Secretary Rice Interview With Rita Braver of CBS
Secretary Rice Interview With Rita Braver of CBS Sunday Morning
December 22, 2008
QUESTION: You know, other than the President and Vice President, you have become such a symbol for this Administration. What’s that been like for you?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t think of myself as a symbol. I just think of myself as someone who’s tried to do a good job on behalf of the country. And I think we have managed to keep the country safe. And for those of us who were there on September 11th, every day since has been September 12th. I think we’ve stood for freedom and liberty as something that every man, woman, and child should enjoy. And I think we’ve built a lot of very good relationships around the world that are serving us very well in some of the most difficult challenges of all time.
QUESTION: I think though that – I think people are fascinated with you personally. I’ve heard – read it so many times that you’ve been described as the rock star of this Administration. Of course, your famous outfit at Wiesbaden --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you think it’s just that you are a woman, you’re attractive, you’re young? What do you think it’s been that’s captured people’s imagination?
SECRETARY RICE: Thank for all of those, Rita. I appreciate that. Not so young, certainly, anymore. But I don’t know. I do think that because the Secretary of State’s position has not always been one that was occupied by women, although, of course, Madeleine Albright and now it will be Hillary Clinton, that perhaps that brings a little extra interest. I think my background from the South and that story, and maybe the fact that I love sports so much and music, as well.
QUESTION: When you go out there and you hear troops cheering and whistling, you’ve got to get a kick out of that.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, but I wore the boots because it was cold. I’ve tried so hard to explain to people that that outfit was – it was really a surprise to me that there was any commentary about it, because I grew up – well, spent a lot of my life in Colorado. When it’s cold, you wear boots.
QUESTION: Other – there have been very few Secretaries of State who also served as National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, of course. Which job have you enjoyed more? Because you have been quoted as saying that as National Security Advisor, you have a lot of responsibility but not much authority.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s true. I think it’s a very difficult job, National Security Advisor. It’s a great job, because you are there with the President. I probably walked down to the Oval four, five, six times a day, and you’re always there and you’re the President’s key staff person on foreign policy.
But I do like being the country’s chief diplomat. I like the responsibility and the authority aligned to make decisions on behalf of the country and to represent the country. And I tease with Steve Hadley, the current National Security Advisor who was my deputy when I was National Security Advisor, and I tell him it’s also a lot more fun to be coordinated than coordinating others. So this has been a great, great four years.
QUESTION: Since you’ve become Secretary of State, I think you’ve traveled almost constantly. We counted something like 83 countries, more than a million miles traveled. Why has that been such a hallmark of your approach to the job?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we had a difficult time some – in particular, some of our best allies after the Iraq War. It’s no secret that we had some allies who were very supportive and others who were not. And I thought that it was important to, as we enter a period of time in which everybody agreed that now the issue was to get a stable Iraq and to build on our relationships, that it was important to go there.
I don’t actually think you can conduct diplomacy very well by telephone, although sometimes you have to. Everybody’s now into videoconferencing, and that helps some, too. But there’s nothing like going to a place and being in a country and having an opportunity to talk to a whole array of leaders in those countries and being able to do a few cultural events, too. And so I’ve thought it’s been important to be on the road and out representing the country.
QUESTION: Do you ever wake up in the morning in some strange place and have to remind yourself of where you are?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. The scary thing is I’ve actually awakened in my own bed and thought, what hotel am I in? So that’s even worse. But I’ve gotten used to it. I try to keep a very regular schedule when I’m on the road. I still get up. I still exercise in the morning.
QUESTION: At 4:30 in the morning?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, maybe 5:30 when I’m abroad, because the truth of the matter is most people won’t start meetings abroad quite as early as we start them here in Washington. But I really do try to make sure that I exercise and I get enough sleep. And another little secret is I take my own coffee with me. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to have my own coffee.
QUESTION: Is there one world leader that you’ve met who really surprised you, maybe somebody you expected to be one way and they turned out to be another way?
SECRETARY RICE: Probably Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel. He’s a – he has is a very tough exterior. He’s a general, not known as someone who was coming to make peace, but rather as someone who came in 2001 to defeat the intifada, and that was very much his image. But as I got to know him over time, he really was somebody who I think had made a strategic decision that Israel had to divide the land, that Israel would be better off when there was a Palestinian State.
And he had a very charming side to him. I went to visit him at his farm, which he loved dearly. And you’d go out to this great farm – he has a farm house out there, very nice. But he said, I’d like to show you my sheep. And I thought, your sheep? All right, whatever you say, but I’m a city girl. And so we went out and he introduced me to his sheep. I’d never actually been up close and personal with a sheep before. And then several weeks later, maybe even a couple of months later, and just before he had the debilitating stroke, we were on the phone and I said to him, I said, so how are your sheep? And he said, well, they miss you. (Laughter.) And I thought, my goodness, this is not what I expected.
QUESTION: Not the usual diplomatic chitchat, yeah.
SECRETARY RICE: Not the usual diplomatic chitchat. But he then said, I’m looking forward to talking about the future. And I think he’d made a strategic decision. He was the one who insisted on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. He was the one who made the speech at Herzliya in 2003 talking about the painful circumstances, the painful choices that Israelis would have to make. He became someone that I admired enormously.
QUESTION: You know, while we’re on the Middle East, I mean, you know that this Administration has been criticized for getting involved in the Middle East late. One former diplomat I spoke to said, you know, they had a great moment after Yasser Arafat passed away, and instead of acting right away, they took too long.
SECRETARY RICE: When Yasser Arafat died, you still had to have a decent leadership come into power. You still had to start building the institutions of a Palestinian state. It’s also the case that we helped to see Israeli forces leave Gaza, the first time that Israel had really, with the Palestinians, given back occupied territory. We worked hard. Unfortunately, the Palestinians weren’t really ready to take responsibility in Gaza. And we know how that has turned out.
