Rice Interview With the NBC Editorial Board
Interview With the NBC Editorial Board
New York City
May 8, 2006
QUESTION: Let's hope we're all in and locked up. Our guest obviously needs no introduction. I will say on behalf of the news division, on behalf of our news division president, who as we mentioned is leaving for the airport, Madame Secretary, we appreciate you spending some time with us today. And I guess our ground rules are actually your choice. I guess we're on the record unless I was --
SECRETARY RICE: On the record.
QUESTION: Okay. So welcome.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Well, thanks for meeting me here and why don't we just start.
SECRETARY RICE: I won't say anything and we'll get questions and get started that way.
QUESTION: Campbell. (Laughter.) Kidding.
SECRETARY RICE: Hi Campbell, how are you?
QUESTION: Perhaps our chief foreign affairs correspondent wants to open up the questioning.
QUESTION: I would love to know more about this letter from Ahmadi-Nejad and what you think he is doing in trying to approach the White House so publicly at this time, and as a second issue, what you think the relationship is between him and the Ayatollah and the other clerics.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I won't try to judge the motivations for the letter and I certainly don't know the ins and outs of internal Iranian politics. We choose to treat the Iranian Government as the Iranian Government and to respond accordingly.
We've gotten the letter. We've not had a chance to do our own translation and of course we'll do that, but an initial reading of the letter would suggest that there is nothing in it that addresses the major issues between the United States and the rest of the world and Iran on the other hand. So not concrete issues on the nuclear side or on any of the other issues that we face. It's very philosophical, I would say. But again, I think we want to take a harder look at it, look at the actual translation and get a better sense of what's there. But that's the initial reading.
QUESTION: Well, could I just follow up asking we believe we've read that Angela Merkel and other leaders think that it's time for talks between the U.S. and Iran. Where do you stand on that now?
SECRETARY RICE: I think what it's time for is for Iran to recognize that the international community is on one side of this divide and that Iran is on the other side of the divide. We have a presidential statement in the Security Council. We've had Board of Governors resolutions. We're talking again in the Security Council about the world's just demands that Iran return to the negotiations having suspended its enrichment activities. And so that's really what needs to happen. I don't think there's an absence of communication. That's not the problem. The issue is: Is Iran prepared to actually take the step that it needs to take? And we haven't had any indication that they're prepared to do that.
QUESTION: My question has to -- I didn't want to change subjects so rapidly.. My question has to do with the Vice President's interesting speech last week and Mr. Putin's interesting response that he obviously is in need of facts, a better reading of what's going on in Russia. Madame Secretary, what was the genesis of the Vice President's remarks and what did you make of the Putin response?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me speak first to the Vice President's remarks, which we all talked about and saw and was a statement of what the Administration is currently facing with Russia.
Everybody wants to have a good, solid, strategic relationship with Russia. That would be in everybody's interest. And in fact, we do have a number of areas of cooperation with Russia where we're working very well. And again, this isn't the Soviet Union. But there are also some areas of very grave concern. On the one hand, you have the situation internally in Russia where the press is clearly under pressure, where particularly the electronic press where, in effect, all national independent media has been shut down. You have a situation in which the judiciary doesn't look particularly independent, given some of the high-profile political trials in which the Kremlin has clearly had an interest. You have a situation in which you have an NGO law that would appear to be aimed at the kind of international democracy support efforts that are part and parcel of the way that the world promotes democracy. And we've had our differences as the after -- particularly after the Orange Revolution in thinking about the promotion, further promotion, of democracy in the neighborhood around Russia.
In that regard, I can't think of any country that is further apart from us on, for instance, Belarus than Russia has been. The entire international community knows that Lukaschenko is the last dictator in Europe. The Russians say his election was legitimate and so forth and so on. So we have our differences.
