Leadership: America’s Critical Foreign Policy Role


Leadership: America’s Critical Foreign Policy Role

June 20, 2012 32 min read Download Report
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Senior Research Fellow

Abstract: American economic policy has dominated most of the current national political campaign. As important as our nation’s economic strength and vitality clearly must be, however, it cannot overshadow the role international affairs continues to play, and most definitely will play, in assuring our overall national well-being. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reflects on the world situation today, the unprecedented challenges before us, and why America must not forsake a strong leadership role in the international arena.

KIM R. HOLMES: Welcome to The Heritage Foundation for this important and timely lecture. It is timely because events overseas are constantly raising questions about our national security, as we saw yesterday with the North Korean test launch of a ballistic missile. It is timely as well because foreign policy has been a topic of great interest during the presidential debates. It is important because Americans are debating how we should respond to the events not only in North Korea, but also in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and other hot spots.

There have been many questions raised by the actions of the Obama Administration, actions that suggest that the President wants to change the way the U.S. engages the world. There is the “pivot” to Asia now that troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and there is the President’s now-famous request that certain countries be patient and wait until after the election to see what he will do.

Foreign policy often takes a backseat to the domestic problems plaguing our country—problems like the debt, jobs, and health care. Surely, these issues are vitally important. But as several of the recent presidential debates have shown, foreign policy also matters to Americans. Americans want to know how our leaders—today’s leaders and those we elect in November—will protect our nation and safeguard our liberties in an increasingly threatening world.

We have with us today someone who is eminently qualified to talk about American values, American interests, and American leadership on the world stage. I had the honor of working for Dr. Condoleezza Rice when she served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. She previously had served as President Bush’s National Security Advisor and also, before that, on the staff of President George Herbert Walker Bush’s National Security Council.

During both of these presidencies, America faced particularly grave threats, from nuclear proliferation and terrorism to rogue regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere. In both presidencies, Dr. Rice helped shape policies that enabled America to help free thousands of people from tyranny and set them on the road to freedom and prosperity.

Today, Dr. Rice is teaching new generations about American values and American interests. She is a professor of political economy and political science at Stanford University and the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

I recall the words of Heritage’s President, Ed Feulner, on the occasion of one of Dr. Rice’s previous visits to The Heritage Foundation. He called her “a woman of many talents: a musician, a writer, a teacher, a scholar, a leader, and as Secretary of State, a representative of American values and American interests here and abroad, and frankly, the best America has to offer.” I couldn’t agree more.

It is my high personal honor to welcome America’s 66th Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, to the Allison Auditorium of The Heritage Foundation to talk about leadership, America’s critical role in foreign policy.

Kim R. Holmes, PhD, is Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, and Director, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation and author of Liberty’s Best Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century (2008).

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It’s a pleasure to join so many friends, and thank you very much for that introduction and for your service to our country. I very much enjoyed our time working together.

It’s now been a while since I left government, and there’s a question that I’m asked all the time, and that question is: Is it different being outside of government? Well, yes, it’s different being outside of government. In fact, one of the big differences is that I get up every day and I get my cup of coffee, I go online to read my newspapers, and I read them and I say, “Isn’t that interesting? I’m able to go on to other things because I no longer have responsibility for what’s in the newspaper.”

I, like you, am concerned about the state of our country—the state of our world—and I’m concerned because it’s been quite a decade or so. It’s been a decade in which the international system has experienced three great shocks.

Three Great Shocks

September 11. Of course, first was the shock of September 11, a day that none of us will easily forget. Those of us who were in a position of authority remember September 11 as the day that every day after became September 12, because, as we fought to keep the country against terrorists who would try and do it again, we recognized that it was fortune—not, perhaps, skill but fortune—that led us to be able to protect the country. There were those, though, who were skilled: our intelligence officers, our Homeland Security people, and perhaps most importantly, our men and women in uniform who volunteer to defend us at the front lines of freedom, and we owe them our eternal gratitude for doing so.

And so, after 9/11, we suddenly confronted the fact that it was failed states and ungoverned spaces and the potential nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction that threatened our very country. The fact that a stateless group of terrorists had come from a failed state, one of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan, to attack us to bring down the Twin Towers, to blow a hole in the Pentagon, and perhaps they had paid $300,000 to do it—after that, your conception of physical security is never quite the same.

