Interview with Condoleezza Rice

Interview with Condoleezza Rice

By Piers Morgan Tonight - November 2, 2011


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I, Condoleezza Rice, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Constitution of the United States.

RICE: The Constitution of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Against all enemies --


MORGAN: That was Condoleezza Rice being sworn in as President Bush's secretary of state in 2005, and she's here tonight to talk about life inside the Bush White House. Her new book, "No Higher Honor: A Memoir of my Years in Washington," and Condoleezza Rice joins me now.

And welcome back, Dr. Rice. We last spoke in January when I first launched this show. And it's been pretty quiet since then. I mean, what's really happened? We've had the Arab Spring uprisings, bin Laden has been killed. Gadhafi has been killed. Mubarak overthrown.

RICE: Yes.

MORGAN: We've had the biggest financial crisis again we've ever seen. And we've got a guy who used to sell pizzas running your party's chance to take on the president.

RICE: It's been --

MORGAN: So pretty quiet.

RICE: It's been a busy several months. That's absolutely right.


MORGAN: What do you make of the whole Herman Cain phenomenon? Because it is a phenomenon. He's come pretty much from nowhere to storm the GOP ratings. He is engulfed in maybe a scandal. We don't know the full -- the full extent of it yet. But what do you think of him personally?

RICE: Well, I don't -- I don't actually know him, but this is what our primary season is all about. And he's an interesting person. He has an interesting background. Obviously, a lot of business experience. And he's sort of shaking up the race. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but this will all settle out over the next several months, and the Republican Party will choose a nominee, but our primaries tend to be a little bit like this.

MORGAN: Reading your book, I mean, obviously you make a big play of saying no one needs to tell you how to feel as a black American, as a black woman. When you see the charge of potential racism in the Herman Cain case, people saying that people are only going after him because he's a black conservative, do you think that holds any merit?

RICE: Well, I actually don't like playing the race card on either side. I don't like it when people say that the criticism of President Obama is because he is black. The criticism is because he's the president, and we tend to criticize our presidents. And so I really don't like playing the race card on either side.

Obviously, I view myself as a -- as a black Republican, as someone who can stand up for myself, and as I have often said, I don't need anyone to tell me how to be black. I've been black all my life, and if you don't like my political views, then that's really too bad.

MORGAN: What do you think of the GOP race generally? It's been fluctuating wildly over the last couple of months. And I guess it may still fluctuate. Mitt Romney has been the steady Eddie, if you like. Consistently polling around the 25 percent mark. Others have leapt above him and then crashed below again.

What can you read into this from your experience?

RICE: Well, I don't think you can read anything in at this point. We really will get a much better view, a much better barometer of how to think about this race after the first of the year, after the first primary, so you know I was associated with the campaign very closely in 2000 -- the George W. Bush campaign, going all the way back really to the beginning of '99, and there was a lot of turbulence in that campaign, too.

People forget, for instance, that George W. Bush lost the New Hampshire primary by I think 17 or 18 points. And so there's a lot of settling out to do here, but I'm one who actually thinks that our political system is not too rough. You want to see people under pressure. You want to see them when things get a little difficult because when they get in the oval office, things are going to get rough and they're going to get a little difficult.

MORGAN: Without actually giving me names, I know you probably won't of who your favorite is.

RICE: Right.

MORGAN: Which of the candidates do you find yourself agreeing with most on their policy statements?

RICE: Well --

MORGAN: And it may not necessarily be the one that you would vote for.

RICE: Well, there's no single candidate right now about whom I can say that. I think we have some very good candidates in the race. I myself am enjoying for the first time in quite a long time just sort of watching the campaign as a voter, as obviously a committed Republican, and I think they're debating the issues. That's important.

I probably like to see a little bit more attention to foreign policy, but I understand that given the issues of domestic internal repair that the United States has to do that a lot of people are not focusing on foreign policy, but I'll just watch the debates and, you know, I'll make my choices later on.

MORGAN: I mean, when the frontrunner, Herman Cain, doesn't appear to know anything about China's nuclear policy, do you get itchy fingers? Do you think maybe you should throw your hat in the ring, albeit, belatedly?

RICE: No, I certainly don't get itchy fingers about throwing my own hat in the ring. No. Absolutely not. Isn't that kind of a mixed metaphor? But anyway, I don't -- I don't myself.