I thought that the most important element that the Russians seemed to object to most was the question of the energy, the use of energy as a weapon. I think I said that myself on a number of occasions, that if that's not what they're doing, then they're certainly giving a very strong approximation of doing that, because when you send the President of Russia out hours before a deadline to tell the Ukrainians that you'll cut off the gas if they don't do X, Y and Z, that seems like a political move. If you didn't want it to be political, send out the president of Gazprom, not the President of Russia. And so they have clearly sent signals that they will use energy as a weapon and I think they needed to be called on it. And I gather there's some sensitivity to that. But I think the Vice President had its facts absolutely right.
QUESTION: Well, given the fact that your lifelong concentration has been things Soviet/Russian, I ask without sounding flip, what did you think you were getting in Putin?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, in Putin I think we have gotten pretty much what we thought we would get, which is somebody who is a Russian patriot and who believes he's doing what's in the best interest of his country and who is always going to do what he thinks is in the best interest of his country.
I'll say one thing. I don't think the Russians have generally told us they would do something and then not done it, or vice versa.
QUESTION: Points for honesty?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, I would say that, for instance, they told us that they were going to oppose the war in Iraq. They opposed the war in Iraq. But I think what we had hoped for was and still hope for is an evolution over time of a Russia that is more democratic, not less democratic, where the concentration of power in the Kremlin is being disbursed to competing authority centers. And no democracy can exist very well with only a strong presidency. It's actually a recipe for anti-democratic tendencies. And so that's what we had hoped the evolution would be like and it's why the United States has so thoroughly supported Russian membership in institution that are identified with those values, whether it's the G-8 or the NATO-Russia Council.
And nobody is giving up on that. I think the President said a couple weeks ago, "I'm not giving up on Russia." Well, nobody is. Because a Russia that is both democratizing internally and a partner externally is going to make for a much more effective policy for all of us. But I don't have any doubts that President Putin is somebody who is patriotic, somebody who believes he's doing what's in the best interest of his country, and someone who is a modernizer of Russia.. Our discussion now, our conversation, is about the further democratic evolution of Russia.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, why choose the Vice President to make the statement? Why not you or why not the President? Was there a particular reason why you thought it had to come from someone of a higher rank than you but also of a lower rank than the President?
SECRETARY RICE: Not particularly. The Vice President was going to have this trip to Eastern Europe and East Central Europe and he was going to make a speech. And it was really a codification of what we've been saying about Russia policy, so I don't think we thought of this as a new statement of U.S. policy but rather a restatement of U.S. policy.
Now, I'd point again to the fact that we've talked all the way at the time of the Ukrainian gas crisis about the politization of energy as a -- and the use of energy as a weapon. We've talked endlessly about our concerns about Russia and its neighbors like Georgia and Abkhazia, the (inaudible) situation with South Ossetia. And we've certainly talked endlessly about the problems in the free press. The President has addressed the issues of the free press, the nongovernmental organizations.
So what you had here was all of that in one place, but certainly nothing that was not already on the record in U.S. policy.
QUESTION: Does it -- if I can just follow up. Does it make it harder right now on Iran to have this dissonance with Russia? Was the timing of the speech at all difficult given that we are now negotiating to try to get Russia onboard with our Iran policy?
SECRETARY RICE: I have to assume that the reason that the Russians are working on Iran is that Russia also doesn't want Iran with a nuclear weapon; that it is in Russia's interest to stop Iran from acquiring the technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon; that they're not doing it for our interest, they're not doing it for the sake of the United States, they're doing it because the idea of an Iran, which by the way is physically a lot closer to them than to us, with a nuclear weapon is something that they want to avoid.
And I think we still are more than capable of speaking our differences and still working on common issues. The Russians have never been shy about speaking their differences about the United States. The things that they said about the color revolutions and the role of the United States in them -- it hasn't stopped us from discussing Iran or the Middle East with them, and I would expect that our continuing to say -- and again, the Vice President's speech is just another statement of things that we've been saying and saying and saying -- that it's not going to have an effect on the discussions that we're having on Iran, which are discussions where we share the goal of not having Iran get these technologies and be able to break out to a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: What are you hoping to achieve two months from now with the Russians when you go to St. Petersburg?
