Rice Talks of World Shocks in Sacto

Valerie Starr:

Condoleeza Rice spoke to a packed house last night at the Sacramento Speaker Series at the Community Center.

Knowing that Rice played such a large role in history, her biography lasted more than five minutes.  She is best known as the secretary of state under George W. Bush during his first term, and the National Security adviser during his second term.

Rice is currently a professor of political economy in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and serves on multiple boards and is involved in many activities.

When asked by the moderator, “How shall I address you? Secretary? Professor?”  Rice answered, “Condi.”

Even those who may or may not be a fan of George W. Bush would have come away from the speech impressed.

Rice launched into discussing the challenges we are facing and how different it is to be out of government.  “When I read the paper and see the headlines, it is interesting and I no longer feel responsible for what’s in the news,” she said.

Three Great Shocks

Rice said that the international system experienced three great shocks, forever changing the way we think about the world.

According to Rice, the first great shock, 9/11, forever changed our idea of physical security.  Especially when it only cost the attackers about $300,000 dollars.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the president was on a four-hour trip to Florida. Normally, the national security adviser would be with him.  But that day, since he would be gone for only a short time, it was decided that Rice would not go.  She said she yelled at the president on the phone when he insisted on returning.  She yelled, “Stay where you are, we are under attack.”

She said the second great shock was the financial crisis. Rice said that, when you have an economic crisis, it rearranges the pieces on the chessboard.  Rice explained that the Europeans have not come through well.  Europeans are on a single currency but do not have a single policy.  And frankly, “The Greeks have cooked the books and unity has suffered.” She was speaking about the unity of the European Union.

The third shock was the Arab Spring of 2011 and how reform did not come early enough in the Middle East. Rice said that many of those countries have to choose to govern, or be ideologically pure.

Mentioning the “basket cases” of this region — Libya, Syria and Yemen, with Iran whose desire for nuclear weapons is a great threat — Rice said that we are about to see some real confrontation.

She told interesting and witty stories about meeting with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