May 21, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 18
'This is what democracy is all about'
Q&A with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
On the eve of her Commencement address at Boston College, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat down with The Boston College Chronicle and The Heights to discuss her views of Iran, North Korea, Catholic education and free speech.
Question: You could pick any place to give a commencement address. Why Boston College?
Rice: I've always had a lot of respect for Boston College. It's a fine institution of learning. It helped that the undersecretary for political affairs [R. Nicholas Burns '78] is a graduate. When he brought the proposal to me I thought I'd love to give a commencement address at Boston College. It's a place that I think has a reputation of being rigorous in its education but also reaching out to kids who perhaps wouldn't otherwise have had an opportunity. A lot of first-generation college graduates. It's a very special place in that way. I also have had my experiences with Catholic education and I'm rather fond of Catholic education. I think it tends to have a kind of rigor and discipline that is missing in a lot of institutions.
Question: You mentioned a Catholic education. You went to Notre Dame and Stanford. What's been the difference?
Rice: I went to Catholic high school, actually. St. Mary's Academy in Denver. Sisters of Loretta in Denver. But I think our religious schools in America are quite special because they uphold their traditions, their religious tradition, but they do it in a context that still allows freedom of thought and freedom of expression and it's very interesting that some of our strongest academic institutions are also religious institutions. We talk so much in the United States about separation of church and state but of course what that meant was that there wouldn't be any state religion and people would be free to choose to be religious or not. But religion of course plays an extremely important riole in the US and our institutions - our educational institutions - have married it quite well.
Question: I'm going to switch gears and ask you a couple questions about current events and foreign policy. The first one is would you be ready to offer any U.S. security guarantee as part of a final agreement with Iran over its nuclear program?
Rice: First let me just set the record straight: We haven't been asked. I know there have some stories that the Europeans want us to give security guarantees. I've sat with my counterparts many times and nobody has said we ought to give security assurances to Iran. And it is a bit strange to talk about security assurances when you think about an Iran - quite apart from the nuclear issue - still has as state doctrine believes in the destruction of Israel, that as state doctrine is active in terrorist operations in the Middle East, supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, that is engaged in helping to foment violence in the south of Iraq, including, we believe, supporting technology that may be contributing to some of the deadliest violence against our forces. This is a question of Iranian behavior and from time to time people try to set this up as a U.S.-Iranian issue but Iran's problem is not with the United States. Iran's problem is with the international community. It's been unwilling to accept a course to a civil nuclear program that is acceptable to the international community, given the proliferation risk of Iran using that civil nuclear program to build a nuclear weapon. So we need to get the focus back on Iran's problem with the international system, not the U.S.-Iranian dimension.
Question: Obviously BC is a Jesuit school where there is a lot of talk about social justice. A couple of the big issues that have been talked about on campus are Darfur and child soldiers in Uganda. What can be done about those issues?
Rice: I'm glad you asked. Very often people think only about the administration's policies in the War on Terror. But let me talk about a few other things that have been very important to this president -- Darfur. When the president first came to office he wanted to do something about Sudan and he asked former Sen. Jack Danforth to become an envoy and we got a comprehensive peace agreement that settled the decades-old civil war between the North and the South, where the southern Christians had been bombed by the North, where there had been millions of people killed in that civil war and the United States brokered that arrangement. Before we could completely, however, put that into place, Darfur broke out, and the United States has been in the lead. It is the United States that has given, to date, about 89 percent of the food aid that has gone into Darfur is American food assistance through the World Food Program. It has been the United States that has been pushing for a robust UN security force to protect the people of Darfur and pushing NATO to provide logistical support to that security force. And it is the United States ‚ in fact, Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick ‚ who went to push with AU leaders and others for a peace agreement between the rebels and Darfur, the Sudan government. So we've been very active in Darfur. What we need is more help from others in the international community, particularly states like China who have been reluctant to press the Sudanese government.
President Bush a number of years ago asked the American people to give $15 billion for five years to the fight against AIDS. It has literally saved the lives of thousands of Africans who would not have had treatment without it. He also was one of the founders with Kofi Annan of the Global AIDS Fund. So the United States is spending an enormous amount of resources to try to deal with the scourge of AIDS. The United States has been very active in the movement and trafficking of persons. Several years ago the president went to the United Nations and called on the world to stop modern slavery and we have been very active in working with countries, and when necessary, naming even some of our best friends as being unconcerned about the trafficking in women and the trafficking in children.
