Condoleezza Rice Nominated as Secretary of State
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GWEN IFILL: So what kind of secretary of state will Condoleezza Rice be? For more we’re joined by two foreign policy analysts. Coit Blacker is director of the Stanford Institute for International Studies. He served on the National Security Council in the first Clinton administration, and is a longtime friend and colleague of Condoleezza Rice.
Susan Rice is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington. She was Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and also served on the NSC in the Clinton administration.
Coit Blacker, you’ve known Condoleezza Rice for a long time. Is she the right person for this job?
COIT BLACKER: Well, it seems that the president of the United States does. And I would certainly defer to his judgment. I think Condi is prepared, she’s experienced. And I think it’s a challenge that she’s very much looking forward to.
GWEN IFILL: But because you’ve known her so long, I guess what I’m getting at, what do you think that you know about her that prepares her for such a big job?
COIT BLACKER: I think Condi has several very important strengths. One is she’s always been very, very strategic in her thinking. She always takes the long view or always tries to take the long view. She’s well schooled in diplomacy and in diplomatic history. She’s been in the hot seat for the last four years.
She’s had the hardest job in Washington next to that of the chief executive. This will call upon Condi to go back to or to draw on some of her earlier skills, but I have every confidence that she’ll be a great secretary.
GWEN IFILL: Susan Rice, who worked at the State Department, what’s your take on that is she the right person for this job?
SUSAN RICE: I think she brings to it something that is a tremendous advantage, which is her personal relationship with the president. If she uses that to its fullest advantage she can accomplish several things that are important.
First of all, she can begin to right the imbalance that has existed in the first term of the Bush administration between the State Department and the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense has assumed many of the traditional responsibilities of the State Department. She may be able to correct that.
Secondly, if she chooses to be an activist secretary of state and use her political capital with the president, she could potentially make progress on a number of very important issues we face: Peace in the Middle East, the conflict, of course, between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the very serious diplomatic challenges we face to try to halt Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs and of course bringing other countries to the fore and to our side in Iraq in ensuring that the elections that are scheduled next year take place on time and are credible and viable.
She faces some very critical challenges. And I hope she will bring to that role the skills that she has, the obvious intelligence that she has, and the benefit of that relationship with the president.
GWEN IFILL: Does the relationship with the president, the closeness from having worked in the White House for him and been his tutor in many ways on foreign policy issues, does that work against the independence of the State Department in any way?
SUSAN RICE: Well, it need’nt work against the independence of the State Department. What Condoleezza Rice needs to do is make the transition from being an actor who is basically behind the veil, as she has chosen to play the role of national security advisor. We really don’t have a good sense in the public domain of what her personal views are on most issues.
She will have to go to the State Department, be a leader, be an advocate not only for the people and the institution that is the State Department but an advocate for policy within the administration. She’s going to have to fight tough bureaucratic battles and do her best to win them. It’s going to be quite a different role than the one she’s played to date.
GWEN IFILL: Coit Blacker, there is a distinction between being someone’s confidant and being the foreign policy consigliere in the White House and being the world’s top diplomat, as it were. What do you know about Condoleezza Rice which would tell you about her ability to pull that off?
COIT BLACKER: Well, I’d go back to something that Susan said that I think is exactly on the mark. Namely, Condi Rice can be an enormously effective secretary of state if she, in fact, is able to maintain the closeness of the relationship that she enjoys with George Bush while at the same time learning to be a very clear, strong, articulate advocate for her own policy views and those of the Department.
I think I know Condi well. And I think that she’s fully capable of doing that. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not Susan or I agree with the line of policy which she may be pursuing, the key issue here is, can she be effective? I think there’s every indication that she can be because I think she’s very, very sensitive to the nature of the role that she has played and to the nature of the role that she has to play in the next four years.
GWEN IFILL: Well, can she be effective. Let’s take for example she was put in charge in different times during her tenure at the National Security Council of the Middle East peace process or the case to be made that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Was she effective in those areas?
COIT BLACKER: The question of effectiveness turns again on where you sit bureaucratically. At the end of the day, her role in these past four years has been to try to bring policy together, to make sure that all the players are on the same page and then make sure that the president’s preferences are the ones that are, in fact, pursued throughout the government. It’s going to be different this time.
Condi, I think, will focus like a laser beam on two sets of issues. First is the transformation of the Middle East. This is the kind of transformational side to Condi Rice. She feels very, very deeply that without a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, we’re not going to begin to get to the root of the problems which we confront with respect to the problem of global terrorism.
