OCTOBER 22--Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and former National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, says her upbringing in a religious family in the segregated southern city of Birmingham, Alabama, played a profound role in her rise to power. She describes that period in her life in a new book entitled, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People.” In an interview conducted in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Georgetown, Rice said she does not believe that women must sacrifice marriage and family to achieve positions of great influence. She also spoke about the future of the Korean peninsula, Afghanistan and China. The interview was conducted by Hwang Yoo Suk of the Hankook Ilbo and myself. I was involved because I will be a moderator at the newspaper’s conference on women’s issues on November 29-30 in Seoul. Here is an edited transcript:
Q. What factors shaped your emergence from Alabama onto the world stage?
A. In many ways, I was a pretty normal kid. I grew up in an ordinary family--a mother who was a school teacher and a father who was first a high school guidance counselor and Presbyterian minister and later a university administrator. They valued education—family, faith and education--above all else. What was extraordinary about it was that, in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, where you couldn’t go into a restaurant and you couldn’t stay in a hotel, they still had me convinced I could be president of the United States if I wanted to be. This is the story of terrific parenting and terrific community who believed in excellence and helped their kids get there. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunities.
Q. You came from an environment where the liberal side of the American political spectrum played a role in bringing about civil rights for African-Americans, yet you are more associated with the conservative side of politics today. How did that happen?
A. I think these labels are misplaced. Obviously, I believed very strongly in equal rights and believe to this day in equal rights. I am a member of the Republican Party, which has appointed two black secretaries of state—who were the chief diplomat of the United States--and also the first and only black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m a big believer in educational opportunity for all, and in high standards and high expectations of people. I believe that in the right circumstances, the individual can achieve. I don’t know whether those are conservative principles or liberal principles. I tend to think they are American principles.
Q. What was the toughest moment for you serving in the Bush Administration?
A. September 11, 2001. When you’re the national security adviser, when planes crash into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the United States of America is under attack on its own soil for the first time since the War of 1812, and you watch people jump out of the 80th floor of the World Trade Center, trying to avoid the inevitable, that was the toughest moment. Every day after that is September 12. Every day after that, you are consumed with the thought that it should never happen again.
Q. It hasn’t happened again, has it?
A. No, but it’s not from lack of trying. In the first months after Sept. 11, we didn’t really know how Al-Qaeda operated. There wasn’t really the worldwide law enforcement and intelligence network that we now have, a net that includes good allies like South Korea. Back then, it was not at all evident that we weren’t going to have another attack. I still think to this day we are vulnerable to an attack, although the Al-Qaeda organization no longer exists. It exists only as an amorphous, atomized set of operators. We succeeded in breaking up what was a highly disciplined, almost paramilitary organization.
Q. How did you have confidence to be involved in decisions affecting the well-being of nation-states? Was it religious faith or what did you rely on deep down to navigate in these difficult moments?
A. You rely first and foremost on experience and preparation and background and training. I had not been just an academic. I had been on the staff of the National Security Council when the Cold War ended, when we had to make some very tough decisions but frankly in an atmosphere in which history was going our way. So I was experienced. I had been provost at Stanford. I knew how to ask tough questions of people who were making all kinds of demands on the budget. I worked with excellent people, starting with the president on down--people like Steve Hadley (Rice’s successor as national security adviser) and Colin (Powell) and Don (Rumsfeld) and Vice President Cheney. You learn to trust the people around you.
And yes, faith plays a role, not that you expect that God is going to give you an answer about what to do about Al-Qaeda on a particular day. But as a centering and grounding set of beliefs that you are part of something larger and you can ask can guidance, that guidance will be there. That’s how you get through times like that.
Q. So you did ask for guidance?
A. Absolutely. I’m a minister’s daughter and a faithful Christian. Of course, I asked for guidance.
Q. There’s a debate in the United States about whether women have to sacrifice marriage and family to hold high-ranking positions in government and business, and that’s the subject of the conference in Seoul. What are your views on that subject?
A. I don’t think women have to turn away from family and children to achieve. I know of plenty of women who have achieved and have had family and career. I never felt that my desire to be successful was in the way of having a family. I just never met anyone I wanted to marry. You don’t marry in the abstract. You have to want to marry someone. (Word emphasized.) I also think it’s important that even if you don’t marry that you commit to something other than work. I am not a workaholic. I love my family. I have a small but very tight-knit extended family. I love my friends and my time with them. I find time to play and enjoy sports. And I find time to continue to pursue the piano. It’s important to have a well-rounded life. I think women can have a well-rounded life and still succeed.
Q. There have been tough headlines recently about women in the Congo and places like Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Do you think women may be moving backward in the world, not forward, because of economic issues and military conflicts?