SECRETARY RICE: St. Petersburg will be an interesting summit and let me start by saying that I know that there are those who say that the United States should not go or that there shouldn't be a G-8 or all of those types of things. I don't see anything that would suggest that Russia is going to become more democratic by isolating it from institutions in which those democratic values are sustained, so the Russia-NATO Council or the G-8. So to the degree that there's any sense that perhaps the G-8 shouldn't go on or we should not participate in it wholeheartedly, I think it's the wrong direction.
I do think that the G-8 will -- the G-8 is scheduled to deal with energy policy and we will talk about energy security. That will be a forum to air our concerns, our interest in stable energy supply. I'm quite certain that the leaders will talk about the various regional issues around: the Middle East, Iran, probably because of Japan's presence there and China the situation in Northeast Asia and North Korea. And of course, they will undoubtedly reiterate their desire to cooperate on some other humanitarian issues that the G-8 has talked about each time they've been together, whether it's AIDS policy or Africa. So I think that's the agenda.
What do we hope to achieve? We hope to continue to build the relationship between these eight leaders on a common agenda and it really -- what it really does is it gives the leaders a chance face to face with really almost nobody else in the room to just talk about issues. That's really the greatest thing about the G-8. It's not the communiqué that comes out afterwards. It's not whatever proposals come out of the G-8, although a lot have come out of the G-8 over the years. But it really is the opportunity for them to sit, and they sit for long periods of time with basically no staff, to just talk about the issues before them. And I think that's well worth doing.
QUESTION: Would you see the President making the same sort of speech the Vice President did but making it on Russian soil?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly think that the President will speak out for democratic values, as he's done time and again. You know, he did this recently when he went for the May 9th celebration exactly a year ago. He talked about democratic values and the need to support. He met with NGOs when he -- leaders of NGOs when he was there.
So again, this is not a new agenda for us. I have to admit that I was even a little surprised at how much attention was there because it's not a new agenda for us. NGO policy, free press, energy policy, not using energy as a political weapon, concerns about relations between Russia and its neighbors -- it's not a new agenda for us and it's going to be there, I'm sure, still at the time of the G-8.
QUESTION: On Iraq --
QUESTION: I'm sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: About Hamas, there have been a couple of articles in the Times in the last few days -- you probably read them -- about the impact on the Palestinian people of our freezing of aid to Hamas. Today it was the health system. Last week they had a father selling off his daughter for the gold bracelet.
A two-part question. One, is there any way to mitigate our lack of aid to them to help the people without maybe softening on Hamas? And the second question is, is there any middle ground with Hamas? I mean, are we still this far apart?
SECRETARY RICE: We certainly want to, to the degree that we can, mitigate any effect on the Palestinian people, particularly for their most essential needs, which is why for the most vulnerable populations food assistance, refugee assistance, the health assistance we've continued to make that money available. We are going to probably by tomorrow be able to announce that we are planning a more directed effort to try and deal with the healthcare issues. We understand that there are some medicines that are in short supply. We're looking at what kind of in-kind contributions we could get there very quickly, and I do mean very quickly, to try and deal with some of these circumstances. And you know, stay tuned but I think tomorrow we'll be announcing an effort to try and break through on the healthcare problem.
Because nobody wants there to be a shortage of medicines or healthcare delivery to the Palestinian people, but we also have to keep our focus on the fact that the reason that there are these shortages and the reason that there is this problem is that Hamas, which now has the responsibility for governing, is refusing to accept the international community's requirement that it govern in a way that is consistent with the obligations that the Palestinians have undertaken before. Nobody is going to be prepared to give direct assistance to Hamas when they continue not just to refuse to renounce violence but actually, at the time of the Tel Aviv bombing, go out and celebrate the violence. No one is going to give assistance to Hamas when they refuse to recognize even the right of Israel to exist.
And in addition to the kind of international message, I think Palestinians are saying to us too we also want the international community to recognize that the Palestinian territories have always been a place of tolerance, where women's rights have been respected, where diversity has been respected. It is, by the way, a multi-religious community. But that needs to be respected.
