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Condoleezza Rice: Bush's Policy Guru

Aired February 2, 2002 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: She graduated from high school at the age of 15.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's been a prodigy all her life.


ANNOUNCER: Music was her first calling, until she got pulled in another direction. From piano to politics, this tough college professor tutored a presidential pupil, and ended up in the White House as national security adviser.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She lives and breathes that job.


ANNOUNCER: Now she's gracing the pages of fashion magazines.


JULIA REED, VOGUE MAGAZINE: She's got all these superstar qualities, but she's not trying to be the Madonna of the administration.


COLLINS: In these times of terror, it's her job to keep American safe.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The best defense is going to be a good offense.


ANNOUNCER: The story of President Bush's security policy guru, Condoleezza Rice, now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SHARON COLLINS, HOST (voice-over): The name Condoleezza is derived from an Italian musical term that means "with sweetness." But when it comes to protecting the United States and its interests, there's nothing sugary about Condoleezza Rice.

RICE: I will say that anybody who hides in caves and runs this way, while he's still trying to send young fighters to their death, isn't a very brave person.

COLLINS: She is the first woman and second African-American to hold this critical job. The talk of her gender and race seems to be a distant memory.

IVO DAALDER, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: In the year that she has been in this position has shown that she can do the job as National Security Adviseor. She is the national security adviser first. She's a woman and an African-American second and third.

COLLINS: In the early days of the administration, pundits wondered if she would be able to hold her own.

RICE: Thank you very much and I'm happy to take questions.

REED: Well, she's going to be caught between Colin Powell and Rumsfeld and then you got Cheney, a pilot, sort of a superhero from the last administration. You got these kind of two tough White guy, you know.

COLLINS: But in just one year on the job, President Bush's 47- year-old foreign policy guru is proving she doesn't play second fiddle to anyone.

DAALDER: There will be issues discussed, from education to race policy and others that normally would not be discussed between national security adviser and the president.

COLLINS: She is also a close personal friend, sharing a love of sports and similar sense of humor.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Another member of my team who is here, who helps us have a strong and certain foreign policy is Senorita Condolleezza Rice. That means Rice.

REED: When she walks in a room, it's second only to when Laura walks in the room, because his body language is so relaxed with Condoleezza.

COLLINS: In 1954, when Condoleezza Rice was born in Birmingham, Alabama, it was difficult for anyone to imagine a young Black child growing up to be a confidant and adviser to the president of the United States of America, difficult for anyone except perhaps John and Angelina Rice.

CONNIE RICE, COUSIN: They wanted the world. They wanted Condoleezza to be free of any kind of shackles, mentally or physically and they wanted her to own the world. COLLINS: Both college educated, the Rice's did not want the mentality of the segregated south to seep into the psyche of their only child or any of the children in their neighborhood.

CONNIE RICE: John Rice was very involved with the children of Birmingham. He was like -- he created an entire village wherever he went. He was a wonderful man, just warm and caring and just determined that everybody around him would thrive.

COLLINS: Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, grew up in the Rice's neighborhood.

DR. FREEMAN HRABOWSKI: They were clearly working to protect us from all of the negative forces and perceptions from the outside world, from the world that was not Black.

CONNIE RICE: And they simply ignored, ignored the larger culture that said you're second class, you're Black, you don't count, you have no power.

COLLINS: But sometimes it was hard not to feel powerless, like in 1963 when four little girls from the neighborhood, including a Kindergarten classmate of Condoleezza's were killed in the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.

CONNIE RICE: And that day, they had to figure out how to mute, how to do an end run around, how to blunt a really vicious system, and they did it through education.

COLLINS: Thanks to her mother, a music teacher, Condoleezza began playing the piano at age 3. From her father, also an educator, Condoleezza developed a passion for sports, and a love of learning.

CONNIE RICE: And we had fun. It wasn't joyless, but there was just an unspoken edict, you succeeded and you did well in school, and once you start out that way, you don't know any different.