A. I don’t think you can make a case that women are moving backward. Some women’s conditions have worsened principally in places where conflict is ongoing, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It usually relates to the use of rape as a weapon of war. When I was Secretary, we got the United Nations to pass a resolution that said rape is not just a consequence of war, it is a weapon of war. I think there is a recognition of that. There is also more worldwide attention focused on trafficking in persons, which tends to affect women disproportionately. Although circumstances in Afghanistan are very bad, women are not in the conditions that they were under the Taliban. They were being executed publicly in a stadium built by the United Nations. Girls are going to school in Afghanistan. Girls are going to university. Yes, it is a very conservative society and I worry about women’s rights. There was a very good piece by Laura Bush today on the importance of standing up for women’s rights in Afghanistan and I completely agree. Women should not go backwards in Afghanistan.
I think you would have a hard time making the case that women are worse today than they were in 2001. Women have the right to vote in Kuwait, which was not the case in 2001. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah is building a technical university where women will be students. There is worldwide attention on the mutilation of girls in Africa. We have not achieved nearly what we need to achieve on behalf of women and if I could wave a magic wand and do one thing, I would empower women.
Q. It seems women’s issues are tied up with economic development and poverty, education and health care. Shouldn’t we instead be talking about broader challenges than just women’s rights?
A. It’s an issue obviously of human rights and good governance and poverty alleviation. I think very often women’s issues are a way into these problems. For instance, I’ve always believed that if you empower women, you will not have a problem with population control. If you educate women, they are not going to have children at age 12 and they are not going to have 15 kids. If you educate women, they will not be trafficked into brothels when they are 11. If you politically empower women and give them economic opportunities, they will take small micro-grants and employ everybody in their villages. Some of them ultimately will change the economic dynamics of their whole country. While it is true that it is not just a women’s issue, if you do go after the women’s issues you are going to have a very positive effect s on these other problems.
Q. Do women in power fulfill their duties in a way that’s different from how men do it? Is there a difference in the style of decision-making?
A. I’ve always said I can’t go back and create myself as a white man. I do think women listen better. I’ve been in meetings and witnessed a great tendency to talk before you listen. Beyond that, women span the range of managers who are very tough and manage in a way that some would consider more male. There are some women who are more persuasive and try to being about more consensus. But it depends on the circumstances. Sometimes you have to go in and you have to be really tough and you have to be pretty hard to get something done. Other times, you have to build a consensus. Whether it’s a man or a woman, that person has to have the full range of capabilities if they are going to be successful.
Q. Turning to geopolitical issues, do you think the transfer of power from North Korea’s Kim Jong Il to his son, Kim Jong Un, has been successful?
A. Eventually, North Korea has to change. It is the most isolated regime and the most isolated place on the globe. That regime stays in power because somehow the North Korean people don’t know about alternatives and are not able to press for those alternatives and because the state is just wicked and frankly so brutal. I’ve been watching the change in power like everyone else. The question is, can some opportunity to open North Korea come around. I had always hoped that through the Six Party talks we would succeed in slowing and reversing the North Korean nuclear program. To a degree, we did slow it, but not in reversing it. Maybe that was an opportunity for the world to offer assistance in ways that might open that regime. A regime that is very closed is very dangerous.
Q. Do you think North Korea will change because of the generational transfer of power?
A. I don’t know any other way it could change except for the transfer of power from the father to the son. What we don’t know about North Korea is what other actors, what other factors, there are. How will the military accept this change?
Q. Do you still think North Korea is an “outpost of tyranny?”
A. Yes. How else would you explain that regime?
Q. So there has been no change in North Korea since you were in government?
A. Not yet, not yet. But the laws of nature in a political sense are that eventually you have to deliver for your people. South Korea is such a vibrant democracy and such a vibrant economy. Just next door, the people are kept in this prison. I don’t think that’s stable in the long run. People who distribute humanitarian assistance tell me that North Koreans listen to radio broadcasts from Seoul and try to get video tapes from Seoul. It’s hard for me to believe these people can remain so isolated for very much longer.
Q. But no real change inside North Korea?
A. In a society that closed, how would we know? It could be that it will be a rather sudden change in North Korea. In fact, I think it will be a rather sudden change.
Q. How can the Six Party talks move forward again?
A. I think they are doing what they can. The main thing is to keep the other five united around a position that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons. I believe we were making a lot of progress in the Six Party talks and then something happened inside Pyongyang, probably having to do with the health of Kim Jong Il and probably having to do with the coming change of power. Let’s see if North Korea within several months or a year might again try to restart the Six Party talks. Under the right circumstances, that’s what should be done. But you have to remember what happened with the sinking of the South Korean vessel. You have to remember that there have been aggressive military exercises. Something is going on in Pyongyang.
Q. What happens if the regime suddenly collapses? Rather than reunification with the South, might China be the one that fills the power vacuum?