RICE: What I -- what I see is someone who may have misspoken. I really don't know. I know that there were many times during the 2000 campaign when issues of -- the governor know this, the governor that, the president of the United States -- the people who come to the presidency of the United States very often don't come with foreign policy experience, but they get it rather quickly.

And so the important thing to look for in candidates is what do they stand for, what are their principles, do they understand the unique character of the United States, and its unique role in the world.

MORGAN: Let's turn to your book. A fascinating read. A complex read. Covers eight extraordinary years really of the start of the millennium. When you finished the book, what was your emotion when you finally signed off on it? What did you conclude about that period in your life?

RICE: Well, first of all, there was the relief that I finally finished the writing, which, as you know, can be quite trying. But essentially --

MORGAN: It's a big book, too.

RICE: It is. But -- well, Piers, it's only 740 odd pages, and that's less than 100 pages a year, because we were in office for eight years, so I think it's actually not that -- not that big a tomb (ph), but it is for me an opportunity to talk to people about what it's like to be in the White House, to be in the State Department, to try to give people a glimpse of not just what the decisions were, but how they were made and the distinctly human character of the people and being in those circumstances.

We're all human beings. There are personalities. There are disagreements, but most importantly, people are working hard on behalf of the country and I called it "No Higher Honor" because that's really the way that I feel about those years that I served.

MORGAN: I mean I've read all the books now by the chief protagonists of that period in the administration, and my conclusion of your thoughts on them, if I was boiling it down, would be you admire the president, President Bush, you hated Dick Cheney, you tolerated Donald Rumsfeld, and you felt a bit sorry for Colin Powell.

How have I done there?

RICE: Let's start over. I did indeed admire the president. There's no doubt about it, and I really do believe that he did an exceptional job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The vice president I have a high regard for. We simply didn't agree a lot of the time, and particularly in the second term.

I think the vice president exhibited some disappointment in the turn that the foreign policy took in that second term, and associates it with me and the State Department, and that's fine. People can disagree, but I don't have any less regard for the vice president.

As to Don, Don and I have been friends for a long time, and I know that Don is a kind of irascible character. I think he did a fine job on many things as secretary of defense. We didn't agree ultimately about the course of the war in Iraq, and that was ultimately settled, and Colin Powell is my friend, and he is a great patriot.

He served as secretary of state at a time when we were at war, and the hard thing about being secretary of state when we are at war is that especially in the early phases the Pentagon is first on, and so, yes, sometimes it was very hard being America's diplomat between 2001 and 2004, and I respect him for the job he did.

MORGAN: I mean, you describe once -- you say every public appearance with Donald Rumsfeld was a disaster.

RICE: Well, because -- well, the one in Baghdad was a bit of a problem because I describe in Baghdad that president -- in the book that President Bush had sent Don and me to Baghdad to sort of show unity between the Defense Department and the State Department, and Don was impatient with the whole thing, and unfortunately sort of came through in the press availability.

And I'm afraid we wrote stories that we really didn't intend to write about how well we were getting along, and so yes, that one was a bit of a disaster, but you know those things happen, and as I said, Don and I remain friends, and it's awfully important for people to realize that you can have substantive differences. You can have intense debates. You can even have intense arguments, and you can still do it in a civil way where you may have personalities involved, but it doesn't have to become personal.

MORGAN: And before we go to a break, very quickly, Dick Cheney said that he saw you crying in a professional situation. I found that very hard to believe, Dr. Rice.

RICE: Yes, I find that -- I find that kind of hard to believe, too. No. I don't think I went to the vice president crying about something in the press. It doesn't sound like me, and I'm pretty sure it didn't happen.

MORGAN: No. I didn't -- it didn't sound like you at all to me.

Coming up after the break, I want to talk about the revolution in the Middle East, the death of bin Laden and Gadhafi, and whether you feel that the way you went about war in Iraq triggered all this or actually was the way that it shouldn't have been done.


MORGAN: That was reaction in Libya to the demise of Moammar Gadhafi. And back with me now is the former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice who famously found herself the object of Gadhafi's weird affections.

RICE: Yes.

MORGAN: Dr. Rice, I mean, it was a very bizarre setup where even when he left his palace, they found this glorious scrapbook in your honor. And when you went to see him, you actually write in the book, and I'm going to read this back to you.

"At the end of the dinner Gadhafi told me he made a videotape of me. Uh-oh, I thought. What's this going to be? It was quite an innocent collection of photos of me with world leaders, set to the music of a song called 'Black Flower in the White House,' written for me by a Libyan composure. It was weird, but at least it wasn't raunchy."