HRABOWSKI: People continued to say, you need to be twice as good as anybody else who doesn't look like you, because the world is not fair and you don't have time to be a victim, and you have to be the best.

BUSH: Ladies and gentleman, please welcome my dear friend, Dr. Condy Rice.

COLLINS: At the 2000 Republican National Convention, Condoleezza Rice talked about her family's long tradition of education and how it began with her grandfather.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: He was the son of a farmer in rural Alabama, but he recognized the importance of education. Around 1918, he decided he was going to get book learning, and so he asked in the language of the day, where a colored man could go to college. He was told about Little Stillman (ph) college, a school about 50 miles away. So granddaddy saved up his cotton for tuition and he went off to Tuscaloosa. COLLINS: Half a century later, granddaughter Condoleezza went off the college too. At just 15 years old, the child prodigy enrolled as a freshman at the University of Denver.

The frigid setting suited this girl from the deep south just fine, enabling her to indulge in another one of her passions, ice skating. But the move to Denver was not just an important recreational move for Condoleezza. This was the first time she had attended an integrated school.

CONNIE RICE: Once you got out into the larger world and you were hit with the first messages from the dominant culture, which believe that you could not fly, and that in fact you were stupid and you shouldn't be able to achieve. By that time it's too late, because you've got a 14-year-old who believes that she can anything she wants to be, and it's too late to destroy her self-esteem.

COLLINS: In 1969, the 15-year-old, self-esteem intact, decided to major in music with dreams of becoming a concert pianist. She followed that plan right up until her junior year, when she took a class that dramatically changed the direction of her life.

When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, Condoleezza Rice finds a new passion.



ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Sharon Collins.


COLLINS (voice-over): On the rare occasion that she has free time, Condoleezza Rice challenges herself with Brahms and Beethoven. But as a music major at the University of Denver, she thought performing would be her life's work, not just a hobby.

Speaking at the Kennedy Center Honors last December, Rice admitted how the change of plans came about.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I lacked virtuoso talent and I hated to practice, and I realized that if I continued with music, I was destined for a career not at Carnegie Hall, but in piano bars, or perhaps teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven. So instead of studying Russian composers, I decided to study Russian generals.

COLLINS: In her junior year of college, Rice took a class taught by the father of future Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and discovered a new passion.

DAALDER: He instilled in her a love for international relations and a particular interest in then Soviet affairs. COLLINS: Dr. Joseph Corbell was a Czechoslovakian immigrant who dedicated his life to studying Soviet and Eastern European politics. His enthusiasm for the subject rubbed off on Rice immediately. She changed her major to Political Science and immersed herself in the language, history, and culture of the Soviet Empire.

Upon graduating in 1973, Phi Beta Kappa, at the age of 19, Rice headed to Notre Dame to get her Master's. But she stayed in touch with her mentor, Dr. Corbell, who encouraged her to return to Denver to pursue a Ph.D.

In 1981, Dr. Condoleezza Rice was scooped up by Stanford University as an assistant professor, teaching the politics of eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

PROF. COLT BLACKER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Since Condy skipped a couple of grades and actually, I think the Ph.D. was conferred when she was either 25 or 26. She was two or three years ahead of the pack. So she was very close in age even to the undergraduates.

COLLINS: Professor Rice was a hit.

BLACKER: She did what young, talented assistant professors do. You create a certain amount of distance, so that they, the students, don't think of you as one of them. But at the same time, you try to indicate to them that you're close enough in age so that you have some empathy for what they're going through.

COLLINS: She even captured the Walter J. Gores Award, one of the highest teaching honors at Stanford. But it wasn't just the students and faculty who were impressed with Rice. One night, at a university dinner, she met Brent Scocroft, President Ford's national security adviser.

Rice made such an impression that years later, when he was again named national security adviser, this time for President George Bush, Scocroft appointed Rice as his Deputy Director of Soviet Affairs. She was 34 years old.

It was the beginning of Condoleezza Rice's Washington career, and the beginning of a lasting relationship with the Bush family. During her first stint at the White House, she grew close to the president and the first lady.

