A Conversation with Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State
By Tom Bevan, cofounder and publisher of Real PoIitics is the co•author of "Election 2072: A Time for Choosing."
On Wednesday, I sat down with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss her new book, "Democracy: Stories From the Long Road to Freedom." The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Question: The Story in The Washington Post [on Tuesday] was interesting in that the principals in the room, many of whom you know — Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, Dina Powell — We're all on the record saying [Sharing Classified Information With the Russians] did not happen. This is not the way it went down. Yet we had these leaks that caused this story to really blow up and my question is: what are your thoughts on that, and Vladimir Putln saying. "Oh, I'll provide the transcript if you want"?
Rice: Well. don't think we really need the Russian transcript. I saw that and I thought, "Let's just leave the Russians out of this." Look, I totally and completely trust H.R. McMaster. Yesterday when he came out and said that [Information Sharing With the Russians] was appropriate, i accept that. But this is another example of White House processes that seem to me to need to be under review. The thing that is clear is that the White House is not working as it should. They need to look at their processes and tighten it all up, so that everyone will be better served.
Q: Do the leaks worry you, though?
Rice: Yes, the leaks worry me
Q: You've been in this situation both at the White House and the State Department. This administration has been leakier than most, but it also seems that there are leaks coming from other parts of the government. There has been this term called the "deep state," which has been thrown around a lot, which typically refers more to Rice: Turkey and Egypt generally
Q; Regimes you call in your book quasi-authoritarian.
Rice: I really do think that the leaks are problematic because there are proper channels if you think something has happened or something IS wrong. There are ombudsmen who can be spoken to, you can always go to Congress and say what's happened, and as someone who’s served in the government, I think that this practice Of going, With all due respect, right to the press with the latest story is not very healthy for the country
Q: Speaking of Turkey, and in the context of your book this is a country that is moving in the opposite direction of democracy and one of our key allies in the region. Trump invites Erdogan to the White House, and then we see the video of his security beating up protesters on the street on Embassy Row. What do you make of this, and is it the right thing for the president to be having authoritarian leaders at the White House?
Rice: Well, he's the president Of Turkey, a longtime ally, and so I'm not surprised that you’re going to have a meeting with the president of Turkey. When I used to be asked what would the Middle East look like when it is democratic, I would say Turkey, because it looked like a country with the right institutions, it was moving closer to Europe. it was moving closer to democratic norms. A lot of that has been reversed in recent years. And it's a Story that's been there time and time again with authoritarian governments.
I'm not yet ready to give up on Turkey. do think that the referendum, which dont think was conducted fairly, was a very close vote for Erdogan_ There may Still be Some life in Turkish institutions and I think ifs important that We don't give up on Turkey and the European Union doesn’t give up on Turkey.
Q: In the book you describe populism and nativism as two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as far as democracy is concerned. I want to ask you about that, since we have seen this rise in populism across the globe. Brexit, Trump, and even to a certain degree the Vote in France. What is happening, does it say?
Rice: I do call the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse populism, nativism, protectionism and isolationism. They usually travel together, and it didn't turn out so well for the world the last time around, or for world peace as a matter of fact. But I think there are underlying circumstances here: There's a backlash from people who think they haven't really benefited from globalization, and populists give you easy answers to Why you're not doing well. They say, "It’s the foreigners" or "It's the Others." If you're on the left the" say, "It’s the big banks."
I believe that globalization is a fact, not a policy. Those of us who believe in free trade and a willingness to move across boundaries still don't have an answer for those people who have been left out.
People are applauding what happened in France that (Emmanuel] Macron won and [Marie] Le Pen lost, but populists are changing the conversation. Even for mainstream parties and candidates, it's getting harder to defend immigration and free trade. And so without even winning they can change the nature of the political conversation, so I don't think the challenge of populism has been met by democracies.
Q: One Of the things I want to touch on is that this book is basically a love letter to democracy. especially our democracy, and yet you mention that having our own crisis of confidence. There has been an erosion of public trust in Congress, the media; even the Supreme Court is now viewed as more political. One of the other things is how free speech is a hallmark of democracy. Yet we've seen that there’s been an erosion of this principle on college campuses in places like Berkeley, which is ironic. So what's going on here, and how can we correct it?
Rice: We were gifted amazing institutions by the Founding Fathers: a Constitution that is evergreen, a Constitution that is so evergreen that many found their rights through that Constitution. But democracy is always balancing on a knife's edge, because it's just a little [distance] between chaos and too much authority. And the answer is to go through institutions.