So we cannot let Hamas claim that it is the international community's fault that they cannot deliver for their people. They can't deliver for their people because they refuse to accept the responsibilities of governing. That's why they can't deliver for their people. And we're going to have to make that very clear in the meetings that we're having tomorrow. I think we will want to look at different ways that we might be able to mitigate the impact for the Palestinian people of having a government that won't do what they need to do, won't help them, won't help their own people.
QUESTION: I'd like to ask about Iraq. You just came back and I wonder if you share the view that's been expressed by others that we, the media, are not doing a good job of giving a balanced picture of what's going on over there.. And then part two is could you suggest maybe three stories, and of course don't tell them to anybody else -- (laughter) -- that might present the picture that some feel we're not presenting?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. Well, I do think that there's a problem with the balance in the pictures. I'll tell you, I think it's probably because it's harder to report on some of the good things that are going on than on the daily violence. The daily violence not only are the pictures there but it's also the case that it is somewhat easier to capture that there is continuing violence. It's harder to capture the political process that's going on and I understand that.
But if I could -- now you're asking me to give you my advice on this. Let me do that. Which would be find a way to capture the intense politics that is going on in Iran and how much -- I mean Iraq -- and how much that has the potential to change the picture of the violence because more and more people who are outside the political process are now coming inside the political process.
Let me give you an example. The Sunni leadership now is not the Sunni leadership that we encountered three years ago, two years ago, one year ago.. This is a very different, very gritty, very close to the population, probably close to the insurgency, leadership. And if you could capture what it means to have a speaker who was a prisoner in Abu Ghraib when the liberation of Iraq happened and was not an available person for, say the governing council or the interim government, and what does that mean about the movement of Iraqi politics to the integration of all kinds of people who have been outside the political system. If there's some way to capture that, that's in some ways the most interesting story.
QUESTION: But how do we at the same time -- I mean, the fact of the matter is that the insurgency is now slaughtering people for signing up to cooperate with the new government.
SECRETARY RICE: But that in and of itself says that the goals of the insurgency seem also to have shifted. Yes, we still sadly lose American life. But if what the insurgency now thinks it needs to do is to slaughter those Sunnis who want to be a part of the political process, that tells you something about how much they fear the political process. If Zarqawi goes out to attack the political process, that tells you how much they fear the political process. It says that for the insurgency the worst outcome is a stable, national unity government because then they're not attacking "occupiers," they're not resistance, they are attacking a government elected by and for the Iraqi people, and that puts them in an outlaw status. That's why they are assassinating people like Tareq al-Hashemi's brother and sister. That's why they're doing that.
And there's a tendency to treat, if you don't mind my saying so, all violence as the same. You've got Zarqawi, you've got some militias and then you've got the insurgency. The reasons for this violence are, in fact, different. And yes, there's a sectarian problem that has to be dealt with and yes, there is a Zarqawi problem that has to be dealt with. But if you really ask what is it that these people who are trying to attack people involved in the political process, what does it say about them, it says they're terrified of a political process that's going to make them the outlaw. That's a very important story for Iraq's political evolution.
The other thing is that as much as there is violence, you know, there is life in these cities and in some of the cities outside of Baghdad life has come back quite a lot in terms of the political life, the economic life and the social life in the country, and to get out to some of those places -- I know it's not easy -- might be worth doing.
QUESTION: So when you go, when you come back from a trip like this and these are the things that you're most optimistic about, the political process and the fact that there is life in the cities, what are you most concerned about? Is it the militias? Is it Zarqawi and his guys? I mean, what's the greatest danger over the next year or two?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the thing I'm most concerned about is what they seem to at every turn the Iraqis seem to be capable of handling, which is that the sectarian violence. You know, Shia on Sunni, Sunni on Shia. That's what you really worry about. I will tell you that after the Samarra bombing, I really -- I worried, is this going to split them apart? You know, is this the match that literally splits them apart?