The Global Economic and Financial Crisis. Then, of course, in 2008 there was another great shock. That was the shock of the global economic and financial crisis. That was a shock that exacerbated and accelerated underlying tendencies in the international economy and called into question whether or not democratic capitalism, which had been at the core of the economic system since at least the collapse of the Soviet Union, was indeed itself in trouble. It exacerbated the internal contradictions of the European Union, which is still trying to work its way through those contradictions. It exacerbated the contradictions in Russia, which demonstrated yet again that it has not made the transition from an oil, gas, and minerals syndicate to a real economy based on the potential of its people.

It raised the profile of Brazil and India and China. But Brazil and India remind us of something that is very important: the strength that they have, something that is going for them that we should not underestimate, and that is they are multiethnic democracies that are stable. Somehow they managed to make the transition from government to government by peaceful means. And lest you underestimate that, remember that these are countries that do it with huge multiethnic populations—especially India. What a miracle that a billion people who don’t speak the same language and don’t worship the same god can somehow manage the peaceful transfer of power.

The Arab Spring. And they remind us of the essence of the third great shock, the Arab Spring and what is unfolding in the streets of the Middle East. That itself is a reminder that authoritarianism just isn’t stable in the long run; that those who for 60 years looked to stability, not democracy, have been demonstrated to have been wrong. Authoritarianism is not stable because of what I’ve come to call the Ceaușescu moment.

Nicolae Ceaușescu was the Romanian dictator, and in 1989, with revolutions spreading all over Eastern Europe—Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany—Ceaușescu went into a square in Bucharest to exhort the Romanian people for what he had done for them. As he stood there with 250,000 people in the square, one old lady yelled, “Liar!” Then 10 people, then 100 people, then 1,000 people, then 100,000 people are yelling, “Liar!” and Ceaușescu, realizing that something has gone wrong, decides to run. But of course the young military officer who is supposed to deliver him to safety delivers him instead to the revolution, and he and his wife Yelena are executed.

The Ceaușescu moment is when what separates an authoritarian from his people—fear—breaks down. An old woman yells, “Liar!” A soldier refuses to fire on the crowd. A general turns his tank away from the protesters, or a policeman gives way at the Berlin Wall. At that point, the only thing that stands between the authoritarian and his people is anger, and anger is a terrible way to make political reform.

We are watching in the Middle East what happens when reform comes too late and it is replaced instead by anger and revolution, and it’s going to be a rocky ride in the Middle East. But all of these shocks taken together portend fundamental shifts in the underlying balance of power in the international system.

America and the New Balance of Power

The question that I’d like us to consider today is: As those shifts are taking place, will there be an American imprint on that new balance of power? After all, the United States has been willing to imprint on the international system. We have believed that free markets and free peoples would ultimately result in a more peaceful and prosperous world. We have had a view of how human history ought to unfold.

Since World War II in particular, we have actively promoted that view of human rights, religious freedom, the rights of dissidents, the rights of women—not just because, indeed, it is a moral case, but because there is also a practical case for those rights. Because we have learned many times, the hard way, that states that do not respect their own people are indeed dangerous states.

That has helped produce—that view of human history—remarkable changes over the last several decades.

  • It has helped to produce a Europe freed of Soviet power that is whole and at peace and free.
  • It has produced in Asia powerful democratic allies in Japan and in South Korea and in parts of Southeast Asia.
  • It has helped to produce in Latin America a turn away from caudillos and military coups toward free, stable, democratic states like Brazil or Chile or Colombia—a state that we, the United States of America, over two Administrations of two different parties helped to pull back from the brink of state failure.
  • Even in Africa, where sometimes people are so patronizing as to say, “Well, Africa is too tribal for democracy,” we have seen the rise of a norm for democratic governance. We’ve seen in places like Ghana and Tanzania and Botswana a commitment to free elections so that those who would govern have to ask for their peoples’ consent.

