Women are Architects of Change

No Ordinary Country

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses Advisor Group

This is a complex time in our world, former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice told a standing-room-only crowd at ConnectED’s opening general session. “The international political system seems to be spinning off its axis. The rules of the game have shifted and both powerful, and not so powerful, countries are influencing outcomes. And once again, the United States, the world’s greatest power, must step forward.”

Patriotism took center stage as applause and laughter erupted throughout Rice’s keynote address on September 9. She recalled the “normal” day in Washington 13 years earlier, then provided a look at the frightening and chaotic hours in the White House bunker following 9/11. She spoke of the world leaders she met during her time in office (Recalling Nelson Mandela and Ariel Sharon with great respect — Vladimir Putin, not so much.), the absence of an international community owing to a lack of shared values, and the need for America to remain true to who we are, an exceptional country.

Rice elaborated on the “three great shocks” that precipitated this complex time and would cause us to “forever worry about ungoverned places.” First, the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. Second, the economic crisis of 2008 and the effect the near collapse of our financial system had on American citizens and the global community. Third, the “twin revolutions” in the Middle East: popular pressures to overturn authoritarian, dynastic governments and brutal terrorists seeking safe haven are rocking that region to the core.

Rice acknowledged another trend of “great powers behaving badly,” pointing out China, North Korea, and specifically, Russia. Accusing Putin of never accepting the outcome of the Cold War, she referred to him as a “megalomaniac and intimidator,” and quipped, “rulers of state do not go around bare-chested hunting tigers.”

These great shocks, argued Rice, combined with great powers behaving badly, have created a vacuum that must be filled. Not by the international community — an entity that she believes no longer exists — but only by the United States. Rice acknowledged that the struggle for democracy is never easy saying, “The seizure of rights is almost always a terrifying moment.” She noted that our own founding documents were borne of wars and years of upheaval, and were fraught with revolutionary demands that ultimately succeeded only because they were placed into a binding rule of law and institutions.

Rice recalled a time towards the end of President George W. Bush’s second term. Polls were down after years of war, terrorism, and a sluggish economy. America was tired. And again today, America is tired. She cautioned that great powers can never get tired, saying, “Vladimir Putin is not tired, China, and the Islamic State are not tired. If we are tired, they will find a way to dominate.” She added that no one wants to return to a day when the United States’ post-WWI isolationist policies encouraged the rise of tyrants in Europe and Asia.

Rice was passionate while speaking on the topic of education in America, emphasizing that the foundation of our country rests on the belief that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you are going. The opportunity to earn a good education should be everyone’s right, yet this foundation is crumbling. “It’s a tragedy when I can look at your zip code and tell you if you are going to get a good education,” said Rice, adding, “The tragedy of our failing school system may just be our greatest national security threat.”

During the Q&A with former AIG Life and Retirement CEO, Jay Wintrob, Rice discussed the rising tide of terrorism, stating, “the underpinnings of the Middle East are coming apart,” and reiterating that there is no international system in place to deal with this.

She called Ariel Sharon someone who was “better than advertised,” and went on to say that, had Sharon lived, he may have created a Palestinian state. Wintrob jokingly referred to Putin as “your favorite” and Rice talked about sitting with Putin when he suddenly stood up and peered down at her in an intimidating fashion. She explained, “My instinct was to immediately stand up too. Now, I’m 5’10” in heels — and Putin is not. So for this wonderful moment we ‘kind of’ stood eye to eye.”

While Rice was circumspect in answering questions regarding the current administration, she did caution President Obama that “messaging, language is very important.” She later revealed that both she and Laura Bush questioned George W.’s now famous “bring ‘em on” declaration.

Asked about role models, Rice acknowledged a few, including Brent Scowcroft and George H. W. Bush, adding, “If I was waiting for a black, female, Soviet specialist, I would still be waiting.”

In closing, Rice reminded us “it is through freedom that human beings find the greatest expression of their humanity. No ordinary country would send troops to the shores of Normandy, would stand vigilant until the Soviet Union could be defeated, and would send volunteers to defend the front lines of freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s hard work, but it just has to be that the freest, the most compassionate, and the most generous country in the world will also be the most powerful.”

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