But what they did was to unify themselves within 24 hours. Sunnis started going to Shia mosques, Shia started going to Sunni mosques. The government went out as a whole and said, no, we're going to have a unity government. And every time, by the way, Sunnis have people killed, family members of Sunnis who are in the political process, they go right back and say, no, you won't stop us from a political process.
Sometimes I think we both underestimate the Iraqis and insult them. I really -- I somehow think that we don't capture how committed they are to this process. Because if you have Sunni leaders whose families -- who lose family members and their response is, "I'm going back into that political process, that's the only way to honor my brother," did we tell that story? Did that story make the nightly news? If we have Sunnis and Shia when the bombing takes place, they go to each other's mosques and say, no, we're going to be a national unity government, do we tell that story? These people are making enormous sacrifices and they seem incredibly determined to make this work, and sometimes all we do is question are they going to have a civil war, when are they going to fall apart? And they're just out there every day, you know, pressing forward toward a national unity government. Of course there are people who want to tear it apart, but there are an awful lot of them who, at great cost, are just absolutely determined.
QUESTION: On Wednesday, the Treasury Department is set to decide if China is a currency manipulator. Are you giving any input into that decision?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's a Treasury decision and it's really a technical decision on the part of the Treasury. They'll look at the facts and they'll make their determination. What we've tried to do is to, through the diplomatic track or the negotiated track, to continue to work with the Chinese to make very clear that everybody believes that they ought to have a flexible market-based exchange rate for the RMB. And you know, they made a small move and it has fluctuated a little bit. I don't think anybody thinks that that's enough. But the technical decision on currency manipulation is a Treasury decision based on what they see.
QUESTION: If they decide to invoke tariffs on Chinese goods, that would have diplomatic ramifications, would it not?
SECRETARY RICE: I don't see the Chinese economic behavior as somehow separated from what we're trying to do diplomatically. I don't think it's the role of those who are in the diplomatic side to say, oh, no, we can't deal with the facts on the Chinese economy because it might hurt our diplomacy. That's not how I see it.
China is a huge economy, getting bigger by the minute, and where the policy of the United States has been to support Chinese integration into the international economy, a rules-based international economy, on the expectation that China will play by the rules. And therefore, if China is playing by the rules, then that's going to be very good for the international economy. If they're not, it's going to be very bad for the international economy and I'm certainly not going to raise a "diplomatic objection" to calling it as we see it on the Chinese economy. I consider it part of my job to call it as we see it on the Chinese economy because the United States also has to defend, as a part of its foreign policy, the level playing field so that American goods, services and jobs can compete.
QUESTION: Have you seen United Flight 93, the movie, and if not, do you plan to?
SECRETARY RICE: I have not seen it. I would very much like to see it. By all accounts, it's very powerful and I very much want to see it.
QUESTION: As soon as word came out this weekend that the President was likely to nominate a four-star general to head the CIA, people in both parties started saying, well, the Pentagon has enough influence on U.S. foreign policy, on our intelligence. Where do you come down on that?
SECRETARY RICE: You know, people who say that don't know -- I don't think have had the opportunity I have to work with Mike Hayden and to know him as I do.. First of all, Mike Hayden and I were on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the J-5 together. In 1986 he a lieutenant colonel; I was a Council on Foreign Relations Fellow. I've known him that long and at that level.
He is one of the most honest, hardworking, smart people you will ever know. He was a defender of intelligence reform from the very beginning when it wasn't necessarily popular to be a defender of intelligence reform. He's a thorough professional, did a magnificent job of changing NSA from a kind of Cold War culture to a place that was able to recruit the best of people, that was taking on new problems, that was more open to public perception of what NSA was doing. He's a tremendous change agent. People who worked for him at the NSA during this time of all of this change were not just loyal to him but were inspired by him.
So he's a leader. He's a thorough intelligence professional. He is an advocate of intelligence reform and he will tell you exactly what he thinks whatever the consequences. And I think that's the kind of person that you would want to run the CIA. And like I said, I've known him since we were younger. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What do you think the biggest challenges are to restoring the strength and vigor of the CIA?