Finally, speaking of women, when you look at the conditions that women were living in, for instance, in Afghanistan, the liberation of Afghanistan is one of the great human rights victories for women. You go now to Afghanistan, women walk the streets, women are in the police force, in the army. Under the Taliban, they were being herded into stadiums and executed for allowing the sound of their feet to be heard on the ground. And just one final point: this president has been very concerned about poverty alleviation. Official development assistance in this administration has doubled in Latin America, tripled in Africa. It is up twice, two times in this president's administration. Why? Because we believe that assistance that is given to countries that are governing wisely, that are trying to deal with their people's condition, that America is a generous country and ought to be active. And that's why through assistance, through trade and definitely
Where the United States led that effort as well we've done so much to alleviate poverty. So that's another side of the administration policies that I think because there's so much going on with Iraq and Iran and the war on terror that sometimes people lose sight of.
Question: You mentioned Iraq and Iran, I was going to ask about North Korea. Would you be ready to link a peace treaty to any agreement with North Korea?
Rice: The six-party agreement that we signed in September envisions a North Korean strategic choice to give up its nuclear weapons verifiably and then work on a broad front on other issues, not just the nuclear issue, including ways to end the state of war that has existed on the Korean peninsula since the Armistice was signed in 1953. But it can't be taken out of context of the need for the North Koreans to make a strategic decision to give up their nuclear weapons - and by the way they're not even at the table at this point so it's all a moot point. But I think none of us would like anything better than to have North Korea make that strategic choice, begin the verifiable dismantlement of its weapons, see the ability of the international system to reach out to the North Korean people so that there can be greater openness and a spotlight on that society, and ultimately to see peace on the Korean peninsula.
Question: There have been some people who have voiced concerns about the invitation to bring you to speak. I don't know if you heard about Sen. McCain down in New York last week. Have you gotten used to these protests? How do you feel when they happen?
Rice: Well, first of all I was a university professor and a university provost and I'm no stranger to controversy on university campuses. It's a part of what makes university campuses what they are. People can speak their minds, they can stand on both side of issues, they can debate them. I'm very proud to have been asked by Boston College to come here. I'm very excited about giving the speech. I promise you it won't be long. I promise you that I remember that the one thing I don't remember about my commencement was what the speaker said. And so I think it's a great opportunity to be here.
But I've been asked this one when I've faced protests in various places in the world: this is what democracy is all about. People are able to give full voice to their views. The only issue is that they also have to let others give full voice to their views. That's the bargain in democracy: you get to say what you think but others get to say what they think, too. And there can't be a monopoly on only hearing one set of views. That's what would be anti-democratic: not to protest but to insist on a monopoly of your views. I also know that I am very proud to be associated with a president who believes that there is no place on Earth and that there are no people on Earth who should be denied that freedom. Because if you look at Kabul or Baghdad in 2000 or 2001, these were places where speaking your mind would get you killed immediately. No questions asked. And now, speaking your mind means being able to stand up and say whatever you think about Prime Minister Maliki or President Karzai, to organize yourself politically, to have your views heard.
One of my proudest moments, not out of personal pride but pride for this person, was during the debate of the Afghan constitution. There was a woman and it was described to me by people from our embassy who were there as a smallish woman, and this warlord was giving a speech. And this very small woman got up and she delivered a speech against him for his brutality against the Afghan people, and said that people like him should not expect to have any place in a future government in Afghanistan. Now that's unthinkable under the Taliban, unthinkable. And so as people protest policies in Iraq or Afghanistan that's just fine, but I hope that we would not forget that these were people who were living under the most brutal dictatorships of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, dictators ‚ particularly in Saddam Hussein's case ‚ had used chemical weapons against his own people, and against his neighbor, who had invaded his neighbors twice, who had filled mass graves with at least 300,000 people, and the world is better off without him.
Question: At what point does the immigration situation require a State Department response? What is diplomacy's role?
Rice: First of all, the immigration debate in this country I hope will follow the course that the president laid out the other night, which is a civil debate about what is a very difficult issue, but recognizing that we should be a country of laws, that we do have to defend our borders but we're also a country of immigrants and a country that wants to be humane to people who have lived among us, who have worked among us, who have roots in the United States and need to be treated with dignity, and if we can achieve that balance and be both a country as the president said that is welcoming and a country that is lawful, we'll continue the proud heritage of immigrants to America who contribute and contribute overwhelmingly to the success of this country. The wonderful thing about America is ultimately it doesn't matter if you're German-American or African-American or Mexican-American; you're American because you're committed to an idea. And in a world where people still hold on to ethnic differences from five or six or seven hundred years ago, America is the model that really needs to be understood and to provide a kind of touchstone for the idea of a multi-ethnic democracy. So this immigration debate is very important in our country and I hope we carry that civil tone. The State Department gets involved because of course it's an issue of international borders. I talk all the time with my Mexican and Canadian colleagues ‚ our two closest borders ‚ and I say to them I hope you'll begin your sentences with "America has a right to uphold its laws and defend its borders" and go on then to talk about the treatment of immigrants and I think they understand that. But it is very often a source of discussion when I meet with my colleagues from Mexico or from Canada. There's a lot at stake for everybody.
