Interview With Tavis Smiley of National Public RadioSecretary Condoleezza Rice
December 18, 2008
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, always nice to have you back on this program.
SECRETARY RICE: Nice to be with you, Tavis.
QUESTION: I’m sad. I suspect this is the last time I’ll talk to you as a current sitting Secretary of State.
SECRETARY RICE: I think that’s likely the case, Tavis. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I want to start by thanking you for all the occasions during your tenure you’ve made it possible for me to talk to you on this program, so thank you very much.
SECRETARY RICE: You’re welcome. I’ve always enjoyed being with you and with your listeners.
QUESTION: I thought about you this morning when I was on my treadmill. I knew we were going to talk today, and I’m thinking Secretary Rice gets up every day at 5 a.m. to do this. How have you found it possible to stay healthy all the years you’ve been doing this while traveling around the world?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, to be correct, it’s actually 4:30 that I’m up. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Oh, pardon me. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: But it is really important to make time for exercise and staying healthy, and I try to keep a pretty regular schedule when I go abroad. I still try to get up and exercise in the morning. And I’m also somebody who tries to get to bed at a reasonable hour, Tavis. I’m not a night owl.
QUESTION: Is there a funny story that you can tell me before – you know, tell publicly, obviously, a funny or interesting – something you recall when you were talking to a head of state on the treadmill or something in the gym? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are no really funny ones. I’ll just tell you this: I’m having dinner with some of my assistant secretaries, and they all say that they knew when the 5 o'clock phone call came, it must be from me because nobody else was awake. (Laughter.) And I saw the British Foreign Secretary a few days ago, and he said that he was out on a Saturday afternoon in London, it was about 11:30 in London, which means that it was about 6:30 here, and he thought, “She couldn't already be up.” So I guess people have gotten used to my early morning phone calls.
QUESTION: So those will stop, I guess, in a few weeks?
SECRETARY RICE: Yes, they will.
QUESTION: They may not be – I’m sure they’ll miss you, but they won’t miss your phone calls. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: The election of Barack Obama, which you had some very nice things to say about, of course, is being cheered the world over. You know better than most because of his mixed heritage and because I think people see that America can advance beyond the race question. But then we see an Iraqi journalist tossing his shoes at President Bush, reminding us that there is still anger in the world towards U.S. foreign policy. What role does the next Secretary of State play in helping to reel in this sort of roller coaster image of the U.S. around the world?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there is always going to be some criticism of American policy because we have to do difficult things, Tavis. And I know that it doesn't matter who’s in office; we’ll have to do difficult things and sometimes people won’t like them. But what the President stood for and what was important about that trip to Iraq was he got to stand next to a freely elected prime minister of Iraq, in front of journalists who could speak their minds and even vent their anger. And that’s a far cry from when Saddam Hussein was in power. So if America stands for its values, it might not always be popular, but it will be respected.
QUESTION: Give me your sense as you travel around the world of how, as you see it, the election of Barack Obama has been met.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think Americans need to know that around the world what people see is that we’re overcoming old wounds. And that’s important in a world where difference is still a license to kill in so much of the world. And to see an African American president, someone who came, in fact, from modest means, means America really is what it says it is. And that’s really been important. It was a fascinating election. Around most of the world, you’d go places and people were talking about the Iowa caucuses in far parts of the world. And so this exercise in American democracy and this outcome have been very good for America and it’s been good for the world.
QUESTION: You have in the past, Madame Secretary, expressed regret that the U.S. did, in fact, rely on flawed intelligence as the basis for entering the war in Iraq. For that matter, President Bush has suggested the same. In hindsight, I wonder as you look back on it now, and I suspect in the years to come get a chance to talk about it, maybe even write about it, what your thoughts are about the importance of, the value of, the nature of intelligence and what happens when it is, in fact, flawed.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly regret the flawed intelligence. I don’t regret taking – liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein. I think that the – with weapons of mass destruction or not, he was an aggressive, figure in the region who had invaded his neighbors, had used weapons of mass destruction, was an implacable enemy of the United States.