Oh, yes, over these decades there have been setbacks, but it’s been a remarkable string in favor of those who believe that free markets and free peoples will ultimately triumph and that, indeed, the value of freedom is a universal one—not an American one, not a Western one, a universal one.


There are many challenges ahead. Yes, there is China, and to be fair, China challenges the concept, challenges the idea that authoritarianism is not stable. There are some who say, well, it’s actually more efficient, this authoritarian capitalism. But let’s not forget the strains and stresses that are emerging now in China as it makes the greatest socioeconomic leap in human history and does it with 1.4 billion people.

I was first in China in 1988, and the streets of Beijing were a competition between a few horse carts and a few automobiles and a whole lot of bicycles. That’s not Beijing today. They have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but they’ve got many, many more to go.

The stresses and strains are showing, whether in labor unrest that is driving wages up and changing China’s profile in the international economy, to product safety problems—bullet trains that fall off the tracks or baby milk formula that is poisoned; and by the way, the first impulse was to execute the guy in charge of product safety: not a long-term solution to that problem—to the stresses and strains that one sees in reported riots of over 180,000, but perhaps most importantly in the stresses and strains that one sees in a lack of confidence, perhaps, in the Chinese leadership about where they’re going.

I’m not suggesting that there’s going to be a Jasmine revolution in China, but if you were to go to the Chinese Internet during the Egyptian revolution, there are three words you would not have seen: Egypt, Jasmine, and revolution. It suggests that the information age is indeed a challenge to the Chinese leadership, and they understand it.

Some of China’s leaders are beginning to suggest that maybe legitimacy based on prosperity—which is what China bases its legitimacy on today—is difficult to maintain because people’s expectations keep growing. Some, like Premier Wen Jiabao, seem to suggest that maybe something that looks more like legitimacy based on consent might be necessary.

The idea that these leaders have is that perhaps people could elect their local leaders, but if people elect their local leaders, pretty soon they’re going to want to elect their provincial leaders and they’re going to want to elect their national leaders. Authoritarianism isn’t ultimately stable, and it is not consistent with the development of human potential.

It is also true that China is a challenge for us in geostrategic terms, but only if we cede that ground can China really challenge us. We are a Pacific military power unmatched in human history, and we should remain so. If we pay attention not just to being bigger and more expensive, but to being better—in cyber, in space, with missile defense—then indeed we will be able to sustain our dominance in the Pacific. If we pay attention to the wonderful strong alliances that we have with other democratic states in Japan and South Korea, in the Philippines, in Australia, then we have a basis for American leadership to dominate for years to come. And there is the relationship with India, the other great multiethnic democracy, which is rising as a power in the region.

We have, nonetheless, ceded the ground in one important area in Asia, and that is in trade, where we have really been absent. The last three trade agreements that were finally ratified in the Congress—KORUS, or the South Korean agreement, Panama, and Colombia—were negotiated in the Bush Administration. But since 2003, China has secured nine FTAs—free trade agreements—in Asia and Latin America, five more are in negotiation, and four are under consideration.

Indeed, trade is the one place that we have not tilted toward Asia, Latin America, or anyplace else. Free trade is one of America’s greatest assets in helping both free markets and free peoples.

The Middle East

In Asia, then, we have an infrastructure for dealing with the challenges there—even a rising China. The Middle East is much more chaotic. It lacks infrastructure. Many of the pillars of our influence have been rattled by the events of the Arab Spring. One senses that the U.S. wants to pull back from the Middle East.

In fact, sometimes I wonder if the so-called pivot to Asia is because the Middle East is too hard. We can’t afford to pull back from that Middle East that is so hard. It’s fashionable to talk about insulating ourselves by an energy policy that finally frees us of dependence on Middle Eastern oil. We should do that anyway. We should do everything that we can to build North American platforms, from oil and gas to transportation to new technologies. We should build North American platforms for energy security.