A. I don’t think the Chinese want to want to take on the North Korean problem. One reason the Chinese have been very concerned about stability in North Korea is that they don’t want to suddenly find themselves with responsibility for a country that isolated and that poor. The story of recent years is that China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia have worked together cooperatively to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. That provides the organization that can try to manage whatever is going to happen in North Korean.
Q. There’s much controversy in Washington over U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. What is your analysis of the resignation of Gen. James Jones as national security adviser?
A. Jim Jones is a friend of mine. He was helpful to me in the Middle East. He was a fine national security adviser. But he’s always said, after two years, he’s done. He told me that when he first came.
Q. But it comes in the middle of this debate about Afghanistan.
A. Every administration has its debates. Every administration has its arguments. Sometimes, particularly in Washington, these get blown up and somehow it becomes abnormal that people disagree. Of course, people disagree. In your newsroom or in a company, people disagree. It’s just that in Washington it gets put on the front page of the newspaper. I wouldn’t make too much of it. Afghanistan is difficult. It was always going to be hard. It’s the fifth poorest country in the world. If you’ve ever flown over the mountains of Afghanistan, you know why it’s so hard. I have a lot of confidence in Gen. Petraeus and I think the strategy that is being pursued will probably ultimately bear fruit.
Q. Does it seem to you that this kind of highly politicized debate is a healthy one?
A. It’s not healthy for normal human interactions under pressure to be on the front pages of the newspaper. But the jobs that these people hold are really hard. They are 24-hour jobs. You never sleep particularly well. You wake up every morning thinking, “What’s going to happen now?” You are under constant pressure. And under constant pressure, human beings say things to each other. If it were not for the tendency of these things to leak into the press, by the next day those things would go away and people would make up. The bad thing is that it is not kept internal.
Q. Is a military solution really possible in Afghanistan? It seems that U.S. policy is based on the idea that a central government exists when in fact the country is governed by different warlords. How can the Americans transfer power to a government that doesn’t exist?
A. You’re right that it is highly fractured because of ethnic and tribal differences, but there is a strong sense of them being Afghan. That is something to build on. They have some pride in their army, which is a good national institution. It’s just too small. It needs to be built up. So there isn’t going to be a military solution. Ultimately in a country that poor and that has been in a civil war for 30 years, until 2001, you have a very hard job of slowly building up political institutions and slowly improving the lives of people. You’re fighting against determined terrorists who want to stop that, which is why it’s difficult.
The advantage of the strategy that Gen. Petraeus is trying to pursue is that it actually does not depend on getting things done in Kabul. We learned the lesson in Iraq, which was a stronger central state, that you need to work in the provinces. You need to go out with provincial reconstruction teams that have military who can secure the place at night. Then the next morning you might be doing governance training or trying to dig wells for the community. This more decentralized approach is at the core of the counter-insurgency strategy. It takes time. It is dangerous work. And the United States and our allies are going to have to have some patience. I understand that that patience is running short. We should ask ourselves whether we want to go back to a time when Afghanistan really was run by warlords and there was no counter to them. When the Taliban was in control of 90 percent of the country, when women were being executed in soccer stadiums, and when Al-Qaeda was plotting and planning Sept. 11—that’s the alternative. While the current strategy looks difficult, the alternative is not a very good one.
Q. It would appear the Chinese are beginning to feel a sense of power and project that power in the world. Is this good or bad?
A. It depends. (Laughter.) China is a rising power and China is an increasingly influential state. That’s obvious. The question is how China is going to use that influence. In the Bush Administration, we often talked about China as a “responsible stakeholder.” When it comes to the way China has, for the most part, deal with the North Korean issue, I think you could argue that it has done so responsibly. When it comes to even some places as far away as the Middle East, in dealing with terrorism, I always found the Chinese government very helpful. Even on the global economy, for the most part, China has been pretty open to foreign investment. On energy, China also is trying to be more responsible than a lot of people thought they would be. They are not content to burn dirty sources of energy. It has had problems with intellectual property protection, which is something we need to deal with. And the currency issue is there. But on balance, China’s economic rise has been a net plus for the international economy. I think there is one set of behaviors that would say China can be that responsible stakeholder.
When it comes to human rights and domestic developments in China, it’s more troubling. The world sent a message with the Nobel Peace Prize. But even there, I believe that as China matures economically, as workers in China are getting more prosperous, it will be beneficial to the Chinese government to find a way to incorporate the political aspirations of its people. I think the United States can be helpful in that regard.
Finally, in regard to relations with its neighbors, and particularly Southeast Asia, I would hope that within organizations such as ASEAN, ASEAN plus Three, the East Asia summit and even APEC, that China recognizes its responsibility to find cooperative solutions to what are essentially 19th century territorial issues. The 21st century is no time to use 19th century tactics.