SECRETARY RICE: The CIA has been through a lot and I think that Porter Goss came at a very difficult time and he did a lot of very good and honorable things for the CIA. And it's not going to be a one-year or a two-year project to see the evolution and transition of the CIA from an institution that really was born of the Cold War, went through the difficult period of the '90s, then went through having to take on a whole different set of tasks and expectations after 9/11. This is going to be a long-term process.
And I think what you want is somebody who is an agent of change and yet can do it in a way that inspires people to want to be a part of that change. And that's really what I see in Mike Hayden. The Agency will have to get more comfortable with, you know, the parts of intelligence that are not so easily accessible. When you're dealing with Iran or you're dealing -- even if you were dealing with Iraq back at the time when we once thought we had a huge, you know, vial of what weapons inspectors had found, when you're dealing with weapons of mass destruction which by their nature are based mostly on technologies and materials that are dual use, and you're dealing with that in closed states that are doing everything that they can to deceive you, it's one heck of an intelligence challenge. And rebuilding for that is not going to be easy and then support of the war on terrorism is the other major goal. So you know, everything from recruiting people who have different skill sets to becoming or integrating better into the DNI structure, there's a lot of change underway.
QUESTION: First boots on the ground in Afghanistan were CIA. If you had it to do over again, would you do it that way again?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, yes. Yes.
SECRETARY RICE: I think Afghanistan was, for a variety of reasons, a kind of model of how to fight a new -- the new war. I remember when we first looked up at Camp David on September 16th, that Saturday when they rolled out a map of Afghanistan and kind of the color drained from everybody's face because you thought, great, Afghanistan, how did we get lucky enough to have to fight in Afghanistan? It's the place -- it's the graveyard of great powers: Great Britain died there, the Soviet Union died there.
And what this policy designed was a relationship between intelligence and local forces and a minimalist footprint on the part of military force to deal with what could have been a pretty intractable enemy in Afghanistan. You know, not by any means a traditional army with the Taliban, hiding in the hills, taking -- had learned how to take potshots at big military formations. You know, they used to sit up in those ridges when the Soviets -- I've studied this part of it, you know. The Soviet forces would come down through those gullies and the Afghan fighters would stand up, sit up in those ridges and just pick them off, you know, little by little.
Well, it didn't happen to the United States. This was a tremendously successful operation. And it is because of this union of intelligence, local forces and rather minimalist footprint. And the politics went alongside it in that you very quickly got good leadership in Karzai. And yes, Afghanistan faces a lot of challenges, but if you look at where this place was in 2001 and you look now, it's night and day.
QUESTION: What do you think of all the criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld by the former generals? Speaking of minimalist footprint. Do you think he'll stay throughout the rest of the Administration?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, the President has confidence in him. Secondly, those of us who work with him have confidence in him. And I hope so because he's been a really, really good Secretary of Defense. He's had to do some difficult things. And I believe that the people who have spoken out are doing so because that's what they truly believe and they're out of uniform; they can do so. I can tell you that at the time when we were going over what Tommy Franks would bring to the President in terms of war plans as we were preparing to go to war, the President of the United States had his military advisors tell him that this plan was adequate and that the resourcing, meaning the troops of it, was adequate.
And he asked it time and time again. I can remember two circumstances in particular, one in the Situation Room where he went to each of the combatant commanders and said, "Do you have everything that you need?" Another where we sat in, I think it was the Cabinet Room, and went around to each of the chairmen, each of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said, "Is this the plan that we're going to -- can we execute it with what we've got?" And his commanders told him yes.