The Sunni–Shi’a Divide. But we know that we will not be insulated from the Middle East. One way or another, the malignancies of the Middle East, as they did on 9/11, will come back to haunt us, and so we need to move from what has been a series of tactical responses since 2009 to a more strategic view of how we want the Middle East to unfold. We have to remember that when our British friends drew the lines of the Middle East, they obliterated any notion of sectarian divides, and therefore, you have had a circumstance in which one has had to dominate the other, so that in Iraq the 20 percent or so Sunni population dominated the 65 percent or so Shi’a population, and in the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia there are Shi’a with a Sunni monarch, and so on and so on. This Sunni–Shi’a divide will be worse without a strategic view of how the Middle East might unfold differently.

New Pillars of Stability. We need to look to build new pillars of stability. It begins first and foremost with a recommitment to our friends in the region, and in particular to Israel, which still stands as the one strong democratic state in the region. We need, too, to press reforms among our other friends. The Mubarak situation didn’t have to work out the way that it did. Indeed, I remember going to Egypt in June of 2005 and urging Mubarak and the Egyptians to undertake reform before their people were in the streets.

We need to do the same with our other friends, with the monarchs who have some personal authority and might make a move toward greater constitutionalism and greater representation for their people. For those republics that are emerging—Tunisia, which is a place that seems potentially to be on the right course, or Egypt, where there is great confusion—we need to continue to press for institutions that are democratic.

We need to have a relationship with Turkey, a complex but critically important country that we forget once really wanted to be a part of Europe and was rebuffed by a European Union that was more concerned about what Turkey would do to it than what it might be able to do with Turkey. And so the reaffirmation of a relationship with a democratic Turkey is key.

Recommitting to Iraq. We also need to recommit to Iraq. I know that it’s complicated in Iraq, and I know that sometimes it feels like the Iraqis have gone off course, but when you look at Iraq today, at least we’re not talking about a nuclear arms race between Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis have institutions in place that might help to give an answer to the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi’a where you can have majority populations and even majority governments of one sect or another, but where the rights and interests of others are protected. Iraq needs our reengagement.

Iran and Syria. We have to challenge Iran, not just because of its nuclear ambitions and its existential threat to Israel—though those are important in their own right—but because Iran is a revisionist power. Iran is not satisfied with the balance in the Middle East and would seek to undo it. It is why they have supported the terrorist Shi’a groups in southern Iraq, why they have stirred up trouble in the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, why they use their tentacles of Hezbollah and Hamas to try and cause problems whether in the Gaza or in Lebanon.

In this regard, Syria is critical. It’s a strategic opportunity coming from a strategic challenge, because the collapse of the regime of Bashar al-Assad would deprive Iran of its handmaiden in the Middle East and its launching pad for Hezbollah and for trouble in that region.

Pursuing the Values That Make America Exceptional

Now, it’s a pretty big agenda to react to this changing world that’s undergone these shocks, and there are those who ask: Can we handle this challenge and still pursue our values? I would suggest we can handle this challenge only if we pursue our values. This is what has made the U.S. exceptional: this belief in free markets and free peoples, a willingness to try and promote them abroad, and a belief that the world would be more stable and more prosperous as freedom wins out.

That exceptionalism is critical for another reason. We cannot ask the American people to make the sacrifices for leadership if we have nothing special to say about how human history ought to unfold. If we are just one among many representing the lowest-common-denominator collective will of the so-called international community, rather than leading a common cause with likeminded states and long-time allies who share our values in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America, in Africa and beyond, then why should we make the sacrifices of leadership? In that way, American exceptionalism and American leadership are inextricably linked.

It’s reasonable that the American people are tired, and I take some responsibility for that. I told President Bush as we were leaving office, “You know, Mr. President, I think they’re just tired. It’s been terrorism and it’s been war and it’s been challenge and it’s been vigilance, and I think people are tired.” I understand that. And there are those who say that we’ve sapped our strength by our overextension abroad to deal with our domestic problems at home.

But I want to suggest to you that there’s another side to that coin, that perhaps it is our lack of confidence at home that is sapping our desire and our will to lead abroad. The confusion at home becomes an excuse not to engage the world, and it’s directly related to our willingness and our ability to lead. Much comes from domestic strains, debt and entitlements, but there’s something deeper going on.

Human potential is so key today, and America has been better at tapping human potential than any country ever in human history. If in the 19th century it was the resources that you could dig out of the ground that made you powerful, and in the 20th century those resources and the industrial processes to make a better widget, in the late 20th century and now in the 21st century, it is human potential and creativity and innovation that are at the core of influence and power.

