Condoleezza Rice: Facing Forward, Looking Back

Sept. 11 was, of course, a day that no American
will ever forget, maybe no one in the world will ever forget. But for those of us in a
position of authority, every day after Sept. 11 was Sept. 12. You really had a complete
change in the way you thought about everything after Sept. 11. I got to the office, as usual, early-6:15
or so. The president happened to be going that day down to Florida to do an education
event, and ironically, either the deputy national security adviser, Steve Hadley, or I would
normally have been with him whenever he traveled, even domestically. But this was just going
to be a four-hour trip, so both of us stayed in Washington. There was lots to do. Just after the first plane went into the World
Trade Center, my executive assistant came in and said, ‘You know, a plane has hit the
World Trade Center.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s a strange accident.’ I called the president,
and we talked about how odd it was. Then I went down for my staff meeting, and they handed
me a note that said a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought, ‘My God,
this is a terrorist attack.’ So I went into the situation room to try to gather the national
security principals-Colin Powell was in Peru; George Tenet, the CIA director, had already
gone to the bunker; and I couldn’t get Don Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. And I
looked behind me, and a plane had hit the Pentagon on the television. At about that
time the Secret Service came to me and said, ‘You have to go to the bunker, planes are
flying into every building in Washington; we don’t know if the White House is going
to be next.’ And so I was sort of spirited away down to
a bunker. On the way, I stopped and I called my aunt and uncle, and I said, ‘Terrible pictures
are going to be coming out of Washington, but I’m OK. Tell everybody I’m OK.’ And I called the president, and the president
said, ‘I’m coming back.’ And I did something I never did before or after: I raised my voice
to him, and I said, ‘You stay where you are.’ I said, ‘You cannot come back here. Washington
is under attack.’ And the rest of the day was trying to deal with the consequences.
I talked to Vladimir Putin on the phone. He said, ‘We know that your forces are going
up on alert. We are bringing our forces down.’ As an old Soviet specialist, it was really
confirmation for me that the Cold War was over, and here was Russia trying to help at
that moment. I remember the horrors of thinking that that
plane that went down in Pennsylvania-that we’d shot it down, because the president had
given an order that any plane that was not properly responding could be shot down by
the fighters. We couldn’t let planes keep flying into buildings in Washington. And I
remember sitting there just trying to deal with everything that was coming across our
desk in a sort of fog that, frankly, didn’t lift until several days later at the memorial
service, when, I think, for all of us the period of mourning was over and the period
of action and defiance began. When did it first cross your mind that it
was an al-Qaida operation? The night of Sept. 11, when the president
finally made it back to the White House, he did a speech to the nation, addressed to the
nation from the Oval Office. And then we had a National Security Council meeting at about
10 o’clock that night. And George Tenet, the CIA director, said that it had all the earmarks,
all the hallmarks of al-Qaida. I think we’d all come to know, deep down inside, but there
wasn’t any time to think about it until that night, when we reflected on it. That had real
consequences because it meant we were probably going to war in Afghanistan. Well, national security adviser is a fancy
title for assistant to the president for national security affairs, and you are the president’s
staff. It’s your responsibility to help him in any way that you can. But the fact of the
matter is that the way you help him the most is to get the constitutional officers-the
secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the secretary of treasury-all working in the
same direction to help the president’s policies. But the secretary of state is the person who
has the diplomats, the secretary of defense has the military forces. They are the people
who have the authority that comes with being confirmed by the Senate. As national security adviser, you are staff-rarified
staff to be sure, but you’re staff. So I told President Bush once, I said, ‘It’s like working
by remote control.’ Can I get Secretary A to do this, and can I get Secretary B to do
that and Secretary C to stop doing that? And that’s really what being national security
adviser is like. I told my colleague, Steve Hadley, when he became national security adviser
and I became secretary of state, I said, ‘You know Steve, I really prefer being coordinated
to coordinating.’And there’s really something to that. In 2002, the administration outlined what
came to be known as the Bush Doctrine, with two pillars being preemptive strikes and encouraging
democratic regime change. Given that preemption could be used as justification for aggression,
was this controversial within the foreign policy, the national security apparatus? Could
you give us some sense of the discussions that went on behind the scenes about this? Of course, preemption-or its cousin, preventive
war-have long been a part of American military doctrine. If you ask the question in a rather
simple way-if you suspect that something is about to attack you, or if the storm clouds
are gathering, the threat is gathering, do you wait until you are attacked? Or do you
try to deal with the problem before? Then I think people understand why prevention and
preemption have a place in military strategy. And after Sept. 11, the idea that we would
sit again and wait for threats to gather, as they had in Afghanistan, I think that was
what was far-fetched. And yes, for some it was controversial. But I think the mistaken
view is that we intended somehow to go around preempting and preventing war-with preventive
war-all over the globe. In fact, there were a limited number of threats that were concerning
enough to try and deal with them before they fully materialized. I have another date for you: March 19, 2003.
