A few dozen Hamilton students taking Government Department courses were treated to a small-group question and answer session with Sacerdote Great Names Speaker Dr. Condoleezza Rice on Nov. 1, prior to her lecture. Students from Distinguished Visiting Professor Maj. John Dehn's Seminar in War Powers Class joined Henry Platt Bristol Professor of International Affairs Alan Cafruny's international relations classes to ask questions of Dr. Rice in a half-hour session. The conversation was ranging, covering many international policy issues and a handful of domestic issues.
International policy was prominent throughout the conversation. The first question asked by a student addressed Dr. Rice's opinion on the Iraq invasion knowing that no weapons of mass destruction were found there. She observed that “what you know today can affect what you know tomorrow, not what you did yesterday,” and outlined the reasons why U.S. involvement in Iraq seemed to be the correct move at the time. A question later in the session asked her opinion of the Obama administration's increased use of drones to attack terrorists. She replied that policies such as increased drone use are demanded by the situations, and do not really derive from a particular ideology or anti-terror philosophy.
Some of the questions were personal. Dr. Rice was asked about her biggest insight into President George W. Bush that the public might not realize, and she informed the assembled students that Bush was an avid reader, reading five books for everyone one she read. A student inquired as to the biggest success of Dr. Rice, given the challenges of Iraq. Dr. Rice replied that three things were most important, keeping in mind that there is a “long arc of history, and it'll be a while before we know” who was really right in some debates. She noted that she was proud America took a stand against people living under tyrannical regimes, tripled worldwide development aid, and assisted in women's empowerment, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa.
One question focused on whether the U.S. defense budget was justified in its size. Dr. Rice noted that while the defense budget is large, “the most important national security threat facing America is the state of K through 12 education.” She went on to say that a significant portion of defense spending is justified since it is direct investment in personnel—salaries to soldiers and benefits to veterans. But she was critical of wasteful spending in the department of defense; she cited the controversial F-22 fighter program as one that the government could safely afford to cut.
Dr. Rice's predictive powers were tested by a pair of students. One asked Dr. Rice's opinion on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's influence over Russia. She noted that Putin was not likely to modernize Russia; President Dimitri Medvedev is more likely to take that role. She was also asked about whether she views China as a threat. She responded by noting the basic international relations framework that we use; it sees China as a rising power. Historically, rising powers come to power violently, but there is no prospect of China issuing a violent challenge to the current system. Right now, she sees China as trying to find its way in the international system as it currently exists.
Students were impressed by Dr. Rice's presentation, applauding loudly as she left to give her main speech in the Margret Bundy Scott Field House. The student questions gave Dr. Rice an opportunity to inform on a wide variety of topics relating to her experience as an academic, as National Security Advisor to the president, and as Secretary of State.