But there were a lot of ups and down in this process: Ariel Sharon’s debilitating stroke not too long after that; then the effort that was made to bring Palestinians together at Mecca by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that actually ended up blurring lines and bringing Hamas into the Palestinian leadership, a period where the Israelis did not want to deal with that Palestinian Government; and then finally when the President – when Hamas launched their preemptive strike against the Palestinian institutions and overtook Gaza, it again clarified the picture, and the President launched Annapolis.
QUESTION: Do you feel – I mean, again, the Annapolis process, which was your gathering of many, many Middle East leaders, has been criticized for having long-term goals but not really short-term institutional strategy.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, quite the opposite. Quite the opposite. What Annapolis has really done – yes, it’s set up negotiating between the Palestinians and Israelis for the first time since 2000. Look, we were confronted with the collapse of that meeting. We were confronted with the second intifada raging and with suicide bombs not in the West Bank, but in Tel Aviv. We were confronted with large-scale Israeli military operations that ended up blowing a hole by mistake in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and countless Palestinian deaths, as well.
So we’re leaving this in a lot better shape than we found it. We’re leaving a negotiating forum where Palestinians and Israelis have said they have confidence that they will reach agreement, the Security Council having blessed that in a resolution, and Arab support for that, including the Saudis, who came to Annapolis under their own flag for the first time. And finally, on the ground, Palestinian security forces taking responsibility in places like Jenin and Nablus and Hebron, the West Bank economy growing for the first time in a number of years, and Palestinian – decent Palestinian institutions of governance going up. I think this is in much better shape than we found it.
QUESTION: Looking at the big picture of what’s the whole foreign policy of this Administration – you come out of the academic tradition so I think it’s fair to ask, what kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t know. It depends on the subject. I’m sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. But what I think this Administration has done is, in the most complicated circumstances after September 11th, to put the country on a course where we have built a different foundation for a different kind of Middle East, where Saddam Hussein is out of power, where that will bring -- where there’s an Iraq that is multiethnic and multiconfessional democracy and a friend of the United States, rather than an Iraq that is invading its neighbors and using weapons of mass destruction and seeking weapons of mass destruction. We’ve left a lot of good foundations.
QUESTION: You know, you say that, but the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a new report very recently. On the very first page it says, “The U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere.” The most recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 26 percent of Americans approve of the President’s foreign policy. It has to be more than just a perception problem.
SECRETARY RICE: No. Rita, first of all, it depends on where you’re talking about. In two of the most populous countries, China and India, the United States is not just well regarded for its policies, but well regarded. And –
QUESTION: This report says the only place the U.S. is really – you know, people are happy about the U.S. is in some of the southern African countries, but --
SECRETARY RICE: Well, that’s no small fact either, that in Africa, the policies of AIDS relief and so forth have been so regarded. But you know, this isn’t a popularity contest. I’m sorry, it isn’t. What the Administration is responsible to do is to make good choices about Americans’ interests and values in the long run, not for today’s headlines, but for history’s judgment.
And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it’s clear that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East, when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it’s ever been, an India relationship that is deeper and better than it’s ever been, a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America better than it’s ever been, a relationship that has given an umbrella to antiterrorist activities so that this country is not yet safe, but clearly much, much safer. When one looks at what we’ve been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this Administration will be judged well, and I’ll wait for history’s judgment and not today’s headlines.
QUESTION: So you think that people are just short-sighted and they – that the pain that maybe we’re going through now because of what’s still going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, is causing people to say, look, you know, we just don’t think this Administration has done a very good job. I mean --
SECRETARY RICE: Rita, it’s not a popularity contest. It is to lay a foundation for where this will all come out. Do you really think that in 1947 or 1948 or 1949, anybody thought we were going to win the Cold War, flat out, that Germany would unify on Western terms, that the Soviet Union would collapse, that Eastern Europe would be fully integrated, and that this President would welcome nine countries into NATO that are former captive nations? I know that your business is to report today’s headlines, and I respect that, but my business is to lay a foundation for history’s judgment.
QUESTION: Why do former diplomats say things to me like – two different people that I talked to said, you know, we are just hated in so many places now, we’re not liked, we’re not respected, and we’re not even feared. We’re just disliked.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it’s just not true. And I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but I know that I am the chief diplomat and I know that my phone rings off the hook for America to get involved in this or to get involved in that, because they say without the United States, this won’t happen.
I know that the United States is respected for the quadrupling of development assistance in Africa, for the doubling in Latin America, for the tripling worldwide after assistance that was flat. I know that the fact that the United States has spoken out for Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma or for the people of Zimbabwe or for the people of Sudan, or ended the conflict in Liberia and put Charles Taylor in jail, or ended the conflict between Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan that killed millions of people over decades. I know what U.S. policy has achieved. And so I don’t know what diplomats you’re talking to, but look at the record.
QUESTION: When you hear criticism, and I know you hear plenty of it, and some of it is about policy and some of it is personal about your style, do you get angry? Do you get sad or do you just not pay attention to it?
SECRETARY RICE: I really don’t care, Rita. You know, look, if you’re in this business and you’re not being criticized, you’re not doing something right, because somebody is not going to like – there’s always someone who won’t like people who make tough choices. And I’m here to make tough choices, and this President is here to make tough choices, and we have. And yes, I – there are some things that I would do very differently if I had it to do over again. You don’t have that luxury. You have to make the choices and take the positions that you do at the time.
But I have to tell you that if I look at the record and I look at the fact that this President can stand side by side with a democratically elected president of Afghanistan, a democratically elected prime minister of Iraq, a president of Lebanon who no longer has Syrian forces in Lebanon because of the policies of this Administration --
QUESTION: But has Hezbollah.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Hezbollah has been in Lebanon a long time.
