The first African-American woman to become U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice has maintained a relatively low profile since her eight years of service in the George W. Bush administration. Recently, however, Rice has begun to open up about her years in Washington, publishing a book about her experiences not only as secretary of state but also U.S. national security advisor, and going on a nation-wide tour to promote it.
On November 3, Rice chose the University of Miami as the first stop on that tour, visiting the institution’s Coral Gables campus where she discussed everything from 9/11 and the war on terror to immigration, education, and Latin America.
Rice’s visit was part of the Charles E. Cobb Leadership Lecture Series, named for the UM trustee and former chair of the Board of Trustees. Thursday’s event, conducted in an interview format with UM President Donna E. Shalala asking questions, most of which were submitted by students, was held in collaboration with Books & Books. Her lecture also came on the same day of the release of her book No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, 300 copies of which were given to UM students in attendance as gifts by Ambassadors Charles and Sue Cobb.
Rice was introduced by the Cobbs, both of whom are alumni of Stanford University, where Rice was provost from 1993 to 1999 and is now the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the school’s Hoover Institution and a professor of political economy and political science.
Sitting in a chair adjacent from President Shalala, Rice not only talked about how she became secretary of state but also recalled her college years, explaining how she gave up being a piano major after realizing she would probably end up teaching 13 year olds or playing in a department store. She said she was fortunate to wander into an international studies class taught by Josef Korbel, the father of another U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, which ignited her passion for Soviet affairs.
She recounted a moment during her White House career when she found herself in a Marine One helicopter with Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, thinking, “I’m really glad I changed majors.”
She also recounted advising then-Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak not to wait until his people were in the streets to make efforts at reform. She discussed Cuba, saying that when Fidel Castro dies the people of Cuba must be able to elect their next leader and that the presidency must not just be handed to his brother, Raul.
Of President George W. Bush’s top leadership team, she commented, “We got along just fine until the most stressful times, which were the war on terror and Iraq.”
With regard to Iraq, she said Saddam Hussein “was considered the biggest threat in the Middle East.”
“Authoritarianism is not sustainable,” she explained, noting that if people don’t have a way to change the government, they will do it violently. “When fear breaks down, all that’s left between a dictator and the people is anger.”
She addressed changes in national security post-9/11 and touched on other major topics such as Latin America and the Caribbean, education, and immigration. “I don’t know when immigrants became the enemy,” she said, citing the need for comprehensive federal immigration reform. “If we don’t fix this, we will undo one of the greatest strengths” of the United States.
The lecture drew some 450 students and 300 other attendees from the UM and the surrounding community.
Rice, who served as secretary of state to President Bush from 2005 to 2009, was the second woman and first African-American woman in history to be appointed to that post. She has written numerous books. In addition to No Higher Honor, her bestselling memoir Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (2010) was available at the event.
Student media took part in a press conference prior to the lecture. The WVUM political talk show Counterpoint will devote a future show to the event, said hosts Michael Matthiesen and Wesley Rogerson.
In its 25th year the Cobb Leadership Lecture Series is dedicated to presenting leaders from all walks of life who are experts on leadership.