Condoleezza Rice gave a lecture and answered questions on foreign policy and her time as Secretary of State under the Bush administration as part of Hamilton College’s Sacerdote Great Names Series on November 1 in the Field House.
Rice began her lecture by saying that America was going through a challenging time during her tenure as Secretary of State. She said she sometimes felt as though the country had “lost its script for excellence and success.” But through it all, Dr. Rice claimed that she remained optimistic. Her optimism stemmed from her realization that headlines and history are rarely the same. She pointed out that when William Seward, the 24th Secretary of State, bought Alaska from Russia many people called the area “Seward’s Icebox.” Today, Seward’s purchase of Alaska is considered his biggest achievement. Similarly, although many people criticized her handling of the War on Terror, Rice believes that it will be seen as her greatest contribution to America.
Dr. Rice then talked about her tenure as National Security Advisor, a post she held from 2001 to 2005. She said that the first major issue she had to confront was not al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but China. Rice contended that while China is transforming into an economic powerhouse, she believes that their form of “authoritarian capitalism” will prevent them from becoming a super power. She predicted that China and other one party states will always remain unstable because they do not have a “safety valve.” This “safety valve” is democratically held elections. Rice believes that these one party states will inevitably come crashing down, saying “the only legitimate form of Government is democracy.”
The importance of education in her life as well as in the lives of her family members was also addressed by Rice. She said that her grandfather, John Wesley Rice, started as a sharecropper before eventually being offered a scholarship on the condition that he become a Presbyterian minister. Dr. Rice joked, “My family has been Presbyterian ever since.” She urged the audience to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather by not viewing themselves as “victims.” She said that when someone adopts the outlook of a victim he or she starts to feel entitled to things and does not develop the crucial ability to overcome problems. Education, in her opinion, is the best way to prevent and change this attitude.
Dr. Rice urged the audience and the Hamilton students in particular, to use their time at Hamilton to find something they are passionate about. She said that she wanted to be a concert pianist, but that after seeing 12-year-olds outperform her she knew she would not realize her dream. She then took classes in a variety of subjects before finding one that she loved: international relations and never looked back. Dr. Rice also urged the audience to not be afraid to do something hard. She said that the “B” she got in geometry was exponentially more rewarding to her than any of the “A’s” she got in political science. She espoused the importance of studying a language and studying abroad. Rice said that while it is scary to attempt to immerse yourself in a different culture and speak a language you have only tested out in a classroom, the experience is more than worth it.
Finally, Dr. Rice told the audience to remain optimistic. She pointed out that many historical events, like the American founding and her own accession to Secretary of State, seemed impossible at one point but are now taken for granted. She concluded her lecture by saying that her story would only have been possible in America, and that she hopes other countries take heart that the “Most generous and most compassionate country on the earth is also the most powerful.”
After her lecture, Dr. Rice sat down with Professor Rob Martin, chair of the Government Department, to answer questions submitted by members of the Hamilton community. These questions were on a variety of topics and included whether she had any regrets about the Iraq War, her decision to okay the use of waterboarding on certain detainees, the lack of African American Republicans, and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
Dr. Rice defended the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq and said that every intelligence agency in the world thought there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. She blamed this faulty intelligence on the opaque nature of the Iraqi government and on Saddam Hussein’s attempts to mislead U.N. weapons inspectors. Dr. Rice argues that the main reason for going into Iraq was to capture Saddam Hussein, who she claims was responsible for three wars and for the biological attacks on Iraq’s Kurdish population. She said that if she had the opportunity to go back she would “take him out again.” She does believe that the Bush Administration made mistakes though. Dr. Rice claims that the United States would have had more success in Iraq if the Bush Administration took a more provincial oriented approach and if it had not dismantled both the Iraqi Army and the Ba’ath party.
Dr. Rice also defended her decision to authorize waterboarding. She said that the climate after September 11th was extremely tense and that her top priority was to prevent another terrorist attack from occurring. She says that she knew at the time that people would second-guess her decision to allow waterboarding as an interrogation technique, but she insisted that it prevented another attack. She claimed that people would have been right in second-guessing her decision only if there had been another terrorist attack.
When Professor Martin asked Dr. Rice why there were relatively few African American Republicans, Dr. Rice explained how her father and other African Americans in the south registered as Republicans after several “Dixiecrats” prevented them from voting. She said that over time, especially as the Republican Party reached out to the Southern whites who were angry about the Democratic Party’s civil rights platform, African Americans began to turn away from the Republican Party. She also conceded that Republicans have not done enough to improve education or eradicate poverty, two issues that many African Americans care deeply about.
Several of the questions Professor Martin asked concerned the Middle East. Rice claimed that her biggest accomplishment as Secretary of State was bringing greater stability to the Middle East and building stronger ties with many Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. She said that the biggest troublemaker in the region was not Israel or Iraq, but Iran. She wants President Obama to remain open to a military attack on Iran but she believes that this will not be necessary. Rice said that Iran is facing both external and internal pressure and she believes that the combined might of U.N., Japanese, Australian, and American sanctions will soon bring Iran to its breaking point. She remains hopeful that Iran, like other totalitarian states, will muster the courage to throw off the mantel of dictatorial rule and embrace that all-important “safety valve” democracy.