And , Tavis, I’d be the first to say Iraq was so much harder than I ever dreamed it would be. And nobody can ever bring back the people that were lost there. But I do believe that the Iraq that has emerged is an Iraq that will make the Middle East ultimately safer and freer and more prosperous. And for America, that will be good.
But the intelligence community has done a lot of reforms. The President has overseen those reforms. But it just – it lets you know that even with the best intelligence institutions in the world, there are going to be uncertainties, and you have to be able to make policy sometimes under conditions of uncertainty.
QUESTION: Speaking of policy, I know that having done this enough years, that people in Washington don’t like to play often the blame game when something goes wrong. I don’t even like to call it the blame game. I prefer to look at it as holding somebody accountable. And when you say that you regret flawed intelligence, who do you hold accountable for that flawed intelligence?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, look, I think the intelligence community would be the first to say that the intelligence was such that they now see that they needed to reform so that they looked at alternative explanations for what they were seeing in a different way. But in fairness to them, Tavis, you were looking at an Iraqi leader, an Iraqi tyrant who had just refused to comply with UN Security Council resolution after Security Council resolution after Security Council resolution that insisted that he come clean about what he was doing. And we have to remember he had used weapons of mass destruction, so it was not as if this was created out of the blue.
So I think what this argues for is that the system that we had for evaluating intelligence and for getting it from a very closed society, where the Iraqis were keeping information from the international community, that was the failure. And I think intelligence analysts did their best under difficult circumstances.
QUESTION: Let me ask you to juxtapose these next two things for me, and I ask you for a juxtaposition because I recognize, of course, they’re two very different parts of the world, two very different sets of issues. But it’s interesting and ironic to me that President Bush gets high marks, as do you, of course, as part of his team, get high marks on what this Administration did with regard to Africa, HIV/AIDS, and other issues. You get high marks on Africa, and yet people don’t give you so – don’t give you marks so high for the Middle East, that it was – that the effort was too little, too late, and came up short in the Middle East. Juxtapose those two things for me.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, on Africa, you know, it’s a record of treating Africans as partners. It’s a record of quadrupling assistance to Africa, taking on the AIDS crisis in a major way, taking on malaria, helping to resolve the conflict in Liberia – the President just has an extraordinary record in Africa, of trade preferences for Africa. And I think Africans appreciate that and know that. Tavis, we have had the Millennium Challenge there: $800 million for Tanzania because they are governing wisely; more than $400 million for Ghana.
But you know, the Middle East, I think in the long run, it will also be read as a place where the President made a difference. Because while we weren’t able to bring about the Palestinian state on his watch that everybody wanted to see, Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating seriously for the first time in almost a decade. They’re not engaging in suicide bombing against each other like they were when we took power in 2001, where the intifada was causing suicide bombs not just in the West Bank but in Tel Aviv restaurants, and where the Israelis were engaged in large-scale military operations where innocent Palestinians died. So we leave a better Middle East and we leave a peace process that I think is going to produce a Palestinian state. And so while it doesn’t have quite the clarity that Africa has at this point, the Middle East is a place where maybe the history will take a little bit longer to write.
QUESTION: Assess for me what you think is going to be said about the appreciation, or lack thereof, for diplomacy by the Bush Administration and the whole notion of the Bush doctrine connected to that.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think on diplomacy, it will be said that this President understood that there were certain structural matters that had to be taken care of. The Middle East wasn’t going to change with Saddam Hussein in the middle of it. You weren’t going to have the way to fight the war on terror unless you insisted on some – a different Middle East or unless you were able to bring the -- throw the Taliban out of Afghanistan. And so some difficult things were done.
But in the final analysis, this President has been more engaged in multilateral diplomacy, whether it is the work we’ve done with the Russians, the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Chinese, to try and deal with North Korean nuclear weapons, whether it is the effort that we have with Russia and China and the Europeans on Iran, or the multilateral diplomacy that we succeeded in at the UN just a couple of days ago, when we got a unanimous agreement on a piracy resolution, unanimous agreement – or agreement on a Middle East resolution that enshrines the Annapolis process.