QUESTION: Stronger with Iranian backing.
SECRETARY RICE: No, no, not stronger, because you actually have a democratic opposition in Lebanon now. Syrian forces are out. Hezbollah is not in control in the south of the country, but Lebanese forces are. And Lebanon is friendly to the United States. And I might add, the liberation of Liberia, where on the front pages of newspapers in 2003, there were boys with AK-47s running rampant. Now, there’s a president in Liberia, a woman who is a strong leader that the United States has just recognized for the Millennium Challenge Account Threshold Program.
So we can sit here and talk about the long record, but what I would say to you is that this President has faced tougher circumstances than perhaps at any time since the end of World War II, and he has delivered policies that are going to stand the test of time.
QUESTION: If what you say is true, then why do you think that Republicans, those who would keep this President’s policies going, were voted out of office? Do you think, or don’t you have to think, that this last presidential election was kind of a referendum on this President’s foreign policies?
SECRETARY RICE: This President had two terms. That’s all he gets. That’s all he gets is two terms. And he had two terms. He was reelected.
QUESTION: So --
SECRETARY RICE: And so --
QUESTION: So what happened after his – his two terms isn’t a reflection on him?
SECRETARY RICE: The American people voted for change. That was quite obvious. And that’s important, and it will happen from time to time. But this President had two terms. He was elected twice by the American people, and I think he served them well.
QUESTION: That’s an interesting answer.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s true, Rita. I’m sorry, you know, the President didn’t get to run again in 2008.
QUESTION: And you think he would – you think he would have been reelected with those popularity polls?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I – no, look, I’m not going to talk about popularity polls. The President was reelected in 2004. That’s all he got to do.
QUESTION: You brought up Iraq a little bit, and so I just want to come back at it and brief you a little bit more directly. But in his latest book, Bob Woodward quotes you as saying, “We should have liberated Iraq. I’d do it a thousand times again.”
Would you really?
SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. Because I know that the Middle East with Saddam Hussein in its center was never going to be a Middle East that was going to change in a way that will sustain American interests and values and security.
QUESTION: And do you think that this current configuration of Iraq – I mean, obviously, we’re there, we’re supporting them, we’ve tried to put structures in place, but there seems to be a lot of worry out there that once the United States is not such an active partner, Iraq may not last as a democratic entity.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, it’s a fragile democratic state, but young democratic states generally are fragile. And you’re talking about a place where a brutal dictator ruled for decades, rended the fabric of the society, set Shia against Sunnis and against Kurds, a place where tyranny reigned. And now you have a place that’s trying to build a decent life for its people, a democratic way of life. Yes, it’s hard. But of course, it’s a lot better than having Saddam Hussein in power, using weapons of mass destruction, invading his neighbors, dragging us into war, putting his people into mass graves. I’ll defend the Iraq that’s there any day compared to that one.
QUESTION: The whole premise, of course, for invading Iraq was that there were weapons of mass destruction, and it turned out, of course, that there weren’t. There is sort of a pretty strong body of thought out there that says that you and President Bush are now just trying to justify taking this country into a war that did not really have a justification, that didn’t present – in a country that didn’t present a clear and present danger.
SECRETARY RICE: Let me remind people that we didn’t go to war in 1990-91 against Saddam Hussein because of weapons of mass destruction. We went to war because he invaded and ate his neighbor.
QUESTION: And that was the stated reason for which we went to war.
SECRETARY RICE: No, in fact, if you go back and you look at what the President said in Cincinnati and what he said again at a speech in February shortly before we liberated Iraq, he talked about the broad problem of Iraq. Yes, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a brutal dictator who invaded his neighbors, used them before, and dragged us into war is a particularly grave threat. But it’s not just weapons of mass destruction. It was Saddam Hussein’s ambitions, his aggression in the region, and the fact that he was a threat to us and to his neighbors. And after September 11th, it was better not to let threats materialize.
Now, it’s not that he had not used weapons of mass destruction. Everybody knows that that’s the case.
QUESTION: Correct. Against the Kurds in his own country.
SECRETARY RICE: It was not that he didn’t continue to seek weapons of mass destruction. Everyone knows that that’s the case. It is a question of how advanced his programs were when we invaded Iraq. And the intelligence assessment was that he had reconstituted his chemical weapons programs, he had reconstituted his biological weapons programs, and with one dissent, that he was in a position to reconstitute his nuclear programs – and by the way, if he got foreign assistance, he could do it within a year.
Now, you don’t get to go back and say, oh, that was wrong; what would I have done differently. That’s not the way the world works. What happened yesterday can affect what happens tomorrow, but not the other way around. And so when I look at the sum total of what has happened in Iraq, I think it was in America’s interest, I think it sustains America’s values, and we’re going to have a friend in the – an Arab country in the middle of the Middle East, and that matters.
QUESTION: What’s the thing, if you could go back, that you would like to change?
SECRETARY RICE: I think we were too Baghdad focused. I would build more from the bottom up. We finally, with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, could go out to Anbar and go out to Sadr City and into the south, and bringing governance and reconstruction closer to the people rather than trying to do it in the capital. I think that we would do that differently.
Clearly, too, we didn’t have the right structure internally to manage the post-liberation in the way that --
QUESTION: So keeping the peace was what became a priority?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, yeah. Keeping the – well, keeping the peace and rebuilding the country. I don’t think we understood how completely destroyed the fabric of Iraq was by Saddam Hussein’s regime. And so we now – the President has now proposed something called a Civilian Response Corps, which could bring people who are experts in tax policy, experts in budget execution, agricultural experts, people in justice reform. And State Department didn’t have those people, Defense Department didn’t have those people, and this will be a better structure.
