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Interview With Valorie Lawson of WSFA

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Montgomery, Alabama
April 14, 2008

QUESTION: First, congratulations on your honor.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: And give me your reaction to it.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I’m really honored. I am just delighted. I am a huge believer in the American armed forces. There hasn’t been any volunteer force like this in all of history. And the Air College here, it’s really-- the Air University here is the central place where the intellectual capital is developed for our operations abroad and obviously, we have the best Air Force in the world. And so it’s a real honor to be here.

QUESTION: We talked to General Allardice a couple of weeks ago. He spent a year in Iraq helping them rebuild their air force and 360 Air Force members assisted in that. How important is this program to our military?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the programs that help train forces around the world, and not just going there to train, but also having officers come here, I think is one of the best things that the United States of America does, because you really influence an entire generation of military officers for our training programs.

Obviously, we want the Iraqis and the Afghans to have excellent military capability and so, the training is important for that reason. But it’s also the ties that are developed, the bonds that are developed that, in these young democracies, they really get a sense of what it means to be a civilian-controlled military in a democracy, as is the case here in the United States.

In the speech that I gave, I did a Q&A afterwards and I had a Saudi officer and a Pakistani officer stand up and ask questions. It’s really wonderful.

QUESTION: General Petraeus released his recommendations for Iraq, one in particular, early withdrawal of troops. Tell me, what do you think about that?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, General Petraeus has always said that he was going to make recommendations to the President depending on the situation on the ground. And clearly, the situation on the ground has improved since the surge of troops that the President announced back more than about a year ago. And that surge has made it possible to bring security to large parts of Iraq and to give the Iraqi Government breathing space to begin to make the political changes that need to be made.

But General Petraeus also underlined, as did Ambassador Crocker, that this progress is fragile. And any hasty withdrawal of American forces is likely to take a fragile – a fragile situation and then roll back the gains that we’ve made. And given all of the sacrifice, and you just have to honor the sacrifice of America’s men and women who – many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, but after that sacrifice, it’s important that we succeed. It would be catastrophic for our interests to have Iraq fail. And that’s why I think General Petraeus talked about a period to now evaluate and to see.

But American forces are coming home and the rotations are going to shorten, so that’s the good news. But we have to be careful and not make any precipitous moves. And I think that’s what General Petraeus was saying.

QUESTION: National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley was on the radio this weekend and he supported the President, saying that he didn’t feel like the U.S. should boycott the Olympics -- what do you think about that? Would you say let’s not participate or would you say let’s go to the opening ceremony?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I am a big believer that the Olympics is a sporting event. And I really wasn’t very favorable toward the American boycott of the Olympics in 1980 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Frankly, I thought it looked kind of weak. They invade Afghanistan, the best thing you can do is boycott the Olympics and deny athletes who’ve trained their whole lives the opportunity to be in the Olympics. And so I see the Olympics as a sporting event.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the President will not, or that I will not talk to the Chinese and press the Chinese about human rights, about Tibet, about Darfur. We’ve been doing it. We’ll do it before, during and after the Olympics. But it’s also – this is going to be a moment of pride for 1.3 billion Chinese people. And I think it’s important to realize that, too. You don’t want to take their moment of pride and make it a moment in which the United States, for really political theater, decides not to come to the Olympics.

And so I know the President will look at the schedule and the like. But I believe that going to the Olympics is (inaudible.)

QUESTION: But is it a show of support for what has happened?

SECRETARY RICE: The show of support for the people of Tibet is doing what we do every day, which is telling the Chinese they ought to be in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, calling for diplomats and the press to get in and see. A show of support was the President meeting with the Dalai Lama, I think, every year for the last several years. And by the way, a show of support with the congressional level right up to the Dalai Lama. That’s a show of support. I think that’s a much more important show of support than what do you do about the Olympics.

QUESTION: Your name has been floating around as a possible vice presidential bid for –

you’re already shaking your –

SECRETARY RICE: And I can’t – stop floating it.

QUESTION: You’re already shaking your head. And you said you had other things that you were interested in.

SECRETARY RICE: I have other things that I want to do. And I’ve been very fortunate to be first, National Security Advisor, now Secretary of State, at a really consequential time for our country. And I feel very grateful that I had that opportunity.

But private life beckons. I am, at heart, an academic. I’d like to go back and reflect on what has happened to American policy since 2001, do a book. I’d like to teach again. And we’ll see what life brings. But it certainly is – I think John McCain is a great patriot. He’s really – is going to be – would be an extraordinary leader and extraordinary president. But there’ll be plenty of people who could be vice president, not me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay.

2008/T12-3



Released on April 14, 2008

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