The Great National Myth

As Secretary of State, I got to travel around the world and see what people admired about the U.S. and what worried them, but the one thing that I always saw as a source of admiration is what I’ve come to call our great American national myth. Now, a myth isn’t something that’s necessarily untrue in this sense; it’s just something that’s a little outsized in your thinking. Ours has always been the log cabin: You can come from humble circumstances, and you can do great things.

That belief has been the key to unleashing human potential, because we have never believed that the human potential comes as a result of class or circumstances, but rather as a result of opportunity. That belief has led us to be a magnet for people from all over the world: The most ambitious people in the world have wanted to come here. Whether it’s the guy who came here to make five dollars, not 50 cents, or Sergey Brin who came here as a 7-year-old from Russia and founded Google, the U.S. has been enriched by immigrants; it has been made stronger by immigrants; and, by the way, it has been kept from the sclerotic demographics of Japan and Europe and Russia by immigrants.

We must reaffirm ourselves as a country of immigrants and find a way to have a systematic set of laws and set of practices that allow us to continue to have the human potential come here. But it’s not enough to have people come here; it also has to be true for people who are here.

The Education Crisis

The educational crisis that we face—particularly in K–12 education—may well be the greatest threat to our national security. The educational crisis threatens to continue to produce weak links, and a democracy is only as strong as its weakest link. The crisis in K–12 is producing unemployable people who will ultimately be on the dole because they will have nowhere else to go, and so many of them are unfit for military service, let alone for jobs in other sectors. We can’t continue to tolerate a circumstance in which I can look at your zip code and tell whether or not you’re going to get a good education.

That is indeed the key to understanding another aspect of American exceptionalism. This is the most successful experiment in self-governance in human history, built on the responsibility of the individual, yet with the communitarian impulse not from government, but from civil society and philanthropy and from faith-based people who just wish to do good.

That belief that it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going has given America a narrative, but it is not a narrative of aggrievement and class conflict and entitlement. It is not a destructive narrative that somehow finds fault for your challenges in someone else’s success. It is indeed a narrative that says, I may not be able to control my circumstances, but I can control my response to my circumstances. That is an empowering narrative of opportunity.

That is, perhaps more than anything else, the key to American exceptionalism, and it is perhaps the key that is most under assault today here at home. It may explain in part why we lack the confidence and the optimism and the strength to continue to advocate for free markets and free peoples abroad. Without that advocacy, without that leadership, without the willingness to sacrifice an imprint, one of two things will happen in this international system that is rapidly shifting after these great shocks. Either there will be chaos—but of course chaos won’t last, because history abhors a vacuum, and it is more likely that that vacuum would then be filled by some who do not believe in a balance of power that favors freedom. At that time, we would find ourselves in the worst of circumstances where we cannot protect our values and cannot protect our interests either.

I’m optimistic, though. I believe that we will lead, because I’ve seen the United States do it so many times before. In 2006, which was actually a pretty bad year for the Bush Administration—things were going wrong in a lot of places—I read the biographies of the founding fathers, and when you read them you realize that by all rights, the United States of America probably never should have come into being. What with a third of George Washington’s troops down with smallpox and the founding fathers squabbling among themselves and the greatest military power of the time against us, we probably shouldn’t have come into being, but we did. And then in the years of civil war, brother against brother, a hundred thousand Americans dead on both sides, we became a perfect union.

And then, of course, a little girl from Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated big city in America, where her parents can’t take her to a restaurant or to a movie theater, but they have her absolutely convinced that she may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth’s, but she could be President of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the Secretary of State instead. America has a way of making the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect.

I think we’ll do it again, and it will be a good thing, because it is critical that the freest and the most compassionate and the most generous, this extraordinary place, this exceptional country called the United States of America also continues to be the most powerful.

Questions & Answers

METO KALOSKI: I’m with the United Macedonian Diaspora, and I thank you for your leadership on NATO enlargement, given your time as Secretary of State and prior to that as National Security Advisor. I do have a question regarding the Bucharest summit. Macedonia was blocked from NATO membership, and so were Georgia and Ukraine from a Membership Action Plan.