QUESTION: You have repeatedly described Iran now as a bulwark – excuse me, Iraq. You now described Iraq as a bulwark in the Middle East, something that will sort of be there to protect U.S. interests in this very, very dangerous part of the world. Isn’t it possible, and when you look at what’s going on with Iran, that what we did in Iraq really ended up strengthening Iran?
SECRETARY RICE: Iran, when we came in, was seeking a nuclear – we believe nuclear weapons, certainly nuclear technologies that could lead to a weapon, and it wasn’t until this President really drew attention to that and began to build an international coalition that the world got serious about stopping them. And so when the --
QUESTION: Certainly, their influence has expanded.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I think their influence can be overstated. First of all, yes, they have their (inaudible) with Hezbollah and Hamas.
QUESTION: Hamas, too.
SECRETARY RICE: But they also failed miserably, even though they pulled out all the stops, to keep Iraq from signing a Strategic Agreement with the United States. Their allies were defeated in Basra by the Iraqi security forces – their special groups, their militias that they trained. The Iranians find themselves with an American position in Iraq, an American position in Afghanistan, strengthened security relationships to the south, throughout the Gulf. You know when then-Secretary of Defense Cheney tried to find places to base our forces in advance of the 1991 war, it was very difficult. We have the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain now. We have very close relations with those countries. And so I don’t think the Iranians are in terribly good shape geostrategically. And, by the way, Rita, I have to say they have an economy that’s cratering.
QUESTION: But the one thing that the Iranians have – and you are going to pass along to Secretary Clinton, a State Department that is going to have to deal with Iran possibly as a real nuclear power.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we will see, because Iran is paying enormous costs now for continuing to defy the international community. It is isolated. It has – can’t access the international financial system in the way that it needs to because people are not invested there. People are pulling out. The last Western company pulled out, Total, a couple of months ago.
QUESTION: So are you saying they may not go ahead and try to make a nuclear weapon?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m saying that I think that with the increasingly – exacerbated by a lower price of oil, the Iranians are going to face some hard choices. They’re coming up to an election in a few months. They’re going to face some hard choices. And the criticism of their policies is increasing. Now, maybe they will continue down this path. But they will do so at great detriment to themselves, and they will do so in an environment in which the defensive capacities of the states around them have been strengthened considerably.
QUESTION: You’ve met with Secretary Clinton a couple of times already, and I know you can’t talk about the specific things that you’ve told her about how to handle this --
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: -- head of state and how to handle that one. But is there something that you’ve learned along the way that you think stands a Secretary of State in good stead, sort of an attitude to take?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, a couple of things. I’m a very firm believer in multilateral diplomacy. Obviously, I’ve practiced a lot of it. But I also --
QUESTION: Meaning dealing with a lot of countries at the same time?
SECRETARY RICE: Dealing with multiple countries at the same time. But I recognize too that the danger in multilateral diplomacy is that it can regress to the lowest common denominator. And if you don’t demand that tough choices, tough decisions are made, you could get agreement. You can get agreement. All you have to do is regress to the easiest possible solution or the easiest possible non-solution and say you have one. That’s not how the United States has to operate. You have to remain pretty tough. You have to go in and be prepared to debate and argue. I kind of like that because – (laughter) – it’s sort of in my nature to do that.
But you have to do so in a way that people never feel assaulted, that they feel that their interests are being taken into account. But if you just go in and, in a sense, go to the lowest common denominator, you’re not going to do any good.
QUESTION: You know, you have a style that people have described as being sort of steel cloaked in velvet, I guess. (Laughter.) Do you think that’s a fair description of your style?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t know about the steel part. I kind of like the velvet part. Look, I’m the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has to sometimes do tough things and deliver tough messages. But you also have to have compassion. You know, when you go into a refugee camp in Darfur and sit with women, most of whom have been raped by just trying to go out and get firewood, that’s not (inaudible) steel. And so it depends.
QUESTION: Even within the Administration, there are people who you’ve kind of tangled with that we have known about, Secretary of Defense – former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. Neither one of them is around anymore. Vice President Cheney, his influence is said to have waxed, as you – to have waned as your has waxed. Why do you think you’ve been able to kind of get your point of view across, and the President seems to believe in you and believe what – in the goals and also the approach that you’ve suggested to him?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I have not won every internal debate. But one thing you have to understand is they are debates. They’re not fights to the death between people. They are – they’re debates.
QUESTION: You and Secretary Rumsfeld never had shouting matches or anything like that?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I won’t say that. (Laughter.) But we are always friends afterwards because we’re – people who get to these positions obviously are very tough-minded and can advocate very strongly for what they believe. And that’s what has to be expected of them. It’s not personal. It is a matter of advocating for what you believe.
And as for the President, I’ve tried to make sure that we were always on the same page. I talk to him frequently. I’ll just say to him, Mr. President, what’s your thinking, and we’ll think through things. I don’t like just going in and here’s the formal recommendation for the President, because we’ve known each other long enough and well enough and gone through enough tough times to be able to work and work out and think about things before we have to – he has to make a decision.
QUESTION: You and the President have both described your relationship as almost family, brother and sister --
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: -- or a cousin, like that. What do you think that the public doesn’t know about him? Because again, his public approval ratings tend to be low right now. What don’t we understand about him?
SECRETARY RICE: I think how intense he is in really pressing for good decisions and how much he (inaudible). It’s not that he believes that he has to have a handle on every detail. You can’t be a good – I can’t do that here at the State Department and be a good decision maker. I have to have a framework in which I’m trying to put all the recommendations (inaudible).
But I have seen many an aide, and myself – I’ve been in that position or a cabinet secretary – go in and make a very fine presentation, and the President just takes it apart because he always thinks of the question you didn’t think to ask or the detail that is really the one that’s going to be dispositive. I would love for Americans to see him in a decision-making session. People would be amazed.