The United States launches an air strike on the Dora Farms, where Saddam Hussein was supposedly
visiting his sons. The next day the war begins. Tell me about March 19.It must have been an
incredible day. As of fall 2002, the president had gone to
the Security Council to say it was time for Saddam Hussein to either comply with the will
of the international community, expressed in more than a dozen Security Council resolutions-16
or 17 Security Council resolutions-and fully disarm and allow inspectors back in with full
access or he would have to pay the consequences. That work then unfolded until February, when
I think it was clear that Saddam Hussein was not going to fully comply, that the word of
the United States and the word of the Security Council had to have meaning, and it was at
that point pretty clear that we were likely headed towards some kind of military confrontation
with Iraq. But the Dora Farms events were not planned,
and they are, to me, one piece of evidence against the idea that somehow we were just
dying to go to war-we justwantedto go to war against Saddam Hussein. The reason
that we launched the strike at Dora Farms was that we had intelligence that Saddam might
be going there, and we thought if we could kill him, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to
go to war. And it required a revision of the war plan. The war was supposed to start with
air strikes the next day against Iraqi air defenses. But instead we took this chance
to try and get rid of Saddam Hussein. As it turns out, he either wasn’t there or he escaped.
Most likely he wasn’t there. And we then went to war the next day. So you must have been on the edge of your
seat wondering, when the strike was launched, have we just prevented the war? What was actually controversial was whether
to launch Dora Farms at all. I can remember being in the Oval Office with the president,
Don Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Colin Powell came over and the chairman of the joint chiefs,
because everything was set for the execution of the war plan. The president had that morning
met with his commanders one last time by video, asking if there was anything more that they
needed. Everyone had said, ‘God bless America,’ and we were ready to launch the war. Then
to suddenly decide to change the plan, which could have, of course, given the Iraqis strategic
warning of the time of the launch of the military advance, was somewhat dangerous. And we had
a long discussion about whether to even do that, whether to do this and give the Iraqis
a chance to get ready. We decided, in the final analysis, that it was worth taking the
shot. And yes, we waited some 12 hours and then learned that, in fact, we’d not gotten
Saddam Hussein, although there was a false report-just shows you how the fog of war acts-there
was a false report that somebody had seen somebody like Saddam Hussein on a stretcher.
And that got everybody’s heart rate going for a moment, but then it came in that probably
he’d not been killed then. During the four years that you served as national
security adviser, who did you turn to for advice? First of all, I had a very close relationship
with the president, which helped a lot. I could tell him anything, and I felt he would
listen. Steve Hadley, my deputy, was like my alter ego. We talked eight, 10, 12 times
a day. There was nobody better to be in the trenches with than Steve. On the outside,
I talked to people like Brent Scowcroft, who was a good friend and mentor and former national
security adviser. And Henry Kissinger, who was really throughout my time as national
security adviser and secretary one of my best friends and mentors. Henry is the only other
person who had exactly my profile: academic becomes national security adviser becomes
secretary of state. I always felt somehow that he knew exactly what that was like.
The truth of the matter was, I was ready to retire after being national security adviser
and told the president so. I said, ‘You know, your national security team is exhausted.
We’ve had the worst terrorist attack in American history, fighting two wars, it’s time to leave.’
I would not have remained as national security adviser. When the president and I talked about
my becoming secretary of state-because Colin had said that he was ready to step down as
secretary of state-I said to the president, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You probably
could use new blood.’ We then talked about what was on the agenda
for reconciliation with our allies after the difficulties of 2003, 2004. I felt that we
had a lot of work to do in the Middle East, particularly if we wanted to launch a Palestinian-Israeli
negotiation. And so for those reasons, it seemed worth doing. The part for me that was daunting was that
I knew I was going to be on an airplane all the time. The fact is, I’m kind of a nester.
