November 17, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appeared in the August 12, 2002, issue of National Review.
Toward the end of the day on July 16, Jay Nordlinger sat down with Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, in her West Wing office. They had last talked for NR in the summer of 1999, resulting in the piece "Star-in-Waiting: Meet George W.'s Foreign-Policy Czarina" (August 30, 1999). By now, obviously, Condi Rice needs no introduction. The recent conversation was, in part, a follow-up to the earlier discussion. Below are excerpts.
JN: Such a simple-minded question, but one asks it. What have you learned? What's been surprising?
CR: There's no major surprise. I certainly knew what to expect in the job.
JN: You'd been on staff [in the administration of the first Bush].
CR: I'd been on the staff. I'd watched Brent Scowcroft do this job. So in terms of the daily operations . . . it all looks familiar to me.
None of us thought we would be dealing with the war on terrorism as a kind of central organizing principle . . . But the one thing that has been affirmed for me in the strongest possible terms is the tremendous legitimacy of democracy vis-à-vis any other system of governance. It is very, very powerful to watch this great democracy respond to 9/11 and to see its inherent strengths. Because when you look at democracy from the outside, I'm sure it must look chaotic and cacophonous, and there are all these different voices, and we fuss and we fight. And I keep thinking to myself, "The terrorists must have looked at us and thought: easy prey." But when our values were attacked, [the country] came together. And I contrast that with, I think, the difficulty of governments that do not have that link to their people . . .
JN: Do you still consider yourself a Realpolitiker, or has that been tempered somewhat?
CR: We had this talk, as you know [back in 1999] the balance of power, realism versus ideals, power and values. And I said then, and I still believe, that they're inseparable. Clearly, the balance of power mattered when we defeated the Soviet Union . . . But you should never forget how powerful [our] ideals are. And every time, we tend to underestimate them. When we were getting ready to go into Afghanistan, the number of people who said, "Well, you know, a Muslim society, no history of democracy, no history of freedom, they won't care about those things" . . . And then the first thing that happens when Kabul is liberated is people go into the streets for simple freedoms, like the ability to play music or to send their girls to school. And you just forget how very powerful human dignity is as a principle of human behavior and how much it's supported by democracy. . . .
JN: We used to hear about "Asian values" the idea that democracy just wasn't right for those people. And the experience of Taiwan sort of put the lie to that. A lot of people now say that the Arab world and democracy are simply incompatible. "Arab values" is that like saying "Asian values"?
CR: We don't think there's anything incompatible about Islam and democratic values. And the president has said in a number of speeches, these values are universal they're not our values, they're not Western, they're universal. And it's why I use the example of Afghanistan, because here people who were denied these freedoms for a long time . . . you just forget that when people have a choice between tyranny and freedom, they'll choose freedom.
JN: You're repeatedly described in the press as "the president's tutor." Is that offensive?
CR: Yes, yes. This president didn't need tutoring. Sure, he had not spent the last ten years at the Council on Foreign Relations, but he has, first of all, extremely strong values and principles. And that's what you most need in doing the job of president. He has plenty of foreign-policy experts around him to produce options for him, to present him with the pros and cons, with the long historical background. Rarely does someone sit in that office who is a foreign-policy expert . . . But the most important thing that he has is just a very strong sense of what's right and what's wrong, and an unwillingness to cut corners about it.
And this strategic sense of when it's important to shift ground is just amazing to me. You know, he knew that it was time to shift ground on what people had thought would be the answer to peace in the Middle East . . .
JN: Oslo ad infinitum that kind of thing?
CR: Right. Or Russia, how to deal with Russia. And it's that tremendous strategic sense that is serving us very well. So, no, I really I do resent the term ["tutor"].
JN: Speaking of Russia: We withdrew from the ABM Treaty, and, funnily enough, the world didn't collapse. Moscow didn't sever relations with us. A new arms race didn't begin. What happened? I understand you're not, by nature, a gloater, but . . .
CR: What happened is that the president understood the implications of the end of the Cold War much better than a lot of people who had studied this in great, expert detail. He understood that a new Russia offered an opportunity for a new relationship . . . based on something other than the relationship with the Soviet Union. . . .
JN: Are we going to go ahead with missile defense?
CR: Committed. It's one of the critical ways that you deal with the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And an American president and it won't be this president, most likely, because many of the best technologies are in the future an American president should have an array of defensive technologies to deal with [the problem of nuclear missiles]. But if this president doesn't get going and research, develop, and deploy what we can, it won't be there for the next president.
JN: Do we take a less dim view of nation-building than we used to? Many of us used to say, "That's blue-helmet work, we should leave that to the pale blue hats," and so on.
CR: I don't think we ever had a dim view of nation-building. We had a dim view of nation-building done by the 82nd Airborne. . . . But there clearly is a recognition that in a place like Afghanistan, our war aims were to defeat al-Qaeda, defeat the Taliban, but also to leave Afghanistan more stable, so that it doesn't return to its awful past. And in order to do that, you have to enter into a partnership with the Afghans to build their nation.
One of the problems with the concept of nation-building is that it implies it's our job to do. But of course, it's really the responsibility of the people themselves, with international help, to build their nation.
JN: Sort of what happened in Germany and Japan?