But on the free speech issue, there I think we have a problem because we've stopped listening to each other. It used to be that we had the same sources of information through network and We have a multiplicity of places to get information. But instead of taking full advantage of that multiplicity, fear that what happens is people go to their own channels, their own bloggers, or their own website in an echo chamber where their Views are affirmed. I constantly tell my students that if they're in the company of people who always say "amen" to what you day, find other company,
Q: But isn't this all connected in the sense that we now all live in very homogenized worlds. The blue states are getting bluer and the red States are getting redder. We've been sorting along tribal lines for some time, it seems to have accelerated in the past 20 years, and so it’s no longer just a matter of where you get your news but where you live now,
Rice: Not only that, I feel that we're dividing along class lines for the first time in our history. Now one thing that has happened in this reaction to globalization is that the elites are not respectful of the values of those who are ordinary citizens, so we seem to be dividing ourselves into ever-smaller identity groups, each with its Own narrative, each with its Own grievance, and that’s a problem.
Q: I was just going to say it seems like we don't have anything that unites us anymore. Even in Congress people don't even talk to each other anymore; there is nothing that united the parties.
Rice: Well you get the democracy that you deserve. Tocqueville talked about "ceaseless agitation," citizens constantly use their institutions, constantly challenging them, constantly insisting upon their rights. It's also individuals taking responsibility for other individuals, recognition that no democracy works if they're weaklings.
Q: So it took you three years to write the book. and you'd been thinking about it a long time. As you travel around the country now and talk about the book, has anything surprised you about the reaction to it?
Rice: What has surprised me is the depth of angst about where we are. This book is very much about America's experience and how hard it has been for us to get to a functioning democracy. See, I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. We couldn't go to the movie theater or a restaurant. relate a story in the book: George Wallace was running [for governor], it's Election Day and there are lines and lines of black people [waiting to vote].
I Say to my uncle, "He Cant possibly win. he's so bad for black people, he can’t possibly win with all those people voting." And my uncle said, Mel', he will win because we're in the minority." So then I said, "Then, why do they bother?" And he responded, "Because they know that one day that vote will matter." So I come from an experience where people without really true citizenship — black people in the South — still voted because they knew that vote would eventually count
Q: Do you worry that because there’s so much focus on our democracy now that there's no focus on the rest of the world?
Rice: I do, because I try and make a moral and practical case for democracy. The moral case is, people say, "Oh they’dre not ready for democracy," but that's something someone who lives in a democracy would say about someone who doesn't live in a democracy, Well, if democracy is the highest form of human potential, then it can't be true for us and not for them. but the practical case is democracies don't invade their neighbors. Democracies don't traffic in child soldiers, Democracies don't harbor terrorists as a state policy.
I want people to understand that democracy promotion is not Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a regret about that, but those were security problems we dealt with by military force. would have never said to President Bush, "Let's bring democracy to Iraq by military force." but once you’ve overthrown the dictator —we thought Saddam Hussein was a threat. more imminent than he actually was, but he was a threat in the region — and al Qaeda was harbored by the Taliban, now you had to have a view of what comes after. But most of the time, democracy promotion is far less dramatic than that like to describe then what we did to help the Colombians and the Kenyans.
Q; What about the humanitarian case, vis-a Libya?
Rice: Well, it's really hard. Personally, I was 5CL50 on Libya. So if you're going to do that, and you're going to cutoff the head, you really have to have a plan for what comes next.
Q: And is Syria both? National security and humanitarian?
Rice: Syria both. It certainly is national security concem; but it is a humanitarian nightmare. That war has got to end.
Q: Last question: As you look around the globe, what concerns you the most?
Rice: North Korea. You have a reckless, potentially slightly unhinged leader in North Korea who is quickly acquiring the capability, nuclear capability. and the means to deliver it, potentially even to the United States. No American president can live with that. The Chinese have to be convinced that they have to tighten the screws to this ‘regime. And they’re the only ones with the leverage to do that. They've always worried that if they do that, the regime might collapse
Q: Which is their greatest fear.
Rice: Right. but now we have a bigger concern. And they should have a bigger concern, Which is that no American president is going to let that stand. By the way, if were looking for things to cooperate with the Russians on, if a North Korean ballistic missile can reach Alaska. it can reach Vladivostok.
• Tom Bevan, cofounder and publisher of Real PoIitics is the co•author of "Election 2072: A Time for Choosing."