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Condoleezza Rice on The Tavis Smiley Show

Interview on The Tavis Smiley Show

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
September 8, 2005

(1:50 p.m. EDT)

MR. SMILEY: Secretary Rice, always an honor to have you on the program.

SECRETARY RICE: Good to be with you, Tavis.

MR. SMILEY: Madame Secretary, if I said to you that in its first test of national preparedness since 9/11 the U.S. Government failed miserably where Hurricane Katrina is concerned, you would say what?

SECRETARY RICE: I would say, obviously, the response was not good enough, as the President has said. This is of an unprecedented character, this disaster that we faced, and I don't think anyone is satisfied that the response was what it needed to be.

But I also know that people are working very, very hard and getting on top of the situation. And that what we need to be focused on now is making sure that everybody who needs to be evacuated from New Orleans is evacuated. We need to make certain that people are in safe locations. And then we need to start helping people rebuild their lives.

Tavis, I was just down in Alabama in the area adjacent to Mobile, and what they're focused on is what kind of temporary housing are they going to be able to give people so that they can get out of large shelters, and how long will people need to be there, how can people start to get back into a situation where they can work? Those are the sorts of issues that I know we're very focused on, the President is very focused on, and that's where we need to put our energies.

MR. SMILEY: I don't think anybody disagrees with you or the President that it was not good enough. I guess the question is whether or not that standard is good enough, to say that it wasn't good enough. In other words, shouldn't somebody be held responsible and accountable here since folks' lives were lost?

SECRETARY RICE: Look, there will be a time for going back and establishing exactly what happened, how we can do better, what failures there were in the system and where. But I also know that this was a massive disaster, a natural disaster of the kind that this country has never experienced. I'll tell you, Tavis, as the Secretary of State, one of the things that we did was to get some of our disaster relief experts from people -- people who are accustomed to, for instance, dealing with the tsunami -- because these huge disaster relief efforts are something the United States has never had to deal with.

MR. SMILEY: There are a lot of folk, and I know you've heard this, who believe and it's been everywhere expressed that this sentiment that the money and other resources that we have been spending on Iraq put us in a situation where we didn't have the resources available quickly enough to move into the Gulf Coast. Do you accept that?

SECRETARY RICE: No, it's just not true. Frankly, it's hogwash. And I'll use that term very, very clearly. There are plenty of resources to deal with this. There are military resources to deal with it. There were National Guard resources to deal with it. I was in the room with Don Rumsfeld when the call came to mobilize those resources. Yes, they did bring some people back from Iraq because their homes were affected and their families were affected and they wanted to make sure the National Guard who were affected themselves were back in the country. But we have the resources.

There were, I think as of today, more than 70,000 forces in the Louisiana area. So we have an active and reserve and guard force of 2.5 million people; 139,000 people are in Iraq. So this is just not an argument that holds water. What is the question is how we better coordinate and decide when federal resources of this magnitude are going to be brought to bear.

MR. SMILEY: But we all know that there was a practice run, so to speak, that took place in advance of the real thing called Hurricane Katrina. The practice was called Hurricane Pam. They were supposed to have ironed out these kinks to address these issues, to figure out who was going to do what and when during the practice. What happened?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, again, this was a storm and the break of the levees and what happened to Lake Pontchartrain, it was a kind of perfect storm of several different disasters that happened at once. But again, there will be plenty of time, and the President has already said that he is going to lead an investigation of what happened in this response, to fix any problems that are there and to make sure that we don't get this sort of thing again.

I mean, one of the things that is clear from this experience is that when you have a very poor population, as you had in parts of New Orleans, people perhaps needed more help in evacuating than they got. Because you had people who didn't have means of transportation. That's something that has to be looked at. If you have to evacuate a city, how do you deal with the poor and the elderly in an evacuation?

So there is going to be a lot of effort on the part of the Administration, on the part of the Congress, I am sure on the part of the country as a whole, to understand why this response was not as it should have been. But I do know that the President is fundamentally focused now on how we are going to make certain that we've dealt with the near-term problems but then move on to give people at least a medium-term solution so that they can get back to some level of normalcy. People need to be able to send their kids to school. They need to be able to make sure that they can get back to work. That sort of thing needs to be done.

MR. SMILEY: Speaking of moving on, I've got five minutes left with you and I want to move on to cover two or three other areas, if I can.


MR. SMILEY: Before I do that, though, Secretary Rice, let me just preface this by saying that I'm only asking this because it became a huge news story and because this young man two weeks ago was on the cover of Time Magazine, no less, on the cover of Time Magazine, so clearly he has something to say. There's a hip-hop artist, you know, named Kanye West who, in a concert for hurricane relief on one of major networks, went off script and said out loud, essentially, that George Bush doesn't care about black people. Now, he's on the cover of Time Magazine a couple weeks ago. He says on TV during this concert George Bush doesn't care about black people. Everybody in Black America, certainly young folk in the hip-hop community, are talking about this and rallying around that statement.

What do you make of that?

SECRETARY RICE: It's just wrong. And it's wrong for people to say that. This President has cared a great deal about minority populations. That's why he's cared about home ownership. It's why he's cared about black children not being warehoused in our schools, and that's why No Child Left Behind has been important to him.

