Condoleezza Rice president Bush's most loyal insider: in the midst of major inner-circle departures, the Secretary of State remains at the president's side.
It's 10 o'clock in the morning, and Condoleezza Rice is already stressin'.
Her anxiety is not about her recent trip to the Middle East to announce U.S. plans m finance a Palestinian security force. It's not about the continuing genocide in Darfur, where the United States, this year alone, has pumped some $1 billion into the region for humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance. Nor is it about the new student-exchange partnership with the government of Chile that she plans to make official in a few minutes. (Meanwhile, Alejandro Foxley, the country's foreign minister, and his bilingual entourage are waiting patiently for her in the Treaty Room next door.)
No, as the Secretary of State engages in a one-on-one interview with EBONY ha her personal office at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., it's Iraq--or rather many African-Americans' take on the ongoing conflict--that has her befuddled. So much so that while her rhythm has all the eloquence of the country's top diplomat, her rhyme soon turns as down-home as her Alabama roots.
Sitting ha an oversized, muted-yellow wingback chair, Rice initially waxes topical. First, admitting that no one likes war. Next, yielding that many Blacks, like many other Americans, believe that the United States should never have waged war with Iraq in the first place. And finally, conceding that, while she will always believe that war with Iraq was unavoidable, "There are a lot of reasons to be critical of what we've done and how we've done it."
With her press secretary, Sean McCormack, listening intently Rice then waxes historical. Like a preacher coming to the end of a rousing Sunday sermon, it's here that she seems to stray from the prepared word, and latches onto a calling higher than the recent headlines. Bringing it (the war in Iraq) home to Black America, she says, "There's a kind of impatience about what [Iraqis] have to go through to succeed." Then she emphatically adds, "If any one people should know that democracy takes time, we should know--Black Americans should know."
What is needed in Iraq is "national reconciliation," Rice says, comparing the Iraqi situation today to the healing process White and Black Americans went through between the end of the Civil War and the end of the Civil Rights Movement. "That first Constitution didn't do us [Blacks] very well," she says. "It took time. I talk about the Civil Rights Movement as our second founding because it really wasn't until 1964 and 1965 that the rights written in 1789 were guaranteed to us."
Call it tough love. Call it tactfully taking her people to task. Call it what you want. But don't call it out of line. Considered by many to be "the most powerful woman in the world," Rice undoubtedly has enough intellect to discuss foreign policy with heads of state. Arguably, she also has enough "street cred" to school African-Americans on being Black--and expect them to listen.
As a child growing up in Birmingham in the midst of the Freedom Movement, she survived the segregation, the bigotry and the Klan in perhaps one of the most turbulent cities in the South. So, as she turns 53 this month, she hasn't forgotten what it was like to be oppressed, powerless and Black in America.
During a 2004 commencement address at Vanderbilt University, she described the intimidation tactics of the Klan, including her adolescent remembrances of the 1963 bombing of the Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church in her neighborhood. "I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen, and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away ...," she said. "It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and playmate Denise McNair. The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations."
Through hard work and encouragement from proud Black parents who stressed the importance of education, she rose above the intolerance of the South. She earned a Ph.D. in international studies from the University of Denver, but never forgot the rudimentary lessons Jim Crow taught her back at home. Not the least of which is a lesson that she says any student of African-American history should know--that it takes time to change long-held discriminatory practices and beliefs, and time to transition from a fractured society to a cohesive one with a system that is fair and equitable for people of different ethnic groups.
"When I was growing up in Birmingham, two days before the Public Accommodations Act passed, race-mixing was illegal. Two days after, race-mixing was legal," Rice says. "Two days before, a lot of people didn't like it. Two days after, a lot of people didn't like it. But what changed was, people knew ... that now they had no choice but to accept that my family could walk into a restaurant, and over time ... a kind of normative relations between races have shifted, have changed, and people have gotten accustomed to it.
"That's what Iraqis need," she continues. "But you start with changing the law. You start with changing the foundation so that people know how to relate to each other ... a legal structure that protects the minority from the majority."
The administration's much-publicized "surge" plan, which included increasing American troop levels in Iraq is "paying some dividends ...," she says, with "sectarian violence ... much diminished [and] Iraqi security forces fighting a lot better with Americans helping them."
If the United States pulls out of Iraq now--with no rule of law in place to protect the Sunni minority from the Shia majority, or the former Baath Party followers of Saddam Hussein from the Kurds they tormented for some 40 years--it would be akin to saying "some people just aren't ready [to be treated with equality and human dignity, which is] just wrong, morally wrong," she says.
In time, Rice says that she fully expects strong leaders to emerge in Iraq, similar to the Black leaders who emerged in this country. "If you just throw up your hands and say, 'Oh, well, this is never going to happen,' then you're not giving the country a chance to have leaders like [civil rights icon the] Rev. [Fred] Shuttlesworth, who was a good friend of my family, or Rosa Parks, or Dr. Dorothy Height, who are my personal heroines. It takes time."
During the question-and-answer session, time--the lack of it, the meaning of it, how much more of it can pass before His Excellency Senor Foxley and friends become fretfully fidgety--often comes into play.
When it comes to time, there's no question that Rice has made the most of it. In three years heading the State Department, she's already become the most traveled secretary in U.S. history, visiting some 65 countries and logging more than 1,300 hours (or two months) in the air.