QUESTION: Well, I’ll ask you if I can bring my camera in the next – (laughter). Look, I interviewed a couple of pretty well-known historians who study the presidency. And both of them said to me they see this President ending up at, you know, in the bottom tier as one of the worst, if not the worst, presidents in history. What do you say when you hear people say that this President is not going to go down without – he is going to be in the bottom of the historical --
SECRETARY RICE: You know what I’d say? You know what I’d say? I’d say these aren’t very good historians. I don’t know who you talked to. But if you’re making historical judgments before an administration is already out – even out of office, and if you’re trying to make historical judgments when the nature of the Middle East is still to be determined, and when one cannot yet judge the effects of decisions that this President has taken on what the Middle East will become – I mean, for goodness’ sakes, good historians are still writing books about George Washington. Good historians are certainly still writing books about Harry Truman.
QUESTION: But when people say he’s one of the worst presidents in recent memory, if nothing else --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I just – I just – I just – it’s ridiculous. And I believe that this President, who secured this country after the worst attack on its soil ever, who showed a way to deal with those threats in ways that really forced us and challenged us to think completely differently about how we organize domestically, how we organize abroad, and how we made a union between the two. When you look at what this President took on in terms of AIDS relief and foreign assistance to the world, when you look at the number of countries that this President and the number of people that this President has actually liberated – you know, I really am someone who believes that you don’t want to pay too much attention to today’s headlines.
Because I know that when I was in government in 1989 to 1991 – and I was lucky. You know, I was the White House Soviet Specialist at the end of the Cold War. It doesn’t get better than that. And I was standing there when Jim Baker signed the documents unifying Germany fully on Western terms. But I know that much of the work that made that possible 40 years later was actually done in 1949 and 1940 – 1950 in these halls when things didn’t look quite so rosy.
QUESTION: You are saying that you believe that future generations are going to thank this President for what he’s done?
SECRETARY RICE: Absolutely. I think generations pretty soon are going to start to thank this President for what he’s done. This generation will.
Because I think the fact that we have really made foreign assistance not just an issue of giving humanitarian aid or giving money to poor people, but really insisting on good governance and fighting corruption; and that there are African states now where that really is the mantra, where we’ve made big investments in countries like Ghana and Tanzania, and they are going about with good governance. I think the fact that this President has laid the groundwork for a Palestinian state, being the first President, as a matter of policy, to say that there should be one, and now, I think, laying the foundation that’s going to lead to that Palestinian state – I can go on and on. It will not be long before the benefits of much of what the President has done is (inaudible).
QUESTION: Is there one moment as Secretary of State that you reflect on where you say, “Wow, that was amazing?”
SECRETARY RICE: Going to Libya was amazing and meeting with Colonel Qadhafi, partly because no Secretary of State had done it since John Foster Dulles. It was really, really extraordinary. So that was a special moment.
QUESTION: And that – that was a product of a lot of work by this Administration to --
SECRETARY RICE: A lot of work by the Administration, exactly.
QUESTION: -- to get him to back off on a lot of things, become less belligerent in the Middle East.
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, what it said to me is the United States doesn't have permanent enemies. We can always find a way if countries are willing to make important strategic choices. And Libya decided to give up its weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism and paid claims to the victims of the terrorist events. And so it was a good moment. But you know, I’ve had so many as Secretary. I look forward to going back and looking at the pictures.
QUESTION: Is there anything that – ever that happened to you was really funny, that – where you, you know, were talking to someone and then realized that he wasn’t who you thought he was or something?
SECRETARY RICE: No, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I’m sure there are plenty. I’ll have to go back and collect those.
QUESTION: You have always managed to keep music in your life.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: What’s the importance of that, and why is that such a big deal?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, music is something that I’ve been – it’s been part of my life since I was three years old when my grandmother decided to teach me to play the piano.
QUESTION: And you were going to become a concert pianist?
SECRETARY RICE: I was going to be a concert pianist. I realized pretty – well, not too early on, in college, that I wasn’t going to make it as a great concert pianist. But it’s always been a place to go, to go into the music. And people say, well, it’s relaxing. Well, it’s not exactly relaxing when you’re struggling with Brahms, but it is transporting. And when you’re doing it, you can’t think about anything else. And everything else just clears from the mind, and I find that a wonderful, wonderful way to decompress.
QUESTION: You recently played for the Queen.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: How did that come about? Did she just say, “I’d love to hear the Secretary of State play the piano”?
SECRETARY RICE: No, no, it was my colleague, David Miliband, Foreign Secretary of Great Britain. His wife is a violinist for the London Symphony Orchestra, and I was going there. They were doing a little dinner for me. And he said, “You know, Louise says would you like to play before the dinner?” And I thought, oh good, we’ll just sort of jam. And she brought some of her friends and we were going to play (inaudible). Just before I left here, the Ambassador called and said, “Oh, well, David thought it’d be fun to do it in Buckingham Palace.” So I thought, okay, Buckingham Palace sounds good. The next thing I knew, Her Majesty was going to come. And so it kept escalating. But it was lovely of her to come, and she’s a wonderful, warm person, and I was thrilled to play for her.
QUESTION: Were you nervous playing for the Queen?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, not so much. I’m pretty lucky in that in playing the piano, unless I’m ill-prepared, I tend not to get too nervous. Skating was quite another matter. I was a competitive figure skater, and there I was terrified every time I walked on the ice.