RICE: Right.

MORGAN: Quite extraordinary.

RICE: Yes. Quite extraordinary. And weird and a bit creepy. I had actually known that he had this fixation on me. A couple of foreign minister friends had told me and also a couple of my staff. And so I was going to Libya. My job was to go there. He had given us his weapons of mass destruction. He had paid reparations to the families of the victims of his terrorist acts. It was my job to go there and do a little bit of diplomatic business and get out.

And so that's what I did, but I have to say I did have that terrible moment when he said that he had the video tape. I am just glad that it all came out all right.

MORGAN: And he never made any kind of move on you then? Object of affection?

RICE: No, no. Absolutely not.

MORGAN: Being more serious about this, I mean, the end of Gadhafi was a suitably gruesome end to a gruesome tyrant in many ways. When you saw the way that he was killed, you know, dragged out by the rebels and basically executed, what did you feel about that? Was there a debate about whether it was the right thing -- it shouldn't have been allowed to happen? What did you think?

RICE: Well, revolutions are not pretty, and there are any number of circumstances in which the tyrant who stays too long and refuses to leave and when fear breaks down, and on behalf of his people, and the tables are turned, those ends are often very violent. And so it might not be the way that we sitting here in a stable democracy that's more than 200 years old, almost 300 years old might want things to happen, but revolutions aren't pretty.

MORGAN: When you watch the extraordinary events of this year throughout the Middle East, clearly there's a pattern of revolution driven from the ground up through mainly young people disaffected with their lot under these tyrants seizing control of their own destiny. And in Libya, in particular, you saw the end of Gadhafi driven by these pretty heroic rebels who decided to take him on and see him off.

And the American military and the American administration very much hands off. And the difference, of course, in cost was huge. The Libya campaign cost $1.5 billion. Iraq at its worst was costing almost that a week. Very, very different way of going about the same objective of getting rid of a bad guy.

Do you look at what's happened to Barack and Gadhafi, and slightly regret the way you helped the administration go about Iraq?

RICE: Well, the circumstances were fundamentally different, and the times were fundamentally different. And we went after Saddam Hussein because he was a security threat. He caused wars in the region. He had used weapons of mass destruction. He was going after our aircraft.

We didn't actually go after him to bring democracy to Iraq. We brought -- we were going after him because he was a security threat. Once we had depost him, it was important to give the Iraqi people a chance for a democratic future. But I think it would be a mistake to think that Saddam Hussein would have permitted an Arab spring in Iraq for even a moment. It would have been over in hours.

We have seen how he deals with uprisings. The way that he dealt with the uprising in the south when he gassed the Shia or the Kurds immediately after the Gulf War in 1991, where he slaughtered hundreds and thousands of people. This Moammar Gadhafi was a monstrous leader. He was not Saddam Hussein either in terms of his reach, his capability, or his capacity for systematic brutality.

And so Saddam Hussein was not going to fall by these means, and I am very glad that he is gone. And, in fact, it probably helped to stimulate Gadhafi's decision that he would give up his weapons of mass destruction, coming as it did right on the heels of the deposing Saddam.

And I'm awfully glad that we were able to disarm him of his most dangerous weapons before this revolution because Gadhafi sitting in his bunker with dangerous weapons might have been -- there might have been a very different outcome. MORGAN: What was the biggest mistake of the whole Iraq campaign? The reliance publicly on establishing that he had weapons of mass destruction or the kind of drip, drip, drip, you call it. The embarrassment, really, of the president becoming almost a WMD fact checker --

RICE: Yes.

MORGAN: -- which was clearly a pretty degrading experience and deeply flawed. And in the end, it turned out that the public reasons for going to war with Saddam were totally incorrect, whereas had you done what the administration did here with Gadhafi and say we're going after Saddam because he is a bad man and it will be good for the region, at least you could sit back now and say, well, we got rid of him for the reasons we said we were going to get rid of him.

RICE: I think we did make those reasons, but frankly, we didn't emphasize them. And I talk about this in the book.

First of all, we belief he had weapons of mass destruction. And that was the immediate threat particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 when you are worried about some nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Weapons of mass destruction were not a theoretical probability with Saddam Hussein. After all, he had used them before. He had been seen in 1991 after the Gulf War I to have a crude nuclear device in perhaps a year, and so we believed that the weapons of mass destruction case were solid. But as I said, I don't think it was wise to have any of us, but particularly the president, debating or defending an intelligence nugget.

