In her new book, “Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom,” former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice makes a case for global engagement and U.S. moral leadership of the sort that President Trump criticized as out of date when he was running for president. The adviser to former president George W. Bush spoke to The Washington Post about her book and whether she is offering advice to the new Republican administration.
THE WASHINGTON POST: Have you had a chance to see Sen. John McCain’s op-ed, in which he talks about human rights and takes issue with what Secretary Tillerson said last week about principles and values being separate from policy and decisions?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes, I did.
WP: How do you think that squares with the vision you set out in the book, of really having some guiding U.S. north stars on the issue of human rights and American values? Do you think Sen. McCain has it right or not?
CR: Well, first of all, John McCain knows what he’s talking about on these issues, and I thought the defense of the importance of the United States standing for human rights was absolutely right.
I thought that with Secretary Tillerson’s speech he was trying to make a somewhat more nuanced point that often gets lost in translation. You remember when I went to Egypt and I gave the 2005 Cairo speech, and I talked about values and I talked about democracy and there were people who said, “Well, then how can you met with Mubarak?” Well, of course you’re going to meet with the Egyptian president. Of course, you’re going to have to continue to deal with allies who aren’t reforming and who don’t share your values. But over the long run, everybody’s going to be better off if they do reform, and you know we’d live in a better situation today if Mubarak had continued his reforms in 2005 before his people were in the streets.
So, while in the short term you may have to, in policy terms, deal with people who don’t share our values, or who are even assaulting your values, in the long run you don’t lose sight of them, and you need to speak for them.
Policy is sometimes one thing, but the context for a long-term successful policy is one that unifies our policy and our values.
WP: Would you like to see Secretary Tillerson speak more directly and forthrightly about the value of human rights when he has the kinds of meetings like the one you describe? Egyptian President al-Sissi was just here, right?
CR: Yeah, he was just here. It’s early days, and I don’t know what messages were delivered to Sissi and by whom. But I do think with the Egyptians, if they don’t find a way to reform, they are sort of sitting on a powder keg there. And with the Chinese, it’s important to talk about all the things we have to do in terms of policy and our strategic interest, but we do need to stand for the rights of those who can’t speak for themselves. But these are early days and you know I’m not one to judge from the outside when I can’t see everything that’s going on. Let’s see where this settles out.
WP: Are you providing any of this as advice directly to either Tillerson, your friend, or to the White House?
CR: When you’re out of government you can overvalue your own advice. They are dealing with things every day that you can’t possibly see. And so one thing you recognize is that if you’re needed, you’re always there. I talk to these folks and if I have something to say I’m happy to say it, but I recognize that they are trying to deal with a constellation of issues that are in some ways different than the ones I did, and they are working their way through them.
I will say that I think this is a terrific national security team. They have already had some really important wins. I thought that the strike on Syria was well done. It was proportionate. I think it sent an important message to the world about the American president not being willing to tolerate the crossing of that chemical weapons red line. I think it sent an important message to the Russians that we are establishing leverage to try to get to an end to this Syrian conflict. It’s really still very early, but I think they are doing okay. I really do.
WP: I want to ask you about North Korea. What do you think of the prospect of talking to the North Koreans, given your own experience with them?
CR: Look, we did everything we could to bring about the agreement with the North Koreans. We got close. Some elements of it were put in place. But this is a different regime than Kim Jong Il. You have the sense that Kim Jong Un is more reckless, you have the sense that maybe the Chinese influence with him doesn’t seem to be quite as direct. And they have made a lot of progress on their program, so the circumstances are different now. So, I think the price for the beginning of negotiations has to be somewhat higher.
I think what they are trying to do in the administration is they are trying to get the Chinese to see that they are going to have to turn the screws pretty hard on the North Koreans. I don’t know whether first steps like getting inspectors on the ground or the like is even a possibility with this particular regime. But I understand why they haven’t gone right back to diplomatic talks. It wouldn’t make sense under the current circumstances, but maybe they can get there if they can get others to step up, especially the Chinese.
WP: What do you think about cutting the State Department budget, as the president has proposed?
CR: Look, I was Stanford’s provost. I had to cut budgets. Sometimes efficiencies can come out of it. I don’t think the numbers are going to look anything like the numbers that have been floating around. The administration proposes but Congress has to authorize and appropriate, and this is the beginning of a conversation. I will say that if he can bring greater efficiencies to a department that looks like it has actually grown in numbers since even I was there, that would be a good thing. But I hope that big programs like PEPFAR and Millennium Challenge will be protected.