The elder George Bush once told reporters that Rice was responsible for teaching him everything he knew about the Soviet Union.

DAALDER: Russian has been her passion for a very long time and you see her fingerprints on U.S. policy towards Russia, more than I would say on almost everything else.

COLLINS: The two worked so well together that they maintained their friendship when Bush left office. After her first round in Washington, Rice went back to Stanford to resume teaching. Not long after her return, she received a phone call from the university president, one that would leave her speechless.

GERHARD CASPER, FORMER PRESIDENT, STANFORD UNIVERISTY: I did not beat around the bush. I said to her, "Condy, I would like you to be the next provost" and there was really silence.

BLACKER: So she was gone for about an hour and a half, and came back into my office, closed the door, stood there and said "he's asked me to be provost." And I said "what?" She said "he's asked if I would like to be provost." I said "what did you say?" She said "I don't know. I have to think about it."

COLLINS: In the end, the 38-year-old did take the job, becoming the youngest provost Stanford had ever seen in its 102-year history, the first woman, and the first African-American. Initially, the surprise appointment created an uproar on campus.

CASPER: I simply ignored it. I thought I was right. I knew what I was doing. I knew it would be somewhat controversial. She had been neither a dean nor a department chair, not even a department chair, but I was absolutely convinced that she was competent for the job.

COLLINS: Rice's actions as provost were not always popular. She fired a female minority professor and was fiscally frugal, but her supporters say she had a vision for the school and did her best to fulfill it.

BLACKER: Condy's first instinct is not to conciliate. Condy's first instinct is not to smooth over differences. Condy's first instinct is to figure out what needs to be done and the direction you want to go in, put together a strategy, and then implement.

COLLINS: Her style was sometimes considered brash and authoritarian, not in sync with the Stanford way.

CASPER: I think one more difficulty that was more on the kind of psychological side was not the fact that she was Black. Nobody ever made any reference to that. But Condy was a Republican and most American universities are primarily made up of Democrats.

COLLINS: In 1998, her loyalty to the Republican Party would once again provide a curve in the winding road of her career. Her old boss, President Bush, invited her to the family ranch to talk with his son, then Governor of Texas.

This would be the first of many meetings, as well as the foundation of a great working relationship and a friendship. The brilliant young professor, former National Security Council staff member and university provost left her post at Stanford to join the presidential campaign of George W. Bush.

Officially, she was the coordinator of his foreign policy team. Unofficially, she was the candidate's personal tutor. Rice stuck with Bush in his quest to reach the White House, even through missteps like when he failed the infamous current events pop quiz sprung on him by a local news reporter. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you name the president of Chechnya?

BUSH: No, can you?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The top man in Pakistan.

BUSH: The new Pakistani general has just been elected. He's not elected. This guy took over office. He appears he's going to bring stability to the country, and I think that's good news for the subcontinent.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And you can name him.

BUSH: General, I can name the general.


BUSH: General.


REED: It could have been kind of a tense situation. He could have been sort of embarrassed. It's a testament, I think, to the way she handled that and their resulting closeness after an experience like that, the sort of amazing capacity that she has to make everybody sort of feel at ease.

COLLINS: It was no surprise when the newly appointed president appointed 46-year-old Rice to a key position in his cabinet. But Washington insiders wondered if she was in over her head.

DAALDER: Early on, there was a sense that she was not necessarily the giant among giants. There were true foreign policy giants in the room, and she was not of the same caliber in the sense that she didn't share the kind of experiences that a Colin Powell, a Donald Rumsfeld, or a Dick Cheney had had.

COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, they young gun goes head-to-head with the big guns.



ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Sharon Collins.


COLLINS (voice-over): The interminable 2000 election was finally settled and George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the Unites States. The new president surrounded himself with familiar faces from his campaign, and veterans of past administrations, including his father's. Condoleezza Rice fell into both categories. DAALDER: The president trusted her. The president relied on her. The president knew that what he knew on foreign policy he had been taught by Condoleezza Rice.

