Transformed By Her Bond With Bush

Condoleezza Rice and President Bush in 2000, near the start of their partnership. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 3, 2007

It was just two days after President Bush's reelection in 2004, and Condoleezza Rice was planning her move back home to California and to the tranquility of life at Stanford University.

But Bush had other plans. In a private meeting at Camp David on the morning of Friday, Nov. 6, the president made his pitch: Colin Powell was out as secretary of state -- though Bush hadn't told him yet -- and the president wanted Rice to take the job.

Rice hesitated. Four years as Bush's national security adviser -- through Sept. 11 and two wars -- had taken a toll. "I think you may need a new national security team," she said.

"I do the hiring here," the president countered.

As Rice considered the offer, one question loomed large: Would she and Bush retain their unique closeness if they no longer worked daily together in the White House?

"We've been very close, down the hall," Rice reminded Bush. "I see you eight times a day, and I don't want to lose that connection."

Rice and Bush discussed the job for two hours over the next three days, and by Monday she agreed to become the nation's top diplomat.

During Bush's second term, Rice has struggled to guide U.S. foreign policy in a time of turmoil and war. As national security adviser, Rice was directly involved in the invasion of Iraq, missed opportunities with Iran and North Korea's nuclear breakout. Now she must loosen the Gordian knots she helped tie.

In this effort, Rice's bond with Bush has emerged as her key asset -- but possibly also her critical weakness. It has made her the president's top foreign policy confidante and helped her cultivate a public image imbued with power and influence. But at the same time, friends and former colleagues marvel at how Rice has been transformed by the president she so devotedly serves -- from a hardheaded foreign policy "realist" to a wholehearted supporter of Bush's belief in the power of freedom and democracy.

This picture of Rice emerges from scores of interviews with dozens of administration officials, including Rice, and foreign diplomats, most conducted on the condition of anonymity so people could speak more freely.

Rice tutored Bush on world affairs during the 2000 campaign, seeking to make sure the foreign policy novice didn't stumble. Now, aides say, it is Bush who prods Rice to be bolder and to take chances on his ambitious worldview.

"I realize that I have a close personal relationship with the president," Rice said in a magazine interview last year. ". . . At a point in time down the road, I think the decisions that the president is taking will be viewed as having been right . . . and as having left the world much more secure."

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