Question: Boston College has a proud tradition of graduates going into public service. If you're talking to students or seniors at BC, what is it important to study, what kinds of skills is it important to gain if they want to go into public service and especially foreign service?
Rice: First of all I think anything you study in college has really only one purpose and it's not actually to decide what you're going to do in the job market, it's to find what you're passionate about. It's to find what makes you want to get up in the morning and go and do that. And once you've found your passion and hopefully your passion and your talents will be in the same place, you're going to end up being successful at what you do. And when I swear in classes of the Foreign Service officers they come from the widest variety of backgrounds. They're people who studied engineering, they're people who studied languages, they're people who studied science... we have mid-career people who come in who've made a military career or a career as a schoolteacher and then they come into the foreign service.
You can do public service at any time in your life and from any training and platform. The only thing that I think you have to have is a realization, a willingness to want at some time in your life to give back. Because without great public servants, without people who have done this work for so many years and continue to do it, we wouldn't have freedoms that we have in the United States, and whatever you've chosen to do in life, you wouldn't have been able to pursue it without others who gave back. You're at a school at Boston College where people who teach you and mentor you do service and believe in service and believe in causes bigger than yourself. And that's all that I would ask of students, that at some time in your life, you serve a cause that's bigger than yourself. It's the most rewarding thing that you can do. And I know that Boston College also has a tradition of public service for students while they're in college - Stanford had a similar tradition - and I know that it's sometimes hard to find the time to tutor that kid or to go and work in a homeless shelter or whatever you choose to do, and you've got your studies and your sports and hopefully a social life, but I can assure you that anybody who does it finds that you get a new energy from it even if you have a little trouble juggling the schedule, that it's one of the most energizing things that you can do.
Question: Vice President Cheney recently accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of restricting the rights of Russia's citizens and using energy resources for blackamil. That signaled a shift in U.S. policy, and yet Russia experts have complained of a resurgence in the Kremlin's old totalitarian ways for several years. Why has the United States waited so long to challenge Russia on this point?
Rice: Well, in fact we have been challenging Moscow on these points for more than a year now and in some ways a couple of years. I'll give you a few examples. When the NGO Law came out we were very vocal that this NGO Law had the potential to restrict the important work of the non-governmental sector that is at the core of the democratization of Russia. We spent a lot of time on it and we talked about it publicly. I talked about the Russian use of energy as a weapon back when the Russians tried to withhold gas from Ukraine in what the Russians said was a commercial dispute and I remember saying that if it was a commercial dispute you would not have sent the president of Russia out to issue the ultimatum, you would have sent the president of Gazprom out to issue the ultimatum. So these are things we've been saying and talking about for some time. They perhaps got put together in the vice president's speech, but these have been issues with the Russians and we've been vocal about them.
Yet as the president said, nobody's going to give up on Russia. We know that it's not the Soviet Union. I studied the Soviet Union, I went to the Soviet Union as a graduate student I hate to tell you in 1979 when Leonid Brezhnev was the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, if he still exists, which I guess he probably does, isn't somebody that you can name or that I can name today. That shows how far this country has come. It does have a growing middle class, it does have growing property rights. There are some protections for individual freedoms, but we have to worry that the kind of institutionalization of democracy that is so important - with a free press, with a judiciary that's independent, with a legislature that is a real legislature - that is what has not taken place and indeed where there have been some reversals in Russia. And so we have to speak the truth as we know it. It's also important for Russia not to intimidate its neighbors. The small states around Russia that used to be part of the Soviet Union are now independent and they have to be respected as such.
Finally, if Russia is to be a reliable energy supplier in the energy markets, which is extremely important these days, Russia has to behave in a way that its customers are to believe that these really will be matters of commerce and not matters of politics. So it was important to speak up on it, but we still have a good relationship with Russia. We work together on all kinds of issues and as I said we've come a long, long way from when there was a hammer and sickle above the Kremlin. •