Condoleezza Rice

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited a UT class, gave a speech to a packed auditorium and granted an exclusive interview to The Daily Texan during her campus visit yesterday. 

In the interview, which took place in the residential apartment on the 10th floor of the LBJ Library in a room that remains apparently unchanged since President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife furnished it, Rice addressed questions about race-conscious college admissions, immigration policy and the responsibility of public officials to be candid and honest.

As the national security adviser and then secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, Rice was instrumental in the decision to pursue the Iraq War, which became, as the Vietnam War had for Johnson, unpopular. Throughout yesterday, Rice faced questions  from students, many of whom were not yet teenagers when that war began, about how we should understand the events of the last 10 years, the Iraq War’s consequences and our country’s capacity to overcome them. “Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same,” Rice told her audience twice.

In February, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington announced that Rice would serve on a commission on immigration alongside Democrats and Republicans, including former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Asked what she believes U.S. immigration policy should be, Rice listed three kinds of people she would seek to help: First, individuals who can participate in the “knowledge-based revolution in Palo Alto and Austin”; second, agricultural workers who “come here to make a better wage” and to the benefit of the industries they work in; and third, offering a “path to citizenship” for the “11 million people in the shadows.” As secretary of state, Rice says she gained a different perspective on the attitudes of those seeking entrance to this country. “Understand: America has a universal narrative, one not based on nationality, religion or ethnicity,” she said explaining the ability of an immigrant to become American is specific to this country. “It’s not where you come from, but where you’re going.”

Asked about the UT v. Fisher case, Rice said she “[has] always been an advocate of soft affirmative action,” and believes “diversity adds to the learning environment” and that schools should be allowed to “consider race as one of many factors.” During the Bush administration, the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to declare two race-conscious policies at the University of Michigan unconstitutional in the Grutter case, a pivotal precedent for arguments on both sides of in the pending Fisher v. UT case. According to news accounts at the time, then-National Security Adviser Rice said she opposed the specific methods used by Michigan but recognized the need to take race into account.

In the broader sense, Rice said she believes “it’s hard to tell who is going to be successful in college” and wishes schools would seek out not simply applicants who have the highest grades and SAT scores, but those “who have overcome a lot.” She believes schools should pay closer attention to economic circumstances of applicants and cites one of her biggest worries, today’s developing gulf in the quality of K-12 education.

Asked to contend with the prevailing belief that young people are not only disenchanted and disengaged with politics, but unlikely to pursue public office, Rice said, “Remember that a democracy is only as good as its citizens,” adding that running for office was not the only way to serve the country. Amid ongoing speculation she may be a 2016 presidential contender, she seemed to take herself out of the running. “I’m never going to run for office,” she said she doesn’t have the temperament or DNA for it. 

Does young people’s confidence in their government depend on leaders’ candidness? Is telling the truth an important value in a democracy?

“Number one, you always have to tell the American people the truth,” Rice said, adding, “Sometimes the leaders think they’re telling the truth ... That happened with us with weapons of mass destruction [when] we thought they were there when they weren’t.” It happened with Obama in Benghazi, she said, referring to the initial misinformation about the terrorist attack at the Libyan consulate. “Sometimes you have bad information.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives a lecture at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Monday evening. In a Q & A session after the lecture Rice reaffirmed her support of the Iraq invasion leading to the oust of Saddam Hussein but mentioned that, if able,  she would change the approach taken to reconstruct the Iraqi government.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Two days before the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a conflict that resulted in the deaths of 4,488 U.S. soldiers and thousands of civilians, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed her support for the war and the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein.

“I would have overthrown Saddam Hussein again,” Rice said to a packed house at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Monday.

The war began March 20, 2003, following the United States’ and United Kingdom’s allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed a threat to international security. A survey conducted later by the Iraq Survey Group found Iraq did not possess WMDs at the time of invasion, but intended to resume its weapons programs if the United Nations lifted its sanctions.

As National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush and later Secretary of State, Rice oversaw the war effort with other Cabinet officials including her predecessor Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Part of her task included engaging in a media campaign to advocate the need for war with Iraq.

“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” Rice told CNN in a 2003 interview.

The conflict formally ended on Dec. 15, 2011, and remaining U.S. troops left the country three days later.

Rice said Monday that Hussein was a “cancer in the Middle East” that needed to be removed from the region, despite the lack of discovered WMDs and the deaths that resulted from the conflict.

“It is absolutely the case that the loss of lives will never be brought back and any of us who had a part in that decision will have to live with the lost and maimed lives,” Rice said. “But, nothing of value ever comes without sacrifice and I believe that Iraq has a chance. It may not make it, but it has a chance to be a state that will not seek weapons of mass destruction, will not invade its neighbors, will be a friend of the United States and will have democratic institutions that may, over time, mature.”

Rice said if given the opportunity, the administration would have sought to understand tribal relations more thoroughly earlier and would have begun reconstruction from the country’s borders and worked inward toward Baghdad, not vice versa.

Rice may not have had the hypothetical chance if a slim majority of Americans had their way. A Gallup poll released Monday showed 53 percent of Americans think the United States “made a mistake” by invading Iraq. That amount is down from the record 63 percent that opposed the war in 2008.

At the war’s outset, 75 percent of Americans supported the war and 23 percent did not.

Bobby Inman, Lyndon B. Johnson Centennial Chair in National Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said that history would view the conflict as “one of the great fiascos.”

Unlike its approach toward Germany and Japan after World War II, the United States did not properly plan for how it would reconstruct Iraq’s government and economy after toppling Hussein’s government in a way that would transform the country into a successful democracy, Inman said.

"When you do not look at the historical record and understand it, you are destined to make big mistakes," Inman said.

In her new book, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives a candid view of her childhood and college years, especially how they influenced her tenure as the country’s top diplomat.

Rice stopped by BookPeople on Thursday, greeting about 350 people, to promote her new book “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family.”

In her discussion with KXAN’s Leslie Rhode, Rice shared details of her family, childhood and how she became the person she is today, all topics addressed in her book. Rice said her parents’ value of education eventually determined her success in the Bush administration.

“It really started with my grandfather,” Rice said. “He really believed, along with my parents, in the transforming power of an education — not only for me, but for everyone. They passed this belief on to me.”
Rice’s memoir not only addresses her education and rise to success but also the challenges she overcame in her life, including racism and her parents’ deaths.

As a child in Birmingham, Ala., Rice said 1968 was the year of her political awakening and represented a turning point in her life, recalling the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

“So much happened in that year,” she said. “At 13, I felt the country was falling apart. I remember being quite frightened of what was going on in the world.”

Rice, who now teaches at Stanford University, said the central theme of her book is the importance of receiving an education and finding a life passion.

“Until my sophomore year of college, I wanted to be a pianist,” Rice said. “Junior year I wandered into a course on international politics, and then I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Soviet specialist. It must have been a divine intervention. I always tell my students to look for their passions, but sometimes they find you.”

Students should seek mentors because a push in the right direction is almost always necessary to reach their goals in life, she said.

“Education is so transforming, it’s the opportunity to do something you’re passionate at and do it well,” Rice said. “My life was a journey and a process. You’ll be more fulfilled by overcoming things you find difficult than doing what is easy.”

Rice represents a political scientist, not a politician, said Jason Rocen, an Austin resident who purchased one of the 375 books sold at the event.

“I come from Alabama as well, and because of this, she’s kind of iconic,” he said. “I’m a fan of political scientists who enact changes directly for the public, instead of trying to appease them. When it comes down to it, the book is really about her development and representing the importance of education in today’s society.”