QUESTION: People always talk about how disciplined you are. I think The Washington Post, like, gave you the award for the biggest workaholic of a town of workaholics. You get up early in the morning to exercise, you always practice your music. Is it (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I like to do a lot of things, and if you’re going to get them all in, you have to schedule them. The one thing I will say is a lot of people don’t – my friends don’t like to travel with me because they say with my schedule and everything, even on vacation I schedule things. But it’s just so I can get everything in. I’m really not a workaholic.
QUESTION: You’re not?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I really am not. I love to do other things. I’m not a Type A person. I love to have time with my family and friends. I love to watch football. I love to play golf. I love to play the piano. So --
QUESTION: Do you ever just sleep in and not get out of bed and not make the bed and do all that kind of stuff?
SECRETARY RICE: No. (Laughter.) It’s where I draw the line.
QUESTION: Okay. A couple of quick international things, and then I want to talk about maybe what you’re going to be doing next and get to the walk. But if we could just go through briefly.
Afghanistan. Things there seem to be just getting worse instead of better.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t think they’re getting worse. They are different, though. We --
QUESTION: The Taliban is resurgent.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, part of the problem there is that nobody has been able to deal with the sanctuary across the border in that ungoverned part of Pakistan. And this is where the links between Pakistan and Afghanistan are very important. The Pakistanis have got to get a better handle on what’s going on in the northwest frontier, because that is the place from which the Taliban is resurgent.
The Afghan Government also is trying to and needs to establish better governance structures. Corruption needs to be fought. There’s a lot that needs to be done. But it’s going to be a long struggle in Afghanistan because it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. And when we talk about reconstructing Afghanistan, we’re really talking about constructing institutions in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Wouldn't it have been better for the United States to focus on Afghanistan and maybe not get involved in Iraq at the same time?
SECRETARY RICE: It’s really not a question of focus. It’s a question of the conditions in Afghanistan principally and most importantly because of the safe haven in Pakistan. And I don’t think that was going to change as a result of more focus.
It also is just the case that we really needed to do both, and I do believe that the additional forces that Bob Gates and the military commanders are intending to commit to Afghanistan will help. Fortunately, we can do it now in a context of Iraqis finally being capable of stepping up and taking on their own responsibilities.
QUESTION: Another hotspot, and one, as you’ve said, that didn’t seem like it was going to be a while back, is Russia. I mean, you are the Russia expert, and during your time as Secretary of State we seem to have a less happy relationship with Russia than maybe we did when you got there.
SECRETARY RICE: Look, we have a good relationship with – a good working relationship with Russia on all kinds of things. Where our interests are in the same direction – North Korea or the Middle East or global terrorism or proliferation – we really have cooperated with Russia very well. Even on Iran, the cooperation with – we’re cooperating with Russia very well.
The problem is that really after the color revolutions of 2005 in Georgia, in Ukraine --
QUESTION: You mean the – this is the individual countries --
SECRETARY RICE: The Rose Revolution, right. The Orange Revolution.
QUESTION: -- who are asserting their own independence from Russia.
SECRETARY RICE: And very close to Russia’s periphery. That’s really when Russia began to defend its periphery as having a set of special influences and interests there, and being, I think, quite unwilling to have a view of the periphery that said these are independent countries that can have their own relations with whomever. And that’s really where it started to be a problem with Russia.
QUESTION: Do you think that going forward the United States is going to have a more prickly relationship with Russia?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, unfortunately, Russia’s internal development has turned a more authoritarian way, which means that I think the hope for confluence of values, not just of interests, doesn't seem to be coming into place. But we did the right thing to make that path open to Russia. And I still believe, you know, that that Russia, a Russia that is more oriented toward the rule of law, greater freedom for its people, is – it’s not a foregone conclusion that that Russia can’t come back into being, because Russians have come to expect a different life than they expected in the Soviet Union. They expect to travel. They expect to have consumer goods. They expect to have their government deliver for them. And ultimately, Russia’s leaders can’t do that from a position of isolation.
QUESTION: And I’m sorry to be flipping through these so quickly, but I know you’re pressed for time.
When this Administration came in, North Korea was considered part of the "axis of evil". Are they still part of the "axis of evil"?
SECRETARY RICE: It is a very difficult thing. And the other day somebody said, well, you trusted the North Koreans. Now, come on, who trusts the North Koreans? But we have been able, with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, to put in place the Six-Party Talks, which will – which have agreement that there should be a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and have made some steps by shutting down the North Korean reactor, disabling parts of it, beginning to verify about the North Korean nuclear program. And even with the verification protocol, it’s about 80 percent done. But the North Koreans balked at writing down assurances that they’ve made to us. Now, in the context we have of the Six-Party Talks, we’re not going to deliver any benefit until the North Koreans have done what they’re supposed to do. But this position of the other five, I think will ultimately lead North Korea now to do the right thing.
QUESTION: Conservatives have been attacking the Administration for even trying anything in North Korea. Do you think that you have disappointed one of your main constituencies here?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don’t know what other good option there is but to work with the countries of the region and to work through the ups and downs of denuclearization in North Korea. It took the North Koreans decades, 30 years or more, to build a nuclear capability. You’re not going to unravel that in a few days. But you’ve got a much better chance of unraveling it with the other major powers at the table so that the North Koreans, which they love to do, can’t make this a U.S.-North Korea issue. Now they have to face China, they have to face South Korea, states with, frankly, more leverage than we have. And that’s why I think we’ve gotten as far as we have gotten.
But there are a lot of very troubling elements in the North Korean program. They probably are pursuing, or were pursuing, another path to a nuclear weapon, not just the plutonium path. We are ultimately only going to get a handle on this by the diplomatic course that we’re on, in the context of all of the regional states engaging in this. And I really don’t know what other option there is.
