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Rice, Albright Share Concerns on Drones, China

Rice, Albright Share Concerns on Drones, China

By Alexis Simendinger - November 13, 2012

NAPLES, Fla. -- On the paid-to-opine circuit, former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright circled the world, and each other, with raw disagreements over Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction Monday, but settled into polite accord over their worries about the future of drone warfare and the importance of China.

For an audience of invited attendees at the Global Financial Leadership Conference, presented by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, it was an entertaining after-dinner sparring match moderated by former ABC News veteran Ted Koppel.

Just a week after a suspenseful election, it was also a way to gauge the global challenges facing the Obama administration through the eyes of a Democrat who backed the president and a Republican who said she favored Mitt Romney’s policies.

“I will be praying for Barack Obama,” keynote speaker Rice said as she kicked off the two-day conference about global markets. America’s leadership depends on the country’s economic and fiscal destiny, she argued, and the president’s first project is to reckon with a collection of tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in January. As a conservative, she continued, she favors entitlement cuts and tax reforms, including the possible elimination of some deductions (but not higher marginal rates that might impact small businesses), and she said she would support putting Pentagon spending on the chopping block.

When asked, Rice said she would not consider a run for president or public office in 2016. “I don’t really love politics,” she explained. “I love policy. . . . I’ve done it.”

Hours later, dressed in a black cocktail suit and pearls, the Stanford University professor joined Albright, a global consultant who sported one of her jumbo pins shaped like a dolphin, for a dinner conversation that came off as a mash-up of “Nightline” and the “Charlie Rose” show.

Between these two former secretaries of state who served presidents of divergent ideologies and during unique world crises, there were rear-view-mirror jabs. When Albright, whom President Clinton named as the nation’s first female secretary of state, observed that Obama looked for “partners” more than adversaries, Rice shot back: “It’s true -- he didn’t look for adversaries, but they found him.”

As President George W. Bush’s national security adviser and then his secretary of state, Rice was an uncommonly close presidential partner through 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the Bush administration’s subsequent admissions that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction, as had been asserted during the U.S. assault on al-Qaeda.

“I didn’t know he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East,” Rice said defensively Monday night.

When Rice criticized Obama’s announced timetable to extricate U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Albright protested that the Bush White House missed the importance of Afghanistan from the outset. “You all took your eye off the ball,” she complained.

“Oh, Madeleine, come on!” Rice shot back as Koppel pretended to rise and tiptoe off the stage.

When Rice asserted that the 2011 capture and killing of Osama bin Laden had its intelligence roots in the enhanced interrogation of Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2007 under the Bush administration, Albright said dryly, “I’m really glad you take credit for that.” Rice replied that she was merely “making an argument for continuity,” observing that “it takes a few administrations” to accomplish achievements in many arenas of foreign policy.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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