And look, no President of the United States is going to want any American to suffer, and most especially this President. And the idea that there was some sort of racial test, that we were sitting around thinking, well, these are black people, therefore we don't have to get there quickly, it's just ludicrous. And I can't believe people are saying it. And, you know, if they're saying it, they ought to be made to defend it.

MR. SMILEY: Do you believe that there are race and class dimensions, though, to this tragedy?

SECRETARY RICE: I do believe that we are dealing with the fact that there are pockets of America which are very poor and that some of those pockets of America have a bad combination of race and poverty. I do believe that. I'm from the South and I know that there are still vestiges of the Old South that have to be dealt with. And one of the questions is going to be, in the longer run, how, when we start to rebuild, do we address what was clearly an underlying social problem.

But that we have an underlying social problem that -- we've always known that race and poverty is a particularly bad witches brew. We know that. But as we address rebuilding, how do we make certain that we don't rebuild on that basis but we rebuild on a new basis? That is a legitimate question for our future endeavors. But this idea that somehow there was a racial dimension to the rescue effort or to trying to help people, it's just not true. And if people are going to say it, they ought to be made to defend why they would say such a thing.

MR. SMILEY: Speaking of future questions, do you believe as some senators do believe now, a bipartisan group, in fact, that a 9/11-type senate investigative hearing is the best way to get those questions out?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President has said he's going to lead an investigation. There are going to be hearings in the Congress. You know, this is not my call and I think we'll have to see what comes of this.

My concern has been, as an American and as a Southerner, to do what I could within the limits of what I can devote to this. I mean, I do have -- I'm Secretary of State and, you know, I'm worrying about Iraq and I'm worrying about Lebanon and I'm worrying about, you know, what we do at the United Nations General Assembly next week. But the reason that I called the President and told him, yes, I would travel was because I'm also an American, I am a Southerner and I am an African American. And yeah, I care about how this comes out.

MR. SMILEY: Let me ask you then two foreign policy questions, if I can, before I let you go here.


MR. SMILEY: First question. Tell me what kind of offers you've been fielding, what kind of interest you've been hearing, as it relates to other countries about how we have handled or mishandled this disaster?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, people have been very compassionate and supportive, and we've gotten a lot of offers of assistance from around the world. More than 90 countries -- I think the number is 94 or 95 countries -- have offered some kind of contribution. Because the United States is enormously generous around the world, in the way we responded to the tsunami led even small Sri Lanka, a country that's barely -- hasn't really recovered from the tsunami, to come back to us with a contribution.

And that says to me that, yes, there are people who are trying to take advantage of what are clearly pictures that no -- that are quite emotional and that nobody wants to see in our country. But for the most part, people are responding with compassion. They're responding with an outpouring of support. And we're just very grateful to everybody around the world for the way they've been responding.

MR. SMILEY: You went to Alabama. I was down there a few days ago and toured Mississippi and New Orleans, and while I was there a couple things made news, speaking of foreign aid, and I'm curious what the State Department's response was or is to these particular offers, speaking of countries that offered help: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez offered support; Cuba, Fidel Castro offered support. Do we not accept that?

SECRETARY RICE: No, as a matter of fact, we said that we will support -- we will accept any assistance that can help the American people. Now, there are cases where certain kinds of help have been offered that we really don't need that kind of help because we can mobilize it from inside the country. And for instance, with medical personnel, you know, the United States has a huge medical establishment outside of the South and people are being mobilized from as far away as California. So there are certain kinds of assistance that we do not need, but I can assure you that we have been as grateful for the expressions of support from countries that are friends as well as those who have not been friends.

MR. SMILEY: I know you've got to run. This weekend marks the fourth anniversary, the fourth commemoration, shall I say, of 9/11.


MR. SMILEY: And I'm not sure there's a question here but I'm sure there's something you want to say about this.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. This country experienced on September 11th the horror of what happens when this extreme ideology comes home to us. And it's why we've been so focused on, yes, protecting the homeland and, yes, running down al-Qaida and trying to destroy its infrastructure. But it's also the reason that we have to have a different kind of Middle East than the Middle East that produced people who will fly airplanes into buildings or strap suicide bombs onto themselves and blow up innocent people. And that's the reason that our men and women are fighting in Afghanistan, fighting in Iraq and trying to create conditions there where freedom and liberty for those people lead to a more peaceful region and ultimately to security for us.

And I just want to take this moment to thank the men and women in uniform around the world, their families, to remember the victims of 9/11 and to say to all Americans that we suffered a great national trauma together but we came together. And we've suffered another national trauma over the last few days. We need to come together and decide how America is going to be better as a way to honor the sacrifices of those who experienced this horrible tragedy.

MR. SMILEY: And before you hang up, any better sense yet of when the appropriate time will be to get out of Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: We shouldn't be thinking about the appropriate time to leave Iraq. We need to be thinking about how we're going to leave an Iraq that is a stable and more democratic Iraq that can be one of the pillars of stability for a different kind of Middle East so that we don't face terrorist threats until our grandchildren are too old to care.

MR. SMILEY: Dr. Condoleezza Rice is the Secretary of State. As always, Madame Secretary, thank you for your time and your insight. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY RICE: Good to be with you, Tavis. 2005/846

Released on September 9, 2005


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