QUESTION: And the last question I’m going to ask you while we’re seated here, so we can move on to the next event. If you had to sum up what you hope is your legacy, what is it that you feel the proudest of? And I don’t mean country by country, but just in terms of maybe the dynamic or the way in which you’ve handled this job. What do you hope your legacy here is going to be?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, as I’ve said, the legacy will be for historians years down the road. But what I will remember most is that I think we stood for freedom and liberty for everybody, not just for a few, not just for Europeans or for Latin Americans or for Arabs, but for women who live in countries that are still oppressive. I remember so well the Kuwaiti women, when they got the vote, they sent me a t-shirt that said, “Half a democracy is no democracy at all.” And that was a great moment.
I’ll remember, too, what compassion – what a compassionate country this is. The President’s AIDS Relief Program is best known, but sitting with those women in Darfur who had experienced rape and being able to go back and within a few hours get a crisis rape counseling center set up for them. Being able to do something like that meant a great deal.
But standing for freedom and democracy, I feel in many ways most passionate about the Palestinian people in this regard. They are a really dignified and extraordinary people who persevered through times of really – not very many people have taken up their cause, even in their own region. And they’re going to get their state, and so the moment at Annapolis where all those states came together will also stand with me as a very special moment.
QUESTION: You seem like someone who just really, really has liked doing what she’s done for the past eight years.
SECRETARY RICE: I have. There is no greater honor than to serve this country. There’s no greater challenge, but no greater honor than to try to work through in really, really difficult and consequential times, new solutions to problems that perhaps weren’t even on the horizon (inaudible). There’s no greater honor than to go to places where we have good friends who share our values and work out common strategies trying to deal with the most difficult of problems. And there’s no greater honor than to see from the point of view of the Secretary of State what really makes us great. People fear our great power, respect, maybe don’t always like it when we do use it. People, even in difficult economic times, still admire, maybe even envy a little bit, the entrepreneurship of this country and its capacity to be productive. But what really draws people to this country is that anybody can come here and go from modest circumstances to extraordinary achievement.
And that’s also what unites us as Americans. You know, we aren’t united by nationality. We’re not united by religion. You can be African American or Mexican American or Korean American, and still be American. You can be Jewish or Presbyterian or Muslim or nothing at all, and still be American. But there are very few Americans who don’t really believe that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going. And that’s what unites us, and that’s also what people worldwide find so remarkable about (inaudible).
QUESTION: So these are the sort of state rooms of the State Department?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Yes. That’s right. This is the Benjamin Franklin Room, which is probably my favorite room in the Department.
QUESTION: And most people don’t even know these exist.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: You can’t just walk in here and take a tour of these rooms.
SECRETARY RICE: No. This room is used for swearings-in for ambassadors. It’s used for big dinners. I – two of my favorite events here -- we had the dinner before the Annapolis Peace Conference here, with all of the leaders of the Middle East and Europe here. And then this is also where I have the dinner for the Kennedy Center Honors the night before the events over at the Kennedy Center.
QUESTION: I’ve been lucky enough to be here for them.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: You know you -- are you going to miss this? I mean –
SECRETARY RICE: You only get to have these rooms for a short period of time. You don’t own them, so -- no, I will certainly miss a lot about being Secretary of State. But there are a few things I’d like to move on to do, too.
QUESTION: You have had a life in which you have moved at like a thousand miles an hour for eight years.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, right. Right.
QUESTION: How are you going to slow down?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, it even goes before that, because before that, there was the year of the campaign, and then before that, six years as Provost of Stanford, which is not quite as intense as being Secretary of State, but pretty intense. So I’m looking forward to getting up and not having so much of a calendar and reading the newspaper and not thinking I have to do something about what’s in it.
QUESTION: Your plan is to go back to Stanford to the Hoover Institution.
SECRETARY RICE: Right. That’s right. Yes.
QUESTION: What else?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m going to write a book about foreign policy, and I want to write a book about my parents, because they were exceptional people. I’m where I am today because I had great parents who believed that anything was possible and then who gave me every opportunity to prove that anything was possible. And I think that’s a story that needs to be told, because it’s in the context of that last group of parents before segregation ended in Alabama.
QUESTION: You went to segregated schools as a child.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: And yet your parents seemed almost to have been preparing you to be Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. That’s right.
QUESTION: You had an amazing education.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: And you studied things like comportment and manners and all of that.
SECRETARY RICE: Right, right, right.
QUESTION: What – they didn’t quite get to see everything that happened to you.
SECRETARY RICE: No, no, no. My father knew that I was -- had been named National Security Advisor and I’m grateful for that. My mom died a long time ago. She died at 61 of metastasized breast cancer, which she’d had a lot earlier. But I at least got to give her my first book, which was the book that I wrote right out of graduate school.
QUESTION: What do you think your parents would have made of you and everything that you’ve become?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, they would have – I think they would have been proud. But my parents, like a lot of parents in their little community, expected that their kids were going to achieve unbelievable things.
QUESTION: Become Secretary of State?
SECRETARY RICE: Or something like that. They – no, they would have thought, until I changed my major, that I was going to end up playing at Carnegie Hall. But they really had enormous belief in education and its power and in its transforming power.
QUESTION: You – you know, well, I should say you’re the first African American woman to be Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: There was, obviously, Colin Powell –
SECRETARY RICE: Yes.
QUESTION: -- an African American Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: Do you feel that maybe you and Secretary Powell, in a way, might have led to the election of President-elect Obama, in that Americans got used to seeing African Americans in really important jobs?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I do think we’ve been on this journey for a while in that regard. And Colin, of course, was also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so Americans had gotten accustomed to seeing the most senior military officer as an African American. And I think you could add to that the kind of way that Oprah Winfrey transcends race in many ways, or Tiger Woods. Who would have thought that the greatest golfer would be African American? Or CEOs of corporations?
