Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat down for an interview with NEWSWEEK’s Michael Hirsh while en route from Berlin to Madrid on a European tour last week. Asked about her likely legacy, she was notably low-key in expressing any hope for a “breakthrough” agreement in the Mideast or on Iran. What follows is the full interview:
NEWSWEEK: With 19 months left, what do you want to leave to the next president and the next administration?
Condoleezza Rice: This is going to be a long struggle against extremism and terrorism.... I think what’s happened is that it’s being converted. So you’re seeing them start to mobilize. I think you see an example of that right now with al Qaeda trying to find a foothold inside the Lebanese camps. … We’ve made a lot of progress in degrading the al Qaeda network itself, but it’s transforming itself into more decentralized individual cells, and that’s a different kind of challenge. But I would hope that when we would have left that people would be able to draw on an international network of intelligence, law enforcement and maybe even a stronger legal framework for dealing with this trouble, which is going to be there for a long time.
Secondly, [there needs to be] a foundation for addressing the places where they have tended to train and have their bases of operations. And that means strengthening relatively weak states or states that have relatively weak mechanisms for responding—and in that category,obviously, we have Afghanistan, and Iraq. But also states with which we have very strong relations, like Indonesia, Yemen and in states in the horn of Africa and East Africa, like Kenya. So if you think of it as creating a framework where eventually the United States and the international community is well placed to fight this long struggle, I think that’s first and foremost.
The classic legacy of a secretary of State’s tenure is the big breakthrough agreement, like Camp David. Will your legacy be more just institution-building?
I’d be very happy with institution-building. And I think people underestimate the development side [of the administration’s policies], and disease prevention. Particularly in Africa … [like] the AIDS initiative, which I think has changed the international response to treating disease.I think that’s a whole category on its own that is not unlike, in my view, the Marshall Plan. And then finally the democracy agenda. I know that it hasn’t achieved, and probably by the time we leave it will not have achieved everything we would have liked it to, but the very fact that is has been at the heart of American foreign policy is also an institutional piece. … We’re laying the foundations for someone else to succeed in the future and I think that’s fine. But I wouldn’t rule out still that we would push very hard forward on Middle East issues, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
But you’re not as hopeful about the big breakthrough?
Depends on what you mean by breakthrough. I think the very fact that everybody talks blithely now about the two-state solution [Palestine and Israel] as if we were all always wanting it … Of course we weren’t in 2001. And you now have a broad international consensus. That’s a conceptual breakthrough. It’s also a breakthrough in the psychology of what any Israeli or Palestinian leader will go for. The other major issue I think is on the nonproliferation front. You’re going to see we’ll continue make a push on Iran. But also there is in place an agreement on North Korea for denuclearization.
Many people in Washington say you have changed your views and approach more than any senior official from the first term. Do you see yourself that way?
No. I think the times are different. And my role is different. But we had a lot of really hard work to do after 2001.The country wasn’t prepared for what happened on September 11. The world wasn’t prepared for what happened on September 11. We had to organize an international coalition. We had to fight the war in Afghanistan. I know there are some who disagree, but we believed we had to take care of the threat of Saddam Hussein … But I did believe that having done that work, there needed to be a kind of consolidation and a kind of bringing everybody together about the future.
Particularly on Iran, members of Vice President Cheney’s staff continue to take a different line than yours. How much of a problem has that been, and has it undermined your policy?
There’s only one expression that matters, and that’s the president of the United States. And I represent in what I say and what I do what the president of the United States thinks and wants done. In that sense, we have been together a long time, the president and I, in any number of different incarnations, and when I am speaking, I’m speaking on his behalf … Look, there’s always noise in any large system. But I want to say something about the vice president. You know, if he doesn’t agree, the vice president talks about it, just as if [Defense Secretary] Bob Gates doesn’t agree, or I don’t agree, we sit down and talk about it. And then if necessary we talk about it with the president and he decides. … The vice president has never been somebody who tries to do that on the sidelines, behind the scenes. He really doesn’t.
Not even when Don Rumsfeld was around?
[Laughs] You asked about when I have been secretary of State. As secretary of State I can tell you we have the most open relationship. In fact we have a kind of friendly banter about it, in which I’ll tease him [Cheney] about the image that he doesn’t like diplomacy. I know he does because I know the diplomat he was when he was secretary of Defense [in the first Bush administration], and I know what a good diplomat he’s been on behalf of us when he goes out to the Middle East, or whatever. This most recent trip he took—I was the one who said to the president, "You know this might be a good time for the vice president to go to solidify some things on Iraq [to the Saudis]." And I talked to the vice president about it, and he said yes.
One other point on this: on the Mideast peace issue, it was recently reported that Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams made remarks at a meeting of an American Jewish group to the effect that you and the president are just going through the motions in dealing with the Palestinians, and that you won’t pressure Israel. Are there some in the administration who are trying to undermine what might be a more forward-leaning attempt by you to talk to Hamas and other Palestinians?
First of all, I’m the one who hired Elliott Abrams initially. Secondly, he’s been a part of sitting around and discussing what we’re going to do. Very often [National Security Adviser] Steve Hadley, Elliott Abrams, [Assistant Secretary of State] David Welch and I will get together and talk through things … Elliott says he didn’t say such things, and a couple of people who were at that meeting told me independently that there was nothing in that meeting that would suggest there was split. … We have a terrific relationship.
There is a sense that in the first term, you had Cheney and Rumsfeld—close friends and allies—working together, and that was very difficult for someone like you in your position [as national-security adviser], whereas now the conventional wisdom is that Defense Secretary Gates and you are more or less on the same page on a lot of these issues. Has that made it a lot easier for you?
The essential difference between the first term and the second term is that I was national security advisor in the first term. It really wasn’t for me to stake out a policy position and carry it out. I’m secretary of State. It’s my responsibility now to stake out a position and to get the president’s agreement and to carry it out. It’s much more linear than the national-security adviser. I tease Steve Hadley all the time. I tell him it’s much more fun being coordinated than coordinator. [laughs].… It’s the nature of the national-security adviser job that it’s by remote control. You’re not aligned. And I take very seriously, my responsibility as both instructor of and executor of American foreign policy. … By the way I have a terrific relationship with Bob Gates that goes back 20 years.
Gates made some remarks in Honolulu about the United States staying longer term in Iraq. Does that mean we’re close to signing a Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government?
No. I think the point Bob was talking about was we have to start to think beyond the immediacy of the surge and the immediacy of trying to help the Iraqis deal with their short-term security problem, to how we’re going to exercise our responsibilities to make sure they’re fully trained.
Does this mean embracing the Baker-Hamilton commission conclusions?
No, this is more how you think about a follow-on strategy. None of us has made yet a determination of how well we have done or are doing in terms of the near-term surge, but … we also have to start to think about how you’re going to exercise the obligations of longer-term responsibilities vis-à-vis the Iraqis.