Rice focuses on the personal, not political

By Glenn Kessler
Saturday, October 16, 2010; A2

Not many authors on a book tour manage to snag a visit with the president of the United States. But Condoleezza Rice is no ordinary book author.

The former secretary of state and onetime national security adviser met one-on-one with President Obama at the White House on Friday afternoon, after a week of television appearances promoting "Extraordinary, Ordinary People," her memoir about her parents. The White House said Obama wanted to discuss a range of foreign policy issues with her.

Later, at an evening appearance at the Aspen Institute, Rice said she and Obama "covered the waterfront." "Despite the fact there are changes and tussles, there is still a foreign policy community that believes that foreign policy ought to be bipartisan," she said. "It was really great that he reached out in that way."

Rice rolled her eyes at the notion that Obama is a closet Muslim, and she defended him from criticism - led by former vice president Richard B. Cheney - that Obama has weakened the country. "Nothing in this president's methods suggests this president is other than a defender of America's interests," Rice told an audience that included presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Rice's book, a deeply personal account of growing up in segregated Alabama, doesn't touch on the foreign policy controversies of her service for President George W. Bush; that material is reserved for a future volume. But all week Rice has deftly maneuvered political minefields, refusing to join in criticism of the current administration while gently defending the decisions of the last one, including Bush's move to topple Saddam Hussein.

"I am not going to chirp at the people inside," Rice said Wednesday on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. "I know that it's a lot easier out here than it is in there, and these are patriotic people who are trying to do their best every day."

Speaking to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, she lavished praise on her successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton: "I think she is doing a lot of the right things. . . . She is very tough. . . . I think she has done a fine job, I really do."

Rice even chastised former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) for his assertion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anticolonial" worldview. "That's over the top, and I don't think very helpful," she told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.

Before she left Foggy Bottom, Rice repeatedly said that she would not publicly criticize the people who came after her. Indeed, one of her most uncomfortable moments in office came when former secretary of state James A. Baker III was co-leader of a bipartisan panel that issued a tough critique of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq - in particular, the diplomatic efforts that were part of Rice's portfolio.

Since leaving Washington, Rice has returned to her academic career in California, where she is a professor at Stanford University and a fellow at the Hoover Institution. She also set up a consulting firm with Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's second-term national security adviser. A rabid football fan, she has been thrilled with Stanford's strong 5-1 start this season.

Rice maintains ties with foreign leaders, recently meeting in California with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Twice given Stanford's highest awards for teaching, Rice has taken to the classroom with vigor. On a recent Friday afternoon, she told business school students stories from her time as secretary of state to illustrate how Russia used its oil and gas reserves as an economic weapon against Europe toward the end of the last decade.

Dressed in a two-tone gray blazer and matching slacks, she asked the students to ponder Europe's passivity when confronted with the monopolistic behavior of Russia's state-owned oiland company, Gazprom. "I personally always thought the Europeans underestimated their leverage," she noted.

She then shifted to Iran's nuclear program. After a quick review of Iran's uranium enrichment efforts and international sanctions on the country, she opened a mock U.N. Security Council meeting and watched students deliver speeches on Iran much as she had for years as secretary of state. The French "representative" brought a bottle of wine to the podium for effect, triggering a laugh from Rice.

All week, Rice has resolutely refused to entertain speculation about nascent political ambitions - or even an encore stunt in Washington. "What is better than having been secretary of state? That's the best job in government," Rice told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren. "I've already done that. So I think I will just stay in California."

Correspondent Janine Zacharia in Palo Alto, Calif., contributed to this report.

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