The upcoming NATO summit is in Chicago. This is the first time a summit is being held in the U.S. outside of Washington, and it’s not an enlargement summit. Macedonia has faced a lot of obstacles, it has met all the requirements, and in December the International Court of Justice agreed that Greece violated its treaty obligations by blocking Macedonia. I wanted to know your perspective on Macedonia’s invitation and then, also, where do you see the future of enlargement in NATO?

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I’ve long believed that NATO must remain open to any European democratic state that wishes to join its ranks, because NATO was, after all, not to be an exclusive club; it was to be a collective security mechanism for democracies. In this regard, we pressed very hard and, as a matter of fact, integrated a number of East European states, including the Baltic states, which was thought to be at the time impossible to do.

I worked very hard to try to resolve the Macedonia name issue. I know people are still trying to resolve the Macedonia name issue, and perhaps it will be, but I favor very much the integration of any European state that is ready, and it seems to me that Macedonia is ready.

As to Ukraine and Georgia, it is important to recognize that at the time of the Bucharest summit, the NATO Communiqué actually said that these countries will become members of NATO, and so that was an affirmative statement of the rightness of their coming in. I’m very far from this now, and I would never be one to even suggest that I know all the ins and outs of what’s going on with the allies, but I would hope that NATO keeps remembering not just what it has meant to have these states in NATO, but what it has meant to the states to be in NATO. NATO and the European Union together have managed to make relatively smooth the transition from the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe to the integration of those states into Europe.

FEMALE VOICE: Thank you for coming and speaking today. Your story is truly inspiring. I wanted to thank you also for your part in Miss Representation, the documentary that I had the opportunity to view a couple weeks ago.

Along those lines, what advice would you give young women in a time where, even though enormous strides have been made, women are still severely underrepresented in media and in the government and in high-ranking jobs? What advice would you give to young women, and what do you think it will take in this country to finally receive full equality for women in government?

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I believe that we are indeed going to achieve full equality, but it’s going to happen one person at a time, one brick at a time. Glass ceilings are going to be broken not by some announcement that we wish to break glass ceilings, but because there are people who are willing to break them.

I would remind you that, after all, three out of the last four Secretaries of State have been women. Colin Powell, of course, was in there, but that means it’s been 16 years since we had a white male. So someone’s going to start wondering what’s going on there.

We are indeed making these strides. But I would say to young women to define yourself not in terms of the ceiling that you might meet, but in terms of what you want to do, how you’re going to get good enough at it to really make a case that you ought to do it, and then go for it.

It helps to have mentors; it helps to have people who have been through these stretches; but I’m going to give you a little warning: You don’t actually have to have role models and mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting. In fact, most of my mentors have been white men, maybe even old white men, because they were the ones who dominated my field.

So find people who take an interest in you and take an interest in your career, and I think you will find that it is more open to you than you might imagine. Most importantly, never ever let anybody define what you are going to be by how you look. That is something that if you see somebody trying to do that, then you just challenge right back, because they have no right to do it and you can’t let them.

MALE VOICE: I am the second youngest member of the Parliament in Turkey and the youngest member of the foreign affairs committee. I would like to ask you: How do you approach the things which are happening in Syria? Especially, how do you see Turkey’s role? China and Russia directly support Bashar Assad’s regime. Can we say that there, the U.S.A. still is a leading power, superpower, but today there are less countries who are trying to follow the U.S.A.? This is a debate in our region, especially in my country.

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: First of all, let me just say, in terms of Turkey’s role, I think it can be quite beneficial to have Turkey, which is a democratic country that is coming to terms with a relationship between Islam and democratic values and democracy and does not see them as contradicting one another. I know there are a lot of struggles in Turkey, and I know it makes people a little unnerved about some of the things that are going on there, but I know your leaders. I know Prime Minister Erdoğan; I know President Gül; and these are people, I believe, who are going to build a new democratic basis in Turkey.

