do that.
BUMILLER: (Laughs.) Right. (Off mike.)
KESSLER: You know, but -- you know, you look at -- you know, no one is quite sure who's really running the store at the State Department. And you're beginning to see, with the reports of the embassy construction, the mess of the Iraqi embassy construction, the failure to oversee what Blackwater was doing with other State Department contracts, you're beginning to see, I think, some of those chickens come home to roost, that there wasn't -- well, she was flying around the world trying to deal with these individual problems; there wasn't really anyone back home managing the department in a way that I think most people acknowledge, which Armitage did when he was the deputy under Powell. Because, you know, I haven't gotten a real fix on Negroponte, but Bob Zoellick was not managing the department either. He had his own little portfolio of issues, and you know, I think you'll begin to see more of these reports, like the embassy or Blackwater, coming out in the coming months.
SANGER: Anybody else want to take a shot at that?
MABRY: Just quickly, I'll say -- I mean, she certainly is more suited to this role as secretary than she was national security advisor, and I think her idea of management is that, you know, you delegate and you just deal with this top upper echelon; that's certainly at Stanford, which was, as was said, controversial. I mean, there were people who talked to me about her time at Stanford, directing them as provost, who cried; they cried, this much later. It was, you know, kind of extraordinary that, you know, professors would do this and deans given what she did. She thinks she can manage; she's not an excellent manager.
But I mean, I think the key -- I think the biggest point, though, is -- the biggest question is the national security advisor tenure. I think that really is it. I think she brought in lots of Brent Scowcroft, you know, rules, which is the NSC is not operational; the departments are operational. It's not her job to get involved in policy in that way. She is to just advise the president; she is to be his back person. But she didn't take as a -- and Scowcroft told me, he said, you know, in the end, I blame the president. The national security advisor is not equipped to take down a secretary. You can't do that. The president had to do that. And Scowcroft was very plain about that.
What she forgot of the Scowcroftian model, however, of a National Security Council was the idea that, as Scowcroft said long ago, the national security advisor's job is to be "skeptic in chief." What Rice brought into the job was the role she had played during the campaign for Bush's first election, which was she took Bush's inchoate gut instincts, which she did think were right. She thought he combined George H.W. Bush's moderation and intelligence with Ronald Reagan's clarity of vision and right and wrong. She really did think that. She thought he'd be an ideal foreign policy president; I think she really did believe that.
But she did not -- unlike Scowcroft's advisors, being skeptic in chief, she -- once she was in office did the same thing. Whatever gut instinct the president had, she tried to present policy options that matched those gut instincts.
SANGER: Back row, the gentleman right here.
QUESTIONER: Jon Alterman, CSIS. As we look forward to this Annapolis conference, it seems a little bit strange that, on the one hand, this is sort of the capstone of her term; but on the other hand, she doesn't seem very effective bringing her best friend, the president, to support the initiative. Is there something we should be reading from this relationship that, on the one hand, seems so close, but on the thing that she's becoming so publicly identified with, the president seems to be keeping his distance.
BUMILLER: That's a really good question.
I don't know for sure, but I -- maybe you know for sure. But I know she's pushed him on this hard, and I suspect he will turn up in Annapolis. It's her conference; she's the hostess. You know, I mean, she's the host of this. But I think she will get -- he will be there, but I know that she certainly had to push him as she had on any number of other issues. I mean there's always been debate within the administration from the earliest days of how much political capital to spend on this issue, and from the very first days in 2001, as we know, they didn't want to spend any capital on this. And they dipped their toe in, they get involved; it turns out badly, they pull back.
But I think she is going to go for broke on this. I think this is their Camp David, this is their Wye Plantation. And you know, she -- but even if they get some sort of a(n) agreed -- I don't know what the -- some sort of an agreed frame work or some sort of a statement of principles out of Annapolis, she knows -- has to spend the rest of the next year making it happen. But I think this is where all her energy is right now.