More debatable, perhaps, is the question of" passing time, and how it will treat her, particularly in regard to her role in the Iraqi war. "I don't care what historians say about my role," says Rice, who, in her previous position as national security advisor, helped lead the push for America to enter Iraq. "I hope that they will say that what we've done, and what the Iraqis have done, marked the beginning of a democratic and, therefore, truly stable Middle East."
But there is a chorus of African-Americans, like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who believe that, for better or for worse, Rice's legacy will always be connected to an ill-advised war started by an unpopular president. In a telephone interview, the National Action Network founder says that Rice is a complex figure, "a woman of achievement and an example of what the Civil Rights Movement was all about." Her biggest blemish, Sharpton adds, is that, "She has been loyal to the president to a fault, so that he could go about the business of executing his policies."
Rice is perhaps Bush's staunchest supporter and may be his closest confidante. As members of his inner circle--including two press secretaries, Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow, top advisor Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales--have exited one by one, she has been by Bush's side through both terms. The two talk on a daily basis, and she has even vacationed with the Bush family. The president jokingly calls her "Mother Hen," and has said that he highly values her opinions.
It's only been during the past year or so that Rice has seemed to use her influence to push forward her own diplomatic agenda. She recently moved to restart talks with North Korea and Iran--even reportedly at the expense of crossing Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush and others in the administration who have repeatedly said that the two countries were a part of "the axis of evil."
The secretary was also the driving force in restoring normalized relations with Libya, a 30-year adversary of the United States. And she was also instrumental in the $15 billion in African aid--more than any other previous administration-for AIDS initiatives, and for the 2006 Sudan Peace Agreement, although the administration has been criticized for not doing more to push for its full implementation. "Hopefully, we can get Darfur right," she says. "Then Sudan can emerge."
Then there's the question of how, as time passes, will African-Americans view Rice? While there's no doubt that many African-Americans don't always agree with Rice's politics, many have taken an interest in such lighthearted things as the secretary's newfound fashion sense. Her hairstyle has been updated, as well as her attire. Rice even caused an international stir when she showed up at an Air Force base in Germany wearing a black, knee-high skirt and knee-high boots. And don't think that Sisters haven't taken notice. Some have even gone so far as to call Rice "sharp"--perhaps the ultimate compliment one Black woman can give another.
Rice may have endeared herself even more to Black women, when reports surfaced that the secretary has been known to "go off" occasionally when she's not treated with the proper respect. In a new biography, The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, author and Washington Post correspondent Glenn Kessler writes about a particular trip Rice allegedly took to a jewelry store with Colt Blacker, a Stanford professor and reportedly one of her closest friends. Blacker reportedly tells Kessler that Rice got indignant with the store clerk after she brought out custom trinkets instead of real jewels. In the book, Blacker recalls Rice saying, "Let's get one thing straight, you are behind the counter because you have to work for minimum wage. I'm on this side asking to see the good jewelry because I make considerably more."
When it comes to more serious issues such as Rice's commitment to inclusion and diversity, some Black observers have criticized her for not being more vocal on issues like affirmative action and the government's response to Katrina victims. But carrier this year, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel applauded the secretary for the active role she has taken in his international affairs program that trains disadvantaged, mostly inner-city students to serve in coveted U.S. Foreign Service positions.
The New York lawmaker described the program as a "breakthrough in the effort to make the representation of our country overseas look like America." Rangel added, "I can't commend Secretary Rice enough for her support of this initiative and her commitment to diversity ha the nation's diplomatic corps."
With the interview (and her talk with Black America) coming to an end, perhaps the most uncertain question of all--What does time hold for her?--remains unanswered. Having worked much of her life in education, including a six-year tenure as Stanford University's provost, it is believed that she may return to a top position at a college or university after leaving the political arena. An avid football fan, she has joked about becoming commissioner of the NFL. Rice has also expressed a hope that, if the time is tight, she might marry one day.
However, today, that one day seems far away. As Rice enters the Treaty Room, cameras flash, Chilean students applaud, and Foxley smiles, extending his hand ha a show of respect the Sister from Birmingham has grown accustomed to receiving.
Sure, life after the State Department is in her sights. But with so much work still to do, it's possibly the furthest thing from her mind.
Time's funny like that.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE PERSONAL FACTS
* Favorite movie is Casablanca
* Took up golf in 2005
* Is an accomplished pianist
* On occasion, she still plays with a chamber music group in Washington, D.C.
* Favorite composer is Brahms
* Enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles
* Started learning French, figure skating and ballet at age 3
ON THE ROAD WITH SECRETARY RICE Rice is the most traveled Secretary of State ever. Through July, she had visited a variety of countries and traveled some 100,000 miles. * Jan. 12-19: Middle East and Europe (14,374 miles) * Jan. 24-26: Europe (7,851 miles) * Feb. 16-22: Middle East and Europe (12,796 miles) * Feb. 23: Canada (910 miles) * March 8-14: Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico (11,875 miles) * March 23-27: Middle East (12,963 miles) * April 25-27: Norway (7,751 miles) * May 1-4: Egypt (12,126 miles) * May 13-16 Russia (9,964 miles) * May 29 -June 1: Europe (9,775 miles) * June 4: Panama (4,118 miles) * June 23-26: France (7,662 miles) * July 18-20: Portugal (7,114 miles) Source: U.S. State Department
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2007|
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