From that democratic basis, I think Turkey has begun to advocate for the rights of others to live in freedom as well, which is why it’s very important to see how strong Turkey has been in support of change in Syria. Change in Syria is important because if we were willing to say that we would not allow Moammar Qadhafi to mow down his people but we have watched as Bashar al-Assad has mowed down nearly 10,000 of his people, we have a problem.

I think there are many things you can do. Some would say on the opposition, if we’re going to do that, I would hope that it would be a broad policy, not just the regional powers arming the opposition, because you’re then likely to get something that looks more like proxy warfare in Syria. I worry that if we just contemplate the situation in which Bashar al-Assad sort of half reestablishes his power but there continue to be all these challenges to him, that you’re going to have spillover, as you already have, into Turkey and into Lebanon and ultimately into Iraq.

So there is a lot at stake in Syria, and I think it comes down to trying to bring the opposition together as Turkey has done, trying to get the opposition to agree to a certain set of institutional reforms that would be made that would protect the rights of all the minorities in Syria as well as the majority—because it’s a real mélange in Syria—and that would have as patrons countries like Turkey, but also the U.S. and the European Union. I think you have to say to the Chinese and the Russians, if we can’t do it through the U.N., then we will do it as a coalition of the willing.

I am not suggesting that the U.S. needs ground forces in that region—quite the opposite. But we have to remember that this is not just a threat to our values, although it is that; it is also a strategic threat, and we’ve got to find a way to bring together those who are willing in the Arab League, Turkey and others, to deal with Bashar al-Assad. But without American leadership, I’m fearful that it will be a set of tactical decisions that really are because of the interests of the regional powers, not because of the interest of a different kind of Syria later on.

MEREDITH BUEL: I’m Meredith Buel with Voice of America. You said the U.S. needs to challenge Iran. Representatives of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany will be sitting down tomorrow in Istanbul with Iran’s nuclear negotiator. What does Iran need to agree to in order to make those negotiations successful, and if they are not successful, as so many negotiations have been with Iran, what should the U.S. do next?

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: First of all, I think it is a tactical decision whether one talks to the Iranians. I think we sometimes get caught up in that as a strategic decision. What’s strategic is what you say once you’re talking to them.

I think there are a couple of things that have to be said. The first is that the world has to be reliably confident, or confident reliably, that the Iranians have been shut off from a pathway to a nuclear weapon. The problem with enriching and reprocessing to a lower percentage is that it is basically the same process, that you can pursue higher percentages later on. Once you’ve solved the science problem, it’s just an engineering problem; and so there are grave dangers in saying to the Iranians, well, you can enrich to this level and no further, because you leave the capacity to enrich to higher levels in place.

Secondly, I think the Iranians really do have to be told that they’re going to have to shut down the sites that are the undeclared sites, which I think are an open secret now as to where they are. We need to be careful not just to focus on the nuclear side, although the nuclear side is very key, but one thing we should always remember is why Iran with a nuclear weapon would be so destabilizing. It’s because of what Iran is: It is an existential threat to Israel; it is trying to remake the balance of power in the Middle East in its own favor in a kind of theocratic way; it is a state that is the poster child for state sponsorship of terrorism, whether it is in southern Iraq or the Gaza Strip or in Lebanon. And a state like that in the volatile Middle East with a nuclear weapon would be not just unacceptable; it would be a grave, grave danger.

The good news is, I believe that regime is under a lot of pressure from sanctions that have been mounting since 2006. I do believe it is a regime that has lost all legitimacy; the clerics are at each other’s throats. It is, after all, a population that is 70 percent under the age of 30. So putting pressure on the regime itself is also critical, because it’s hard for me to see how in the long run that region is stable with that regime in power in Iran.

What if the Iranians don’t agree to whatever it is we’d like them to agree to? I think that if we don’t want the President of the United States to face the very hard choice of having to use military force, then the Iranians have to believe that he will use military force. That is the only thing that will ultimately change their view.

President Obama has said that he has a military option and he will use it; he doesn’t bluff. All the chatter around him isn’t helpful, because those who say, “Oh, but it would be so hard,” and the games that leak out of the Pentagon about how terrible it would be sort of undermine the message that there is a usable military option and we will indeed use it. Let’s let stand that the United States of America will not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon and will do what is necessary to stop it and see if that will not back the Iranians off the ledge.