So yes, I do think that while we’re not race-blind, people still see race. It’s become less of a defining characteristic that you see somebody and say oh, that person must be, because they are black. And that’s an enormous leap forward. And perhaps that, then, makes it possible to see an African American even as President. But let’s not underestimate the second leap that that took. That took an even bigger leap.
QUESTION: This is the Jefferson room, yeah?
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah, Jefferson room. Yes. These are all named after the founding fathers, obviously. And Thomas Jefferson, of course, was the first Secretary of State. And I sometimes wonder what he would have thought, but –
QUESTION: Well, what he would have thought of you as Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
QUESTION: There are pictures of a lot of white guys up here on the – all white guys, yeah.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. But it’s broken down, you know. It’s been a long time. And now – it was Madeleine Albright, and then Colin Powell, and me, and now it’ll be Hillary Clinton. It will have been a long time since there was a white male Secretary of State. So maybe Jefferson would have kind of liked that, deep down inside.
QUESTION: We’ll never know. I’m going to ask you the question, since it was so – looked so bad out there again. But you mentioned yourself and Secretary Powell. Do you think in a way, having people like you and Secretary Powell in the jobs that you had got Americans used to seeing African Americans in important jobs, and the fact that they could execute them so well?
SECRETARY RICE:Yeah. Right. Well, let’s not underestimate the leap from there to President of the United States. It’s stilla leap.
But I do think we’ve been on this journey for a while. When you think about the fact that Colin Powell was first seen as the most high-ranking military officer, so Americans got used to their highest ranking military officer being African American, and yes, two African American Secretaries of State, and numerable CEOs of Fortune Five countries – companies; Oprah Winfrey, who sort of transcends race in many ways with her programs, and Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world. But we’re not race-blind as a country and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves that we’re race-blind, even with the election of Barack Obama. But I do think we’ve gotten to the place that we don’t see a person, say, “That’s a black person, therefore they must be.” And that’s an enormous step forward.
QUESTION: There is a widely held belief in Washington, anyway, that you voted for Barack Obama.
SECRETARY RICE: And as Secretary of State, I’m going to keep my partisan or non-partisan views to myself on that.
But look, I think all Americans were quite taken with the fact that we were able, after the long history we’ve been through, that initial birth defect of slavery, that we’ve elected an African American. And that’s enormously heartening for people in the country, but also people worldwide who still have trouble with difference.
It’s also the case that we had an electoral campaign that managed not to make race the issue. John McCain deserves enormous credit for the way that he conducted himself, including in his concession speech. And that’s what people also talk about, is how well we did this.
QUESTION: Having grown up in segregation, because of course legally, segregation wasn’t going – was supposed to not be there. But you grew up in de-facto segregation, certainly.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, what’s it like for you to realize how far you’ve come in this world, just yourself?
SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, I grew up in one of those families where everything was possible, and in a little community where everything was possible. And so I always say that despite segregation and despite the status of black Americans at the time, it would have been surprising if some of us didn’t turn out pretty well, because everything was put into us every possible – my parents gave me lessons in everything. Some things I turned out to be good at, some things I wasn’t good at, but they didn’t care. It was opportunity.
And it goes back a couple generations in my case. I’m not even the first Ph.D. in my family. My father’s sister was a Ph.D. in Victorian literature. She wrote books about Dickens. So we’ve got lots of those genes in our family.
QUESTION: Good genes.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, that’s right.
QUESTION: One question I had, speaking about that, is that, you know, you’ve been – always been single. Have you – are you going to – do you think that you’re going to have a social life going forward here? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: I have a social life of sorts.
QUESTION: Well, perhaps more of one?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, people ask me all the time -- they say – you know, there’s the unspoken question. Well, do you think because you’ve worked so hard – and I always say, look, the fact of the matter is you don’t want to get married in the abstract. You want to get married to someone. And I’ve just not found that person that I’d want to get married to.
QUESTION: You will have more time to look now.
SECRETARY RICE: True. Who knows? I’ve seen it happen before.
QUESTION: You know, the grandeur of this job --
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: -- kind of hits you when you come into a place like this.
SECRETARY RICE: It does. It does. Yes.
QUESTION: Has that been kind of part of the fun of it, the – just the experience of being able to host people in these fancy diplomatic rooms?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, sure. I’ve loved doing that, some of the hosting of events. One of my favorites in the room we were just in, the Annapolis Conference, the dinner was there. And of course, the Kennedy Center Honors, which I host every year.
But these are spectacular rooms. And they are thanks in large part to my friend George Shultz, who really wanted to make the State Department look grand.
QUESTION: There is a real sense of history, though.
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. There is.
QUESTION: And in fact, of people kind of handing down this job to you.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, yes, yes.
QUESTION: When you’re in here, does it kind of increase your sense of responsibility, or is that just there all the time?
SECRETARY RICE: No, it’s there all the time, but there is something about Secretary of State. It was the first cabinet position created. Thomas Jefferson held it. That’s pretty special. It has all kinds of strange functions.
QUESTION: What’s the strangest?
SECRETARY RICE: The strangest? The strangest is that the Secretary of State is the keeper of the Great Seal of the United States of America. And so any really official document, I also sign alongside the President. So when the commission was given to Secretary Gates to become Defense Secretary or to the Attorney General, I also sign the commission. And I said one day, why am I signing this? And they said, well, you’re the keeper of the Great Seal. And I said, how long have I been the keeper of the Great Seal? They said, since 1790, when Thomas Jefferson was the keeper of the Great Seal. So there are moments like that.
And by the way, I think it’s kind of like being the notary public of the country, is what it really is. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well that – you definitely got something I didn’t know.
Well, thank you so much.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
QUESTION: And I wish you luck in your – whatever you do next.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Well, I’ve always enjoyed your work. It’s been a pleasure to sit down with you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Great.
Released on December 28, 2008