SANGER: Glenn, as you -- as national -- let me sort of take the question one layer further, which is in the first term it was pretty clear the president and the secretary didn't want to get involved in Wye Plantation kinds of things --
SANGER: -- because it seemed Clintonian, and you know, that was in the White House press room for one thing you didn't want to get asked about.
But what's the explanation in the second term for the reluctance and the difficulty she's had dragging the president along, especially given the close relationship with the president that you write about?
KESSLER: Well, I mean, I'm not entirely convinced she's -- that the president is not part of this. But I feel that they think that they want to -- you know, there's -- he doesn't want to get involved in the nitty-gritty details. That is what he leaves to Condi Rice.
I mean, the question that was asked before -- I mean, I actually earlier this year called the State Department like every week for about two months, saying, "When is the president going to say anything about this?" And they said, "What do you mean? What do you mean? Of course he's -- he's completely on board with it." And then -- because then one day he did say something supportive, and they all sent me the transcript. They were very pleased that he finally said something. (Laughter.)
KESSLER: It was -- but you know, the -- you know, what is so strange about this turn that she's made this year is that it's very much kind of, you know, a "Back to the Future" moment. I mean, the -- you know, the -- and what she's trying to do is come up with a statement that is somewhat -- you know, it's not going to be like the Clinton parameters, but some sort of statement that would, you know, kind of frame the debate in a way that they were always reluctant to do for many years. And in fact there were advisers to the president that said, "What you need to do is something like the Bush parameters." It was completely rejected. And now the secretary will talk about it as if it's some new idea that just came out of the ether, as opposed to something that had always been on the table for so many years.
And I think that she at this point has reconciled herself to the fact that she's not necessarily -- she is not going to be the one that will -- you know, if this goes anywhere in Annapolis, that she's not the one that's going to bring it over the finish line. That will be some future secretary of State, some future president. But she has this kind of eye on history, where she hopes that if people will look back, and they say, "Well, when the Palestinian state was created, it began in Annapolis, this particular document; they set the framework," just as, you know, she had once benefited from the decisions made by her predecessors when the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was unified.
QUESTIONER: Yeah. (Off mike) --
SANGER: There's a mike coming up to you.
QUESTIONER: Oh. Thank you. Bernie Kalb. On the basis of your research, and given the portrait you've drawn of Condi Rice, of shifting loyalties, of a bizarre relationship with the truth, how seriously is she taken by the diplomats of foreign countries that she deals with? And what are the consequences of that perception?
MABRY: Well -- and Glenn can answer this best, I'm sure, but ironically -- and maybe not ironically, because politics is a world of power -- that's what it is; that's the currency -- and she wields it, and she has power because of her relationship to this president. So she's -- I think she's taken very seriously, and certainly the Washington folks who I talked to who had been in those meetings talked a lot about an underestimation when she originally took the job as secretary. They talked about, you know, particularly in China and in Pakistan, you know, sexist/racist perspectives being leveled at her, assumptions being leveled at her, and how she quickly, you know, set those men -- because they're all men -- right.
So I think she's taken very seriously despite that relation to the truth, because that's not really what matters. That's not really the currency of diplomacy It's not relation to the truth, it's relationship to the power, and that's -- and that she has.
KESSLER: Right. And just to quickly follow on that, the fact that the president says, "She's like my sister," I mean, that gives her power, that gives her authority, and she is considered reasonably effective in those meetings.
The one relationship she has that is really very, very bad is the one with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, which I -- you have some scenes, which I detail in my book -- it's just a -- and it's a relationship that gets worse and worse. And a lot of the diplomacy on Iran depends on that relationship. And it's somewhat ironic that that's where she has the most difficulty, given that she is supposed to be a Russia specialist.
SANGER: The mike's coming to you there.
STAFF: It's coming in.
QUESTIONER: Mac Destler, University of Maryland. I want to push just a little more about -- on Secretary Rice as national security adviser. One way of asking you the question is, could anybody have been a good national security adviser under George W. Bush during the first term?