This President has really engaged the international community through his diplomacy. We’ve insisted on results. We’ve wanted to do difficult things. It hasn’t always been popular, but I think over time, history will show that it’s been effective.
QUESTION: We’ve gotten so accustomed now -- who knew? I could never have imagined this, I guess, as a child growing up in Indiana when I thought about diplomacy and studied diplomacy in school. I never thought that we’d get so accustomed to saying, “Madame Secretary.” But we’re used to that now with Madame Secretary --
SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: -- Albright, Rice, and now Mrs. Clinton has been tapped.
SECRETARY RICE: Right.
QUESTION: Talk to me about the notion of women as our chief ambassadors on diplomatic issues and what you think of Hillary Clinton.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think she’s terrific. I first got to know her when she brought her freshman daughter to Stanford when I was Provost at Stanford. So we’ve known each other a long time. She’s someone of intellect. She’s someone who believes in this country and will defend its values and its interests alike. And I think she’ll do a very good job. I just think it’s remarkable that it now will have been four secretaries since we’ve had a white male secretary of state. I don’t know what that means. But clearly for the world, I think it’s a good thing because it shows that American diversity is really being felt and being practiced.
QUESTION: So finally, since – as we always discuss in some way, shape, or form, since I suspect that Rodger Goodell ain’t trying to give up his job --
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) Unfortunately not.
QUESTION: -- just yet at the NFL, what will Condi Rice do now?
SECRETARY RICE: I’m headed to Stanford, west of the Mississippi where I belong, in the Hoover Institution. And, Tavis, I’ll obviously write a book. I want to write a book also about my parents. My parents were great educational evangelists. And I think for a lot of us, particularly African Americans of a certain age, the investment that their parents were willing to make in them so that they got a good education is really why any of us are where we are. And I know, too, that America has to make the same kind of investment in children who are not of privilege to make sure that their educational opportunities are as good as the ones that I had.
And so I’ve been a big advocate on K-12 education. I’ve been a big believer that unless America is able to truly say that it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going, then we’re not going to be very effective as leaders in the world. And America has to lead. So I will go back and I’ll work as an advocate of K-12 education. Because I’ll tell you, it may be our greatest national security priority.
QUESTION: That seems like – I mean, I hear what you’re saying. And it totally makes sense as you’ve described it so brilliantly. But that really does seem like a shift. I mean, from dealing with the issues of diplomacy and security, to talking about K-12.
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, it’s not a shift for me. I founded something called the Center for a New Generation in 1992 in East Palo Alto, California.
SECRETARY RICE: And it’s an afterschool and summer program for kids who don’t come from privileged backgrounds. It’s a program of the public school there and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. There are now five of them in the Bay Area. And so I’ve been an advocate on these issues for a long time.
But I’ll tell you something, as Secretary of State, it’s become even more important to me that America be true to this set of values about educating our children, preparing them for the jobs of the 21st century, so that we are confident in our leadership in the 21st century, and also so that we’re confident that that very important value that we have about the ability to come from modest circumstances and do great things, that we’re still able to deliver on that.
QUESTION: I know you’ve got to run, so last question here. I suspect, though, while that work is very important, that it’s also a chance for you to – and this may not be the plan, but it sounds to me like and it seems to me like after the kind of stuff you’ve been engaged in, a detox is in order. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) Well, I don’t know about a detox. I do look forward to having a little more time. And, frankly, I look forward to reading the newspaper and thinking I don’t have to do anything about what’s in it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And what a great place to close that conversation. I have been so honored over the years to have had the occasion to talk to Secretary Rice while she was National Security Advisor and, of course, Secretary of State -- always kind to accept my invitation to come on the program. Congratulations on your service, and all the best in the coming months and years. And you don’t have to not come talk to me just because you’re not in the State Department.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, come visit me in northern California, Tavis.
QUESTION: We’re not too far away from each other now.
SECRETARY RICE: All right. Take care.
QUESTION: Take care of yourself.
SECRETARY RICE: Bye-bye.
Released on December 19, 2008