Did he buy Uranium ore in Niger? What were aluminium tubes for? Why was he buying so much chlorine? Because the strategic argument was, that this was a cancer in the region, Saddam Hussein, who had caused two massive wars in the region, who had tried to assassinate a president of the United States, who had put 400,000 of his people in mass graves, was breaking out of the constraints under which he had been put in 1991 and was reconstituting, according to our intelligence agencies, his weapons of mass destruction. That broader strategic case, I think, got lost in, as you call the drip, drip, drip of intelligence nuggets.


MORGAN: Welcome back my special guest Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

Dr. Rice, I'm getting lots of tweets while we had the break there saying, I wish that she would run for president.

RICE: Well, that is very nice, but thanks, I'll pass on that honor.

MORGAN: Is that a total lifetime pass, or could you see yourself tempted back? RICE: I'm really a policy person. I'm not a politician. And I've been through a campaign. I know what that takes, and I'll leave it to others.

MORGAN: You're not entirely ruling it out?

RICE: Piers, that's a no.

MORGAN: Let me ask you, where were you when you heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed, because for you personally, never mind professionally, it must have been an extraordinary moment in your life having spent so long trying to catch him after 9/11.

RICE: It was, indeed. I had just come in actually to Washington D.C. I had landed that evening from California, and I flipped on the television, and they were getting ready to have the news conference. And I thought the president of the United States doesn't go into the east room this time of night. I think they got Bin Laden. And I was so gratified.

I was grateful to President Obama for taking a difficult decision because by all reports, it wasn't a certainty that Osama bin Laden was there. And I was very glad that I think we had left the infrastructure in place to make that moment possible.

The courier, for instance, who in 2007, we learned of this courier who eventually gave up bin Laden, and so -- or led us to Bin Laden, and so this was a great story of American perseverance over ten years said to foes in particular we don't give up until the job is done.

MORGAN: Who was the first person you told when you heard the news?

RICE: Well, I actually had a couple of people with me traveling with me. One of them that worked with me at the State Department. We immediately talked about it, and it was a really very -- very gratifying moment because even though I don't believe that al Qaeda is done as an organization, in many ways the organization that did 9/11 is a very different organization now. It's been cut down to size. Not just through the kill of bin Laden, but also the many fields and roles like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah who were taken off the battlefield. So this is a good story for American perseverance.

MORGAN: Did you miss high office, or are you just relieved to be out of it all, because the book details again and again the sacrifice that you have to make, like so many people at a high level of White House administration. You talk about envying your driver because every weekend he would be off doing stuff with his family or having fun, and you were off around the world on another trip. So I guess mixed feelings?

RICE: Well, of course, it was a wonderful experience, and it was a very high honor, as I said. But I was glad to be done. Eight years is plenty. Especially eight years under the circumstances under which we served, but I am so happy to be back at Stanford, and I'm a university professor again, which is really my vocation and my calling in life. And I don't -- I don't miss it. I like reading the newspaper and saying, oh, isn't that interesting and moving on to the next thing. So it's really quite nice.

MORGAN: And very quickly, if I was to pin you down and say your biggest triumph in the eight years and your biggest regret, what would you say?

RICE: Well, clearly, associating the United States of America firmly with the freedom agenda in the Middle East after 60 years of trying to trade democracy for stability and getting neither, I'm very proud of that speech in Cairo in June of 2005 that set a different tone based on President Bush's second inaugural.

In terms of regrets, of course, there will be many over the years, and we'll see how this all plays out. It may surprise you that in many ways the thing I most wish we had started earlier was the work on immigration reform. We were going to work with Mexico to really take that issue on.

I think 9/11 for very good reasons didn't allow us the time and energy and focus to do it. And when the comprehensive immigration bill finally came up in 2007, it failed even though John Kyle and John McCain and George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy all wanted it. And we're still fighting the immigration issue in ways that I think are getting increasingly more difficult and really threatening what is one of America's really great strengths, which is drawing people here from all over the world who just want a better chance in life.

MORGAN: Well, Dr. Rice, it's been a pleasure, as always, talking to you. It's a terrific book, fascinating read. It's called "A Memoir of my Years in Washington: No Higher Honor." And it's certainly that the aspect of honor comes through on every page. And I thank you for your service and for coming on the show again.

RICE: Thank you.

MORGAN: I really appreciate it.

RICE: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. 

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