Or one could ask: Were there occasions -- say in the run-up to the Iraq war, or in the planning or nonplanning for subsequent activity -- that she actually tried, say, "We've got to have a meeting, we've got to a study, we've got have" -- and she was not supported by the president, or the president basically said, "I know what I'm going to" -- you know, but essentially said, "Look, we know what we're going to do. We're going to do it. Why bother with all this stuff?"
BUMILLER: I think I can answer that partly.
I think that the -- first of all, I agree with you that it was in many ways an impossible situation, and even her severest critics would say that, you know, to be national security adviser with Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld in the room -- I mean, she was, you know, trying to organize the elephants. It was with -- and she had, don't forget, only two years of mid-level White House experience before she came in, when she was, you know, a junior -- influential but junior member of the Bush 41 National Security Council staff.
The really critical decision in the run-up to the war that she was part of, as was Powell, was in October of 2002, when the decision was made to turn over postwar Iraq to the Pentagon, to the Department of Defense. And she did not object, nor did Powell. And therein lies the seeds of some of its problems later. And so what happened was, of course, the Department of Defense had never run a postwar occupation since the Second World War and was not prepared, as we all know now.
And it wasn't really until later, after the summer of 2003 -- it's fall of -- October of -- actually, it happened right after Labor Day that she went to the president and said, you know, "I -- we need to change this." And it was -- Bremer was in at that point, the top civilian administrator in Iraq for the Americans. And it was at that point that she wrested control of Iraq policy and brought it back to the NSC, where -- and David Sanger here broke that story.
SANGER: As I remember from my great -- (laughter) -- I still remember that. (Laughter.)
BUMILLER: And Rumsfeld --
SANGER: It was not Don Rumsfeld's happiest day to read The New York Times --
BUMILLER: Yes, he reacted with a predictable roar. (Laughter.)
But that was the turning point. But you could argue by that point, after all the looting, after all the terrible -- the explosion at the U.N. headquarters that summer, after all the problems, it was too late.
KESSLER: And -- well, and I -- just to follow on that, I don't know if you could argue that she necessarily did it that effectively, either, once she wrested control. I mean, I don't -- I've never necessarily seen much evidence that even though -- bringing it into the White House back from the Pentagon, that it made that much difference.
MABRY: It's also interesting that now she has created a unit within the State Department that's supposed to go do this, and they haven't had a chance to actually get out and try it any place. So it would have to be a -- you know, that would have to be in the future nation-building.
BUMILLER: No, but she did -- well, let's see, 2005 was the year of the elections. So -- but she did keep a much -- I mean, you can say it didn't go well, but she did, from Washington, have a much tighter rein on Bremer and the process --
MABRY (?): Oh, yes, yes.
BUMILLER: -- and was much more involved in the early decisions about the political process in Iraq. And -- I mean, because Rumsfeld was not going to, you know, be the mother hen, you know -- (chuckles) -- as bringing Iraq towards, you know, democracy. I was -- yes. Sorry.
SANGER: We have time for just a couple more. Let's just see if we can get a couple more questions in.
QUESTIONER: You were saying about the president -- saying he doesn't do nitty-gritty. My name is Dave Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
You say the president doesn't do nitty-gritty. Does Condoleezza Rice do nitty-gritty? Can you give me examples of where she can take a lofty idea and turn that into an implementable document, which is what we're talking about for Annapolis? And by the way, if she would achieve a declaration of principle, in my humble view, that would be a major achievement. The question is, could she get that?
So what track record does she have in translating it? Because the image and the reality, I think, of her making these trips to the Middle East for a day and leaving doesn't leave any footprint. What -- where does she take her confidence from that she could negotiate?
And secondly, in the dynamic with the president and herself -- and you were talking about how -- you all said how in the second term she's undoing what was done in the first term. What is -- have you noticed a certain pattern of how she's able to persuade the president, or is it all a function of his weakness on Iraq, and she's kind of the default government in that regard? Or is there a formula? This is the way she talks to George W. Bush, and this is the way she prevails. Thank you.