Now, people will debate for probably years and years and years and years the onset of the war and its evolution and its outcome. But the President was advised by his military advisors, from the chiefs all the way down to combatant commanders, and that's the advice that he took. And if there was other advice that was offered somewhere in the system, I was in most of those meetings, probably all of those meetings with the President, and nobody offered it to him. So I think that he got the advice through his chain, through the Secretary, through his military commanders, but he asked his military commanders directly -- not through the Secretary, the commanders directly.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I'm curious as to what extent that the exceedingly low popularity numbers of the President affect your job. In other words, how does his popularity domestically affect U.S. stature abroad and your trying to get things done on behalf of the Administration.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't see any effect at all. I mean, when people come to talk to me or when they come to talk to the President, you know, Chancellor Merkel wasn't thinking about what the President's poll ratings might be; she was thinking about what's the President of the United States prepared to do on Iran or what's the President of the United States asking us to do on the future of Iraq. That's the nature of the conversations. Because everybody knows the influence and power of the United States if it decides to exercise it and nobody believes that this President is going to somehow pull his punches for domestic reasons or for political reasons. And so they know that what they -- what he thinks is best is what he's going to do. And so what people come to try to ascertain either from him or from me is what's he going to do and how are we going to do this together. And that's the nature of the conversation so I really haven't seen an effect. The conversations don't appear to me to be any different than the ones that we had after 9/11 when the polls were way up, so the conversations are pretty much the same.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, to follow up, pull out -- just as a citizen why do you think the President's numbers are so low. And also, in your six years at the White House, what do you think the biggest change is that you've seen in the President himself as a man.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know. American politics is a mystery to me. You know, Russian politics may not be, but American politics is. (Laughter.) And I don't spend much time trying to think about it. I know that the President has had to do some very difficult things and, look, I understand that people are concerned about particularly the war in Iraq. And I think that the way that you address that is that you address Iraq and you work to take this moment when you have a new government and you help that new government to get its footing so that Iraq becomes a more stable place. So I understand the concerns when people see what they see on television about Iraq.
And I'm not saying that what they see on television is not reflective of a reality in Iraq. It is. But it's reflective only of part of the reality in Iraq. But I understand that it's having an effect on people's confidence in whether or not we are going to be successful there. And I believe very firmly that we are going to be successful there and I think that the road ahead is pretty clear on how you are successful. And I think that's what I have to concentrate on, that, and the fact that I think Americans are very concerned about Iran. They don't know where this is going and they want to see that there is a way to resolve this diplomatically, and so I'll spend my time on that. But I think that's what I have to do and American politics will take care of itself.
The remarkable thing about the President is, look, of course the President is deeply, deeply, deeply conversant in these issues in a way that he was not when he came into office -- and nobody could have been when he came into office -- and able to in great depth and great breadth strategize about various issues. But what has not changed and what's quite remarkable about it is that when I first started talking to then Governor Bush, what was notable was a kind of strategic sense, a tendency to go to the essence of something. And what was a little disconcerting when I was his foreign policy advisor was if you didn't get to the essence of it pretty quickly, then he would say, you know, could we kind of -- is this the essence of it? And you would say, oh, well, yeah, actually that was the essence of it, I guess we'll go there.
And he's maybe a little more tolerant now of our kind of wandering around to get to the essence. And he's still capable of going right to what is it that we've got to do and what is it we're trying to do. And I do think 9/11 had a profound effect on him, as you might imagine, and a kind of understanding of the extraordinary nature of this moment and of this history that we're in the process of making and a very strong belief that these are not ordinary times and they require extraordinary means and sometimes difficult decisions and bold decisions but not ordinary ones, that you cannot take the easy way out.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Vice President Cheney said in an interview with Kelly O'Donnell that he, in fact, believes with some few exceptions that Americans were greeted as liberators in Iraq. I'm wondering whether you share that conclusion and whether you think the American people share that conclusion.
SECRETARY RICE: I can't speak for the American people, but I do know that you don't know how many Iraqis will tell you precisely that: You know, we are so thankful that we are rid of Saddam Hussein and we would not have been rid of Saddam Hussein without you. And you get it from women's groups and, you know, from even some of these new leaders in Iraq who were critical of us even a year ago will say to you, but thank you for getting rid of Saddam Hussein.