FEMALE VOICE: I’m wondering if you would like to share your thoughts with us on what’s going on in China, the Bo Xilai case, which is billed as the biggest political scandal in decades.

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: What is striking to me about the Bo Xilai case—and I don’t think any of us really know what happened there and the depth of it—is that it obviously raises some questions about the strength of institutions out in the provinces and the strength of the rule of law, which I think raises questions again about how one achieves rule of law under authoritarianism. I think this is really what it raises.

But one thing that’s been fascinating to me is how open the discussion of it has been in China. It is lighting up the blogosphere, as I understand, and that suggests that there is a Chinese population that craves information about what is going on in its country, that is determined to know what is going on in its country, and that, ultimately, when people know what’s going on and they’re interested in what’s going on, they start to want to do something about what is going on.

That presents a challenge, I think, to the Chinese leadership, particularly as they prepare for the 2012 Party Congress. Again, we have to say, China has achieved legitimacy based on prosperity at this point, but legitimacy based on prosperity tends not to last very long, because people’s expectations keep growing. People become concerned about princelings who drive around in Ferraris, the grandchildren of the revolution in a state that is somehow supposed to be dedicated to social equality.

So China has a lot of challenges. I suspect that if we were in the meeting rooms getting ready for the 2012 Party Congress, people might be asking how the political structures could accommodate some of these pressures “without becoming Gorbachev,” which of course is everybody’s great fear as you try to reform from the top and you end up collapsing the system.

The Bo Xilai case is interesting, and it’s intriguing, but I really think the big question is: What does it say about China itself, how politics gets done, what the relationship is between provincial leaders and the center, and ultimately how the Chinese people will respond to what is in fact one of the biggest political scandals in the country’s history?

WALTER LOHMAN: I wanted to ask you how you think the U.S.–India relationship is panning out. It was one of the Bush Administration’s biggest successes, really, but there’s been a few disappointments, and I wonder how you feel it’s gone and where it’s going.

THE HONORABLE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Thank you very much. I think the relationship with India is one of those key two or three relationships that we need to invest in and we’re going to have to continue to invest in. We have some in Latin America—like Brazil, for instance; we have Turkey where we need to invest; and we need to invest in India.

It is not easy, because for so many years in India’s history, it defined itself in a sense in contradistinction to American power. The Non-Aligned Movement was that way, and even in the tilt toward the Soviet Union for a long time. So that’s not going to change overnight. It’s not going to change in the Indian foreign policy bureaucracy overnight.

It is, however, fundamentally changing in the Indian business community. When you talk to people from Bangalore or from Mumbai, they are really very interested in what can be done with the U.S. to push innovation, creativity. There is so much free flow of people back and forth for long periods of time, sometimes for short periods of time, between India and the Silicon Valley that you can’t even count how many. So underneath the governmental relations, a lot is happening that I think will ultimately change the character of the U.S.–Indian engagement.

And so, even though there may be some disappointments—maybe the civil nuclear cooperation will stall a bit as India looks to other sources; maybe as people evaluate nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima—the civil nuclear deal was not just about nuclear energy. It was also about high technology and the ability to share high technology with one of the most innovative and creative states on the globe. Obviously, we need to engage India where it comes to Afghanistan and where it comes to Pakistan, because India lives in that neighborhood, and that’s not so easy these days.

But I believe that if we stay with it, if we encourage not just governmental engagement, but engagement across the populations, across the business community, the university community, and the like, we’re going to find that those barnacles of the tendency to define India in contradistinction to the U.S. are going to start to fall away, and we will have a good and reliable democratic ally in South Asia.

We’ve done some amazing things together. India was the first country to contribute to the Democracy Fund in the U.N. We did relief for the tsunami with India, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. in naval engagement. Military-to-military exchanges are going forward.

So we have to be patient. This is not a relationship that’s tomorrow going to produce votes at the U.N. that are always in our favor, but it is a relationship that is worth investing in. It is a relationship that I think if we stay the course and push, we’re going to continue to make league with one of the remarkable multiethnic democracies in the world.


The Honorable Condoleezza Rice

Senior Research Fellow