For somebody who does international politics, I don’t really like to travel that much.I’d
just as soon be in my bed in my house with my things. And I thought, ‘OK, you’re just
going to have to get ready to travel,’ because I traveled a million miles as secretary. You
cannot do it by video, you cannot do it by phone. You have to be with people. For me,
that was in some ways the hardest decision, determining, in fact, that I could go forward. What did you think you could bring to the
position? Well, I thought I could bring to the position
the experience of having been national security adviser, but also I knew what we needed to
achieve strategically, and I knew where the president was. The secretary of state and
the president of the United States need to be close. It can’t be that any foreign government
or even the bureaucracy in Washington thinks they can split the president and the secretary
of state. The president and I had differences during my tenure as secretary of state. Nobody
ever knew it, because we would sit down and we’d hammer it out, and he’d listen to me-ultimately,
he was president. But I think that I felt that bringing that close relationship and
the need to do some things that would now lay a firm foundation going forward, from
the difficult years that we’d been through-from Sept. 11 through 2004-that I could do that. Can you tell us now about some of the differences
you and the president had? Well, they’ll come out over time. The main
thing was that I always felt he listened, and he trusted me to carry out the joint course
that we set. Since leaving the post of secretary of state,
you’ve been very quiet about foreign policy and unfolding circumstances. I’ve read a couple
of articles here and there, but for the most part you’ve kept a low profile. Why is that? Well, first of all because I don’t really
want to be a former anything. I’ve moved on to my other life, which is teaching at Stanford
and writing books and doing some speaking and work that I love with the Boys and Girls
Club to k-12 education, extended learning days. I’ve never particularly wanted to just
sort of hang out in Washington and ‘comment’ on foreign policy. I was the nation’s chief
diplomat-I had my chance. We had eight years, and after eight years, we did what we could
do-some of it good, some things I’d do differently. But I’m very aware that it looks a lot easier
from the outside than it does when you’re sitting at that desk. I don’t want to be somebody
sitting out chirping criticism at my successor. I think you owe those who come after you more
than that. You owe them a certain decorum-you’ve had your chance, you’ve done your best. The
good thing about change is that they now get to do it their way. I have a very good relationship
with Hillary Clinton. I first met her when she brought her freshman daughter to Stanford
when I was the provost, and so if there is ever anything I want to say to her, I can,
and I know that. But there’s no reason for me to do that in the newspapers. I think about all the times that today’s headlines
and history’s judgment didn’t turn out to be the same. In fact, I kept four portraits
of secretaries of state near me: Thomas Jefferson, everybody had to keep Thomas Jefferson although
to my mind he’s a little bit overrated as a founding father. Alexander Hamilton is my
favorite founding father. I kept George Marshall, certainly the greatest secretary of state.
But I also kept Dean Acheson. When Dean Acheson left office, people talked about who lost
China. Now Dean Acheson is known as the father of NATO and he laid the foundation for victory
in the Cold War, in which I was lucky enough to participate in 1990 and 1991. And I kept
William Seward. He bought Alaska, and at the time it was Seward’s Folly and Seward’s Icebox.
Several years ago I was speaking to the then defense minister of Russia, Sergei Ivanov,
and he said, ‘You know Condi, I’ve visited Alaska, and it’s so beautiful.’ He said, ‘It
reminds me of Russia.’ And I said, ‘You know, Sergei, it used to be Russia.’ I think we’re
all glad now that William Seward bought Alaska from the tsar of Russia-for $7 million by
the way. So I give no credence to any historian who
is ready to make those judgments now. They ought to read their history and realize that
it takes a long time, especially for consequential events, to play out the string. History has
a long arc, not a short one, and if, in fact, the Middle East is a place that, instead of
Saddam Hussein, finally has an Arab democracy in Iraq, that will be a fundamentally different
Middle East than we found. If, in fact, al-Qaida is defeated, that will be a fundamentally
different situation than we found. And if the president’s efforts to deal with the scourge
of AIDS and malaria and poverty in Africa, something for which he is fondly remembered
on the continent, if there are fewer orphans as a result-there are currently 2 million
people under treatment with antiretrovirals; there were 50,000 when we started-history
will judge our administration well. Well, I’ve said this publicly, I was both
amazed and gratified. I thought it was terrific. It was a very special moment for our country
because it showed that the United States can overcome old prejudices and old difficulties.
For a country that was founded with the birth defect of slavery, this is a remarkable turn.
I was very gratified, very glad that our country demonstrated that, in that sense, it’s learned
not to judge people by the color of their skin. It doesn’t mean that we’re color blind,
but it does mean that we’re increasingly less likely to make judgments about what people
are capable of because of the color of their skin. I think national security adviser was the
toughest job. I think being in a position of great responsibility, with frankly very
little authority except that that you derive from the president, and you have to be careful,
you can’t always say, ‘Well the president wants it, the president wants it.’ People
stop listening to you after a while. I really liked being line management. I liked working
in the State Department. I liked having an organization of 55,000 people that I had to
get up every day and figure out how I was going to motivate them through 12 different
time zones and all kinds of different challenges around the world, and how I was going to keep
the messages straight. I loved that part of it, and in that regard, probably my second
favorite job ever, and maybe even my favorite job, was being provost of Stanford. I loved
that side of management. I think at root maybe I’m a manager and an executive, and those
two jobs played to that strength. I don’t quite understand the impulse of people,
first of all, to always have their hair on fire. Everything’s a crisis; everything’s
nuclear war. A lot of life is paper clips. A lot of life you just have to say, ‘OK, I’m
putting that aside, I’m going on, it’s too bad, but I’m going on.’ We all have our emotional
times and struggles. The deaths of my parents were times that were not so easy just to get
over. Obviously those times come. But for the most part, I’m not, frankly, all that
reflective. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to get to know myself. Who knows, you may
not like that; maybe that’s somebody you won’t like very much if you spend too much time
trying to get to know yourself, so I think I’m just maybe not that reflective. Maybe
it’s not a good thing, but I try very hard to take life as a blessing and a gift. I am
a deeply religious person-whatever you go through, I believe, is part of honing yourself
to be better the next time. And in that regard, just being thrown off kilter whenever life
gets a little difficult, seems not really worth it.

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