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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > What the Secretary Has Been Saying > 2005 Secretary Rice's Remarks > May 2005: Secretary Rice's Remarks

Remarks at the 2005 Global Classrooms: Washington, D.C. Model United Nations Conference

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Dean Acheson Auditorium
Washington, DC
May 17, 2005

(10:40 a.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Well, it's great to be here with you, the participants in Model United Nations. Thank you Ambassador Luers, Superintendent Janey, thank you Mr. Fakahany and thank you Jattna -- where did she go -- for that terrific introduction. Thank you very much.

I just want to take a couple of minutes and then perhaps some of you can ask some questions. We can have a little bit of a dialogue. And I think this is a wonderful program. I am so happy that you've decided to participate to get a sense for how international relations really unfolds, how diplomacy is done.

I know that when I used to teach my own classes in International Politics at Stanford I always at the end of the quarter, we would have a simulation where students got to actually participate in decisionmaking about some crisis in the world. And the reason that that's important is unless you participate in those kinds of decisionmaking activities, you really don't think that people who make decisions are really smart. How come they just don't get it? Well, after you've had to actually try and do it, I think you have a better sense of how hard it is to make all of the tradeoffs in diplomacy, how hard it is to reconcile the interests of their different parts. And perhaps you have a little bit more understanding for people who are trying to make good decisions in international relations.

And so I think this is a wonderful program and I'm glad that you're all involved in it. It also gives you an opportunity to see what it might be like to have a future in public service. Public service is enormously important to our country, to the United States, where the participation in democracy is a key to making democracy work. But it is increasingly an important issue around the world because we are seeing the rise of democracy in places that no one ever thought possible. How could you not be impressed with the changes that have been taking place around the world, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine or the Rose Revolution in Georgia, or the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, where the Lebanese people are just about to have an election at the end of this month. Where the people of Afghanistan in a place that is not a very developed country, where along dusty roads people stood in line for many, many hours just to cast a vote, where in Iraq people vote -- people faced down terrorism and threat in order to be able to cast their votes. And where just yesterday Kuwait decided to grant the franchise to women to vote. (Applause.)

So it's an exciting time for the march of democracy. But it brings a very special responsibility to those of us who are fortunate enough to be living on the right side of freedom's divide and that is not to forget people who are still on the other side of freedom's divide. It is all too easy to take for granted that which we have: the right to say what you think; the right to worship as you wish; the right to educate children, boys and girls; the right to be free from the knock of the secret police at night. Those are elements of human dignity that we can all take for granted because we've been fortunate enough to grow up in societies where that is respected.

But never forget that there are people who still live in tyranny. Never forget that it is the obligation of people who live on the right side of freedom's divide to speak up for those people who live in tyranny. And never, ever give in to a very patronizing thought that is sometimes out there -- that there is somehow people who either don't deserve freedom or who don't care about freedom or whose cultures are incompatible with freedom. It is absolutely not the case. Freedom is a universal value. The desire for liberty is a universal value. And those of us who are fortunate enough to be born into societies that respect it have an obligation to speak up for those who do not.

So with those remarks and the sense that this is a very exciting time in international politics and I'm awfully glad that I decided not to major in music after all. (Laughter.)

I'm happy to take your questions.


QUESTION: Good morning. I have two questions. The first question is: What were you going to play for music?

SECRETARY RICE: I still play. I play a lot of Brahms. I love playing Brahms. I was a classically trained pianist but decided that I probably wasn't going to end up playing Carnegie Hall, maybe at Nordstrom or maybe in a piano bar someplace -- (laughter) -- and so I changed my major.

QUESTION: Well, I play cello at Duke Ellington so I was --


QUESTION: My other question is: Have you found it hard to climb in the hierarchy of the government, being a woman? Is it hard for you?

SECRETARY RICE: I've never thought that it was particularly hard. In some ways because I'm female and black and I can't kind of go back and reconstruct the experiment where I'm something else, I don't really know whether it would have been easier or harder had I been something else.

And I think there's an important lesson in that. When I decided back in college that, literally, music was going to lead me to a kind of dead end and I started looking for a major, I decided on studying the Soviet Union because I loved it, not because there was anything in my background that said I ought to study the Soviet Union. And sometimes I know people must have thought, "What's a black woman from Alabama interested in the Soviet Union for?" But I was just interested in it.

And so I would encourage all of you, never let anybody else define what you ought to be interested in, what you care about, what your horizons ought to be. If you think of your horizons as limited by race or gender or something else, they will be. If you think that they're not, they won't be, because you won't let anybody stand in your way. So be sure that you have in mind what you want to do and insist on it.


QUESTION: Good morning, Ms. Rice. I come all the way from Monterrey, Mexico. We are very honored to be here. My question is: The United States is considered amongst the strongest countries regarding their military, political and economical status, but I was wondering how do you consider that the United States is regarding their social aspects in comparison to the international community?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, thank you. The United States, like any major, complicated democracy, has its strengths and its weaknesses and I think the thing to remember about a great democracy that has good institutions is that you are always stumbling forward and struggling forward to perfect those institutions over time. When America's Founding Fathers said, "We, the people," they didn't mean me. My ancestors, or many of my ancestors, were three-fifths of a man in the compromise that brought about America's Constitution.