COLLINS: Earning her the title of national security adviser.

BUSH: Dr. Rice is not only a brilliant person. She is an experienced person. She is a good manager. I trust her judgment. America will find that she is a wise person.

COLLINS: The first woman to hold this powerful position, and one of the youngest at age 47, there was a different kind of spotlight on Rice from the very beginning.

DAALDER: She is a novel commodity. Here is a highly- accomplished African-American woman being part of what is and has always been the Boy's Club.

COLLINS: She's been featured in a high fashion spread in Vogue. Glamour Magazine wanted to know five things about her, and Essence Magazine dubbed her the most powerful woman in the world.

REED: And it's refreshing to see a woman with that kind of power, also care about how she looks.

COLLINS: It's even said that a certain world leader couldn't concentrate during his first meeting with Rice, because of her shapely legs.

BLACKER: But I suspect she would say, you know, there's no good reason why you can't be smart and effective and intelligent and tough, and take care of yourself.

COLLINS: But Rice has made sure she's out front on issues as well as appearances.

DAALDER: She's been on the Sunday morning talk shows. She has given major speeches.

COLLINS: Rice's fingerprints are all over the president's policy moves. Early in her tenure when a U.S. intelligence gathering plane was being held hostage by the Chinese Government, she stepped in to help Bush devise a strategy for the sensitive negotiations.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We laid out sometime ago now for the Chinese Government, a kind of roadmap to try and resolve this crisis. The situation has gone on too long, and it is time now to resolve the problem.

COLLINS: After the September 11th terrorist attacks, she was the cabinet member seen at the president's side everyday during briefings, and she stepped forward to help reassure the wounded country.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: While there's no doubt that Americans need to be vigilant. They need to be patient about the security measures that are there at airports, at borders. We are in a very active campaign. The FBI has thousands of agents out hunting down the perpetrators of this crime.

COLLINS: The Soviet scholar's influence is also evident in the president's controversial decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Poland is in NATO. German is unified. Soviet forces have gone home. It can not possibly be the case that the same treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability for 2001.

COLLINS: Stationed just down the hall from the Oval Office, Rice's close proximity to the president, both literally and figuratively, has fueled speculation about infighting within the administration.

REED: She's got the president's ear. She's got the president's trust. I mean not to say that Rumsfeld and Powell don't. You just got this direct line. It's just between Bush and Rice that they're the same generation, you know, and I think it really makes a difference. Of course, everybody at one point or another is going to sort of be jealous of her, I would think.

COLLINS: But Rice took it upon herself to dispel any notion that she was edging out Colin Powell.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Nobody should, by any means, be confused here. I'm not the Secretary of State. The president doesn't need two Secretaries of State. He's got a very fine one.

COLLINS: People close to Rice say her colleagues have nothing to worry about.

CASPER: Those who work with her can trust her completely. Condy will never stab anybody in the back.

CONNIE RICE: There's not a lot of self-aggrandizement, although there's a lot of a very strong sense of individuality, and there's a very strong will. She's a team player, and that's probably why President Bush has her on his team.

COLLINS: One thing that is not questioned is Rice's dedication to her job, and that's led some outsiders to wonder if the unmarried 47-year-old is all work and no play.

BLACKER: If Condy were a man, these questions would not be posed over and over and over again.

REED: I think people should be careful about giving the impression that she has just put everything on hold in her life to get where she is, because she has a rich, full life, full of very close friends and family.

BLACKER: I don't know too many people of Condy's stature politically in the policy world who find time to practice Chopin on Sunday afternoon, who find time to work out, who find time to call their friends and their family, go to sporting events, shop for shoes. I don't know anyone any better rounded than Condy Rice.

COLLINS: Her dream, when she leaves the service of her country, to become Commissioner of the National Football League. And if her track record is any indication, this child prodigy turned concert pianist and figure skater, turned university provost, turned national security adviser, will probably do it.





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