I think there are a lot of Iraqis who perhaps expected more progress more quickly than it could be delivered and maybe there's some disappointment with that. I do think you run into that quite a bit because, for better or worse, there's a kind of view of America, you were able to go to the moon, certainly you can fix this. And so I do think you sometimes run into disappointment about that things haven't appeared to get, you know, radically better immediately.. But that people are glad to be rid of Saddam and believe the United States was the liberator in that sense, I think it's absolutely true.
I do think there are some people for whom that was not good news, including some Saddamists and some Baathists, and that it is not hard for a relatively small group of people to express themselves in a way that would lead you to believe that more Iraqis were unhappy about being liberated than actually were. You know, Saddam's regime didn't serve very many people well. When you think about it, I've often said democracy is hard and I started to say once and, you know, dictatorship may be easier, and then I stopped and I said, no, actually dictatorship is only easier if you're the dictator. If you're actually the oppressed, it's hard. And Saddam's regime was hard on the great majority of Iraqi people.
QUESTION: In Liverpool, Madame Secretary, you said that there had been thousands of tactical mistakes. I guess what did you mean by that and how did you feel about Secretary Rumsfeld saying that that reflects a lack of understanding of warfare? It seemed a little patronizing. Do you think there was a little gender issue there?
SECRETARY RICE: No. A gender issue? No, Andrea, I don't believe a gender issue. First of all, I also say I've done that a thousand times and I haven't done it a thousand times either. It was a figure of speech which I obviously used inartfully because people believed it was a literal statement. And I was, by the way, talking about how history will judge this when it goes back and looks at what we've done. The problem with trying to judge today what has been a mistake and what -- or what was a mistake and what was the right decision is that if you go back over history, you will find that things that at the time seemed to be brilliant decisions turn out to have been mistakes and things that looked like mistakes turn out to have been the right decision. And you can't judge it until it plays out.
If you look at the postwar in Germany, the reconstruction in Germany was a mess well into 1947. Germans were still starving. That was the whole reason for the Marshall Plan. Europe was prostrate at that point in time. And so does anybody now remember what happened between '45 and '47 and '48? Not unless you are a historian of that period.
And so I was trying to give some perspective to say that I thought it was not our responsibility, as we're very often asked, to name the three top mistakes that you made in Iraq. And the point was I'm sure we've made some, I'm sure we've made plenty. But what they are and how they will be judged is, you know, it's for somebody else to do at a later time.
The one mistake -- the one thing that was not a mistake was to overthrow Saddam Hussein, because I do think that set off the potential for a much different and much better kind of Middle East. But there were other things that I think would have been a mistake. There were people who said to us, you know, it's good that you've overthrown Saddam Hussein, but go find a general. The Iraqis aren't -- this is too tough a political culture for democracy, so go find a strongman to run Iraq for a while till you can get it stable. I think that would have been a mistake.
So that was the reason for the comment. Now, as to what Don said, I think he started by saying, well, he hadn't heard it and I think he may have thought that I was talking about military issues, which of course I was not, and he called me -- he said to me the very next day, he said, you know, I'm sorry about the way that that came out, I hadn't read the statement and I thought I'd made clear that I hadn't read the statement. So it was certainly no tiff or beef between us and I was sort of surprised to find out that we were having a tiff about it. But then I'm often surprised to read what I'm thinking. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Maybe we should stop it right now.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, that's a good place to stop.
QUESTION: 2008 -- absolutely ruled it out?
SECRETARY RICE: I can't do it, Campbell. Can't do it. I have to work on this Iran, Middle East. I have things to do.
QUESTION: And if Russia keeps saying no, do we go with the Europeans and do things unilaterally?
SECRETARY RICE: I think for now we can continue to work the Security Council. I've said several times that, you know, if the Security Council cannot move then we have to look at what we might be able to do outside of the Security Council with countries that are likeminded on this matter. But I don't think we're there yet.
Great, thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. 2006/T13-3
Released on May 9, 2006