KESSLER: Well, those were all very good questions. On the -- in terms of can she negotiate a document, I mean, this will be a really big test for her, because she, even to this day, has let a lot of the discussions rest between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And you don't even have the sense at the State Department of like a, you know, U.S. government getting ready for a big Middle East push. You don't see them engaging other parts of the -- you know, there's -- you know, they brought in one or two extra people, but it's mostly just Rice and, you know, Elliott Abrams and David Welch. You don't see like the -- it doesn't look like a peace process that people have seen before.
But she does have this skill, I think, of focusing on the problem at hand, and it -- which is both her -- to her credit but also where she falls down. The Rafah accords of 2005, which were designed to open up passages for the Palestinians -- she took a chance, she flew in there, they couldn't reach an agreement -- and I describe this in my book -- she managed to negotiate an agreement, and she did it on her own laptop, and she was trading around ideas with the different parties. And it was basically her document; she made decisions on the fly without even bothering to check with the White House, because she was convinced the president would agree with everything she had decided.
And then she got on a plane to Asia for the next conference, and the whole thing fell apart within a month because there was no follow-up. And the real test for this document -- a statement of principles will be something that has never existed before if it's signed, agreed to by both parties -- but the real test is in the next year, and whether or not they can really push these people forward.
And you know, in terms of getting the president to make decisions now, you know, a lot of it, I think, is a function of Rumsfeld's departure, Cheney's great weakness on -- you know, with the loss of his aide Scooter Libby and just in general -- I mean, on so many issues, my sense -- except for Iran -- the Cheney people are just not part of the discussion. I mean, they're not really part of the North Korea discussion, they're not really part of the Middle East discussion.
And on North Korea, you know, that big turning point came when she flew in to Berlin where, Chris -- you know, Chris Hill was given permission to meet with the North Koreans one on one in Berlin. She flew in, and she picked up the phone, and she called the president and said, "Mr. President, Chris has come up with a really good deal here. I'm faxing you a one-page description, which Steve Hadley will walk you through, and I suggest you agree to it." And he said okay. And that was the turning point, but it was -- you know, no interagency process, no nothing -- (off mike).
BUMILLER: (Off mike) -- I mean, she -- her style, at least, for example, on Iran, when they switched policy in spring of 2006 -- we were going to talk to Iran under all these onerous conditions but we were still offering to talk to Iran. She had gone -- and David, you know some of this. She had gone repeatedly to Bush, and she -- I mean, he's very stubborn. He's a very stubborn guy, and she wears him down and she makes her argument. He argues back. She goes away and comes back with another argument. It's a slow process with him.
And -- but she -- among the aides at the White House -- a lot of them are gone now -- she could push Bush in a way the others couldn't. I mean, she had much more of a give and take with him than the others did. Although at the end of the day, you know, he was the boss.
MABRY: (Off mike) -- Bush and Rice are melded at the frontal lobe. That's the way Chip Blacker describes it -- who, I think, we all talked to and who, you know, knows Rice very well personally, who's still at Stanford, who was my academic adviser at Stanford and, I think, you know, knows Washington very well, because he did what Rice did in the first Bush administration and in the Clinton administration. But you know, Powell said himself that whoever was the national security advisor in the first term would not have been able to do any better than Rice, and Powell was the guy who was always the odd man out. And he said that because Rice and the president share -- this is one of the ways they're connected at the frontal lobe -- a great comfort with doing things in a small group, a great arrogance and a great comfort that what they believe is right.
The best example of that to me was, you know, this is Rice at nine years old, standing in front of the White House. Her dad had brought her up here from Birmingham. You know, they couldn't stay in any hotels, because it was segregation from -- basically up to Tennessee at that point. But yet this little girl who stood in front of the White House is that age. And in this picture on that day said to her father, one day, I'll work inside this house.
Now, at that point, she could not get -- eat a hamburger in downtown Birmingham at a lunch counter, but she was convinced she was right. That's the kind of conviction in her own beliefs -- all of that led to a lot of these mistakes. And her and the president share that.
SANGER: I am told that we are officially out of time. But I thank you all for coming. I thank the three of you. (Applause.)
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