But we've made, obviously, a lot of progress over time on that issue. The educational franchise has been extended to more and more Americans over time, but there are still too many people in the United States who are poorly educated, who live in places where the educational system is not strong enough.

But as long as you have strong institutions and as long as you have a government that recognizes that what you want to do is encourage people's free and entrepreneurial spirit -- not tell them what to do -- I think you can keep moving forward and making progress more and more. So I think the United States has made a lot of progress. There is no reason for the United States to be arrogant about what it has done because we know in our own history that it's been hard. And so what I say to new democracies and places that are having new democratic experiences is it takes time, it takes patience; democracy is something that you -- every day you get up and you put another brick in place, and over time it gets better.

And in Mexico, a country which has now had democratic elections for the last few times, you can see that once the people realize that they have that kind of power, they insist on it. And that's one of the best things about democracy.


QUESTION: Good morning, Madame Secretary. I'm a delegate from Ellington. I was wondering if you could share with my fellow delegates the steps you took to become the Secretary today.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, well, the steps I took to become Secretary. The best thing that I have always had going for me in my life is I'm not very good at long-term planning. I have always had a kind of tolerance for ambiguity about where my life is going. I'm really not kidding. I was supposed to be a concert musician. I started learning to play the piano when I was three years old. I could read music before I could read. And it was a series of events when I was in college that convinced me, when I went to a very famous music school, and those people who were 12 years old could play what it had taken me many years to learn already, and I thought they're always going to be a lot better at that than I am.

And so I started looking for something else to do and I took a class in international politics taught by a Soviet specialist who, ironically, was Madeleine Albright's father, another Secretary of State. And I discovered the Soviet Union. Then I thought, well, now what do I do now that I'm going to be a Soviet specialist? Well, at least the job market is better than concert music. So I ended up going out to Stanford on a one-year fellowship to study international security policy and Stanford offered me a job on the faculty, paying less money than another job I'd been offered to go to Denver. But I thought, well, it sounds kind of interesting to join the Stanford faculty. I did that.

I came back to Washington, worked for President Bush's father, as we call him, President 41, Number 41, and it rolled from there to the point that I am now. But had I not been open to new possibilities at every turn and had I had a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan or 15-year plan, I'm quite certain that I would never have ended up where I did.

So the most important thing for you to do is to find what you're passionate about, right? Not to find what job you're going to do. Not to find what career you're going to be in. Find what you're passionate about. And if you're passionate about it, you'll do it well. And when you do it well, opportunities will open up to you. And you have to be willing to take some risks, not always the safe route, not always the route that other people think you ought to take. And you never know where you're going to end up.

But my advice to you is if you want to do something really interesting in life, don't try to plan your entire life.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Chris Matthews. I'm just kidding. This is not Hardball. (Laughter.) Really.

SECRETARY RICE: Chris would appreciate that, by the way. That's good.

QUESTION: I'm a delegate from Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. I'm kind of interested in current events. With the Bush Administration's appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations, what message is the Administration sending to the global community?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. With the appointment of John Bolton, we're sending a message that we're serious about the United Nations, that we are a founding member of the United Nations and we're serious about this being as strong an organization as possible. We're serious about the shortcomings of the UN as well as its potential. We're serious about the UN reform program that people are now talking about. And John is somebody who has been critical of some of the shortcomings of the UN, but he's also been somebody who's tried to make the United Nations work.

John was responsible, for instance, for getting finally -- finally repealed one of the most really terrible resolutions that the UN ever undertook, which was called “Zionism as Racism.” And John cared enough about the United Nations to not want the United Nations to be in that position and so he worked and worked and worked to have it repealed. You don't work that hard on something if you don't care about an institution.

And so we care about the United Nations and the United Nations is enormously important to American diplomacy and to the future of the world. But it has to be a UN that works and it has to be a UN that is appropriate for the challenges of the 21st century.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Good morning, Dr. Rice. I'm a senior at Benjamin Banneker Academic Senior High School. My question is: Given the suffering state of the American economy, do you foresee America taking a more relaxed role internationally in order to focus on home issues?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you. Yes, the United States -- the economy is growing. It can always grow faster and there are a lot of problems in the economy that the President and his economic advisors are trying to address. But let me tell you why engagement in the world is so important to America's economic progress at home and why it's not possible really to separate the two and to concentrate just on domestic affairs.

First of all, the United States has a certain responsibility as the world's strongest power to make certain that the international system is peaceful and secure and that threats are actually dealt with. We found out in a very terrible way on September 11th what happens when threats gather underneath and the attack of al-Qaida against New York and Washington shaved trillions off the U.S. economy. So the U.S. economy has recovered because it's a strong economy but the al-Qaida, when they went after the Twin Towers and -- they wanted to bring us down, not just politically but they also wanted to go after our economic sense of power.