Second, she’s enough of a traditionalist to attach great importance to the kind of resuscitation, restoration and care and feeding of our principal diplomatic relationships. And that means first and foremost with the other great powers.
So I think she’ll have a very, very active agenda. Condi is not a tactical player. She’s skilled at it but that’s not where her strength is. Her strength is taking the long view. I think she will focus on that, and I think she’s going to be effective.
GWEN IFILL: Susan Rice, do you have to be a tactical player to succeed as secretary of state in addition to having the long view that Coit Blacker is talking about?
SUSAN RICE: I think you have to have a bit of both. You clearly have to have a strategic vision, but you also have to do the hard work and sometimes the unpleasant work of managing our bilateral relationships representing the United States abroad as well as being an effective bureaucratic player in the Washington framework, within the context of the National Security Council as one of the president’s principals. It’s a very complicated, multifaceted job.
You also have to testify before Congress and persuade the American people of the veracity and value of our policies. So it’s going to require a wider set of skills than she’s had to demonstrate to date as national security advisor.
GWEN IFILL: Let me give you a couple of examples. There are so many things hanging fire not the least of which of course is the Middle East peace process post Arafat. What in your opinion, Susan Rice, are the first things that she has to take… has to grapple with if she’s confirmed for this job?
SUSAN RICE: I think there are three very pressing issues on any new secretary of state’s plate at this present time. The Middle East is very much front and center as Coit Blacker just said. That’s critical.
If, in fact, she does feel strongly, as has been the long-term view of this country up until the last four years, that we have to be actively engaged in the Middle East peace process, then the time to demonstrate that is right out of the blocks.
Then we face two very pressing, urgent threats from Iran and North Korea which frankly haven’t gotten the attention that they ought to have during the course of the first Bush administration with all of the focus or the preponderance of the focus being on Iraq.
If we don’t find a diplomatic means to halt the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea then the national security of this country will be very much compromised.
GWEN IFILL: Coit Blacker, would you prioritize the priorities in the same way that Susan Rice just did?
COIT BLACKER: I would indeed except I would add a third which I think comes very, very close. And that is the centrality of the relationship with China, the centrality of the relationship with Europe must find their way on to the agenda early on.
These are incredibly important challenges for an American administration that I think to this point in time has been either reactive or at times heavy-handed, many times heavy- handed, in ways that have not worked to the advantage of the United States.
So I think again those critical bilateral relationships in addition to North Korea, Iran and the greater Middle East will have to be front and center.
GWEN IFILL: Susan Rice, the world is obviously watching this nomination, watching this appointment very carefully and they’re used to dealing with Colin Powell.
How different can they expect, from what your observations are of Condoleezza Rice, how different can they expect her to be than Colin Powell was?
SUSAN RICE: Well, it’s very interesting and Coit Blacker may want to add to this. Condi Rice has a public persona which in my experience is somewhat different from her private persona.
Her private persona is very warm. She is well liked and well respected by those who have been her colleagues. Her public persona perhaps by virtue of the difficulty of the issues she’s had to face, by being a relatively young woman in the context of some senior and aggressive counterparts in some of the agencies has led her I think to project a bit more of a harder edge.
And I think that one of the issues will be whether she can take up the mantle from Secretary Powell who is so well liked and respected inside the State Department and so well liked and respected abroad and harness that when added to her relationship to the president in a way that advances our interests and certainly goes as Coit Blacker said a long way towards repairing bilateral relationships that have been so damaged over the last four years.
GWEN IFILL: Coit Blacker, how different is she? What shoes does she have to fill?
COIT BLACKER: Condi needs to allow the kind of warmth and sincerity and enormous intelligence that is hers to come to the fore, not only in these private exchanges but in the public exchanges as well. She is… she’s tough as nails. She is a steel magnolia, but she’s also wonderfully well centered. She has a great sense of humor. Her talent for engaging people is unrivaled.
And I hope sincerely that as she heads into this new challenge that she’ll be comfortable turning that face to the world. I think it would be good for the country. I think it would be good for the world and I know that it will be good for Condi.
GWEN IFILL: Coit Blacker at Stanford and Susan Rice here at the Brookings Institution, thank you both very much.
SUSAN RICE: Thank you.
COIT BLACKER: Thank you.