CR: Certainly what happened in Germany. [There] you had the Marshall Plan, you had very strong during the occupation strong influences from the international community. But it doesn't work without Erhard and the German market economy, which the Germans themselves were prepared to put in place.
JN: So we pray for those, then, in the Middle East? For an Erhard and an Adenauer?
CR: I think you find that if you can create the right circumstances, amazing people come to the fore. And in the case of Afghanistan, the number of Americans Afghan-Americans who have gone back to their ancestral land to try to help . . . The Palestinians have an amazing diaspora. And I think you find that given opportunities, people good leadership can emerge.
JN: There are some who say that there has to be a further provocation from Iraq before we can confront Saddam Hussein in a very, very serious way. Is his drive toward weapons of mass destruction enough?
CR: Let me preface this by saying that the president is looking at all his options but hasn't decided what he wants to do. But it is remarkable that people could look at the Saddam Hussein regime that continues to threaten its neighbors and its own people; that shoots at our planes in the no-fly zone practically every day; that negotiates with the United Nations about arms inspections as if Saddam had won the war in 1991. We know that he is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We know that he has already used chemicals against both his neighbor and his own people . . . I can't think of a longer list of indictments against any other regime . . .
And you should ask yourself, "Is the burden of proof that he's a bad guy who will undoubtedly cause a lot of trouble for the world if there's not regime change should the burden of proof be on him or on us?" And I would submit to you that the burden of proof ought to be on him, and he's failing that burden of proof.
JN: Is our hand stayed by his retaliatory capability?
CR: You have to take into consideration all potential consequences of any action you might take. That goes without saying. But I think what the president has been making clear . . . is that non-action also has consequences. . . .
JN: Moving to Iran, I wonder whether the demonstrators on the street are to be encouraged. One thinks of Hungary in 1956, China in 1989 . . .
CR: I think you always have to speak up for your principles, and you always have to let people who are living in tyranny or oppressed know that there's somebody who is concerned about them. And the president did issue a statement a couple of days ago. And I think such statements strike an important balance. I mean, you don't want to promise things that you can't do, but you have to speak up for freedom. You can't just ignore it.
JN: People in the Middle East are not to put too fine a point on it lied to constantly: through their media, through their schools. Is there anything we can do to counter that?
CR: We are thinking hard about how to have a better public-diplomacy effort in this part of the world. I think it's extremely important. You know, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe made a big difference in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, in the days when [a free] press was not available.
The irony is that some Western press does get in. And in fact, I've been on al-Jazeera, Colin has been on al-Jazeera. We're working all the angles here.
JN: Is it worth it [appearing on al-Jazeera, given that it refers to the 9/11 terrorists as "martyrs," etc.]?
CR: Yes, I think it is worth it, because you may not know exactly whom you're reaching. But I think it's important to reach people. . . .
JN: Did you ever think you'd see a frontal attack on the soil of the United States?
CR: In every simulation that I had taught, in everything that I had read, it was always a theoretical possibility, absolutely. Did I know it was possible? Yes. But I was shocked on the day that it happened. But I when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I knew what had happened.
JN: Did you know who, as well?
CR: Yes. We'd been doing a lot of work on al-Qaeda. We knew its MO. It looked like, smelled like, felt like al-Qaeda from the very beginning.
JN: What's happened to the Europeans? I mean, a lot of us think that they've gone kind of mad with anti-Americanism. Are we going to have to look elsewhere for our friends? Are we coming to a parting of the ways? For as long as we can remember, it seemed that Europe and the United States was sort of forever.
CR: I think it is forever. You know, I'll never forget standing at that desk on the morning of September 12th, and Nick Burns, our ambassador to NATO, calling to say, "NATO wants to invoke Article V."
JN: Which stipulates?
CR: An attack upon one is an attack upon all. The only time in NATO's history it was invoked. Fifty years of the Cold War, and we never used Article V, the collective-security guarantee. And the reason that NATO wanted to do it was values. It was an attack on values, and we knew that. And so we came back together after, you know, disagreements about Kyoto and disagreements about the [International Criminal Court], and all these things. We came back together on that day around a recognition that an attack upon one is an attack upon all, because our values are what unites us. . . .
JN: Is our military up to it? Do we have the materiel, the personnel? A lot of people think we just don't have the goods.
CR: No, we're up to it. We're up to it. This is a very powerful military. There's no doubt that some transformation needs to take place. We need to be able to move more quickly, we need to be able to integrate intelligence and strike-capability more rapidly. We learned a lot in Afghanistan about the kinds of capabilities that you need to do things and NATO, by the way, needs to acquire those same kinds of capabilities.
But this is an amazing military. And it's amazingly adaptable. There was no war plan on the desk for marrying 21st-century air power with the cavalry that was the Northern Alliance. I remember seeing the pictures of men on horseback and thinking, "These are the ground forces for our air power."
JN: What do you say to people who are impatient, who say, "We had a burst in Afghanistan, we took care of the Taliban; there are all these other arenas, dominos . . ." There seems to have been a kind of suspension.
CR: Well, I would point people back to what the president said many months ago, that not every victory is going to be visible. And that it is going to take a long time. It took a long time for these people to dig in; it's going to take a while to dig them out. And the American people, I think, are patient. I think the president laid the groundwork I can remember all the way back to the address to the joint session of Congress, that he was determined to get the message across that this was going to take a long time. And he said it may not be completed on our watch.