So the United States is always better off when it is capable of playing its role of making a secure environment in which everything else can function. And so we have to fight the war on terrorism. We have to make sure that democracy spreads as an antidote to the terrible ideologies of hatred that are out there. Because, ultimately, when democracy and peace are on the march, the United States is more secure; and when they are in retreat, we're pretty vulnerable.

The other point is that the United States -- the international economy is now very interlinked and very integrated and so you can't just withdraw from home -- one reason -- to home. One of the reasons the United States is such an active partner in free trade is that the United States believes that if the entire international economic pie is growing, there will be better markets for American goods. That means more jobs at home. American consumers will be able to get products at a reasonable price. There's a complete integration.

So we've pursued the World Trade Organization. We've pursued the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. We're pursuing something right now called CAFTA, which is the Central American Free Trade Agreement, so that with some of our nearest neighbors we can have freer trade.

So the United States has to remember that we can't live isolated from the international system, either in our economy or in the kinds of threats that would make it impossible to have the kind of peaceful environment that we need for our own economic growth.

QUESTION: Hello, Ms. Rice. I'm from Eastern Senior High School. My question to you is: Are there more pressures on you that you are not only the Secretary of State of the United States but also the first female African American Secretary of State and at such turbulent times?

SECRETARY RICE: Right. Well, thank you. I tend -- I like not to think about it as pressure, but as motivation. How's that? And the key is that it is a very turbulent and challenging time. But when you have turbulent and challenging times, you also have times that are full of opportunity. The two seem to come side by side. Turbulence and opportunity come side by side.

And so if you look at any time that you've had great historical changes for the better, they've tended to be turbulent. And I try to stay focused on the opportunities that we've got before us.

We have an opportunity to see democracy spread in the world. We have an opportunity, I believe, now for the best opportunity we've had in a long time for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We have an opportunity to see the promotion and forward march of free trade.
We have an opportunity to attack problems of poverty and disease as we're doing, for instance, through the President's $15 billion program for AIDS, with an active international involvement in those issues.

And so as long as you stay focused on the opportunities when you're in a job like this, then you recognize that you're actually, as I feel, really blessed, really fortunate to be in this place at this particular point in time. And as to being an African-American woman, again, I have been all my life and so I don't tend to think of it as something that's separate from my existence and I don't feel any undue pressure because of it.


QUESTION: Good morning. My question is how do you, as an African-American woman, feel about U.S. foreign policy towards Africa?

SECRETARY RICE: I think our policies toward Africa have been very strong. And let me just give you a few examples.

First of all, the President went to Africa in his first term -- unusual for an American President and I think the first Republican President to do it. And he had a great visit there. Had a chance to go to Gorée Island in Senegal where the slave trade started from, on its way where slaves were embarked to come to the Americas. Had a chance to talk about our joint heritage between Africa and the United States -- the fact that Africans and Europeans essentially came to this country at the same time to build this country -- Africans as slaves, Europeans not, but that the foundations of this country were built by people who came from Africa and that was a wonderful moment to have that acknowledged by an American President.

We've had very active programs with, as I mentioned, the AIDS program, which is $15 billion to go after problems of -- to go after AIDS in the 14 most -- 15 most affected countries in the world, the large percentage of those are in Africa. And we intend to reduce new exposures. We intend to treat large numbers of people. We intend to educate large numbers of people. And that program is very actively under way and it's being run, not just in conjunction with Africans, it's being run by Africans with American help.

We have been the proponents of something called the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which is the ability of Africans to have freer access for their products to American markets. And I saw when I was in Africa some of the small businesses that have grown up because they can now export to the United States.

The United States, under the President, has developed something called the Millennium Challenge Account, which has, together with other development assistance, doubled American development assistance to the world in the four years that this President has been in office. And the Millennium Challenge Account is based on a very important principle, which is that it is important to have development assistance from donor states like the United States, but it's also important to have governments receiving that that are going to rule justly, that are going to fight corruption, that are going to spend that money on their peoples education and health, not on their own enrichment, that are going to have open economies and open trade. And so we are selecting countries for that new assistance that live up to those principles because otherwise foreign assistance can be wasted.

The United States has had a billion dollar famine relief program for Africa. And we've been very involved in conflict resolution whether it's in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or in Liberia where the United States in getting Charles Taylor to leave Liberia through help with the -- through the ECOWAS -- President Obasanjo and President Kufuor. We've had real partnerships with African leaders on solving these problems in Africa.

We don't think of Africa as a humanitarian problem. We don't think of Africa as the target of American assistance. We think of Africa as a continent with a lot of promise and a lot of potential, where we have partners who are solving problems and we're about to show that very effectively in Sudan, where we're working with the African Union. Already the President, through appointment of Senator -- former Senator Danforth, we have finally gotten a resolution to the decades-old civil war between the North and South in Sudan and we're now working with the African Union on Darfur to try to deal with the violence and the suffering there. And there was just a meeting that's just taken place where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- NATO -- which used to devote itself to keeping the Soviet Union at bay, is now going to provide logistical and planning support for the African Union, which will send monitoring forces into Darfur.

So we've had a very active and engaged policy on Africa and I'm enormously proud of what this President has done in his engagement with Africa.

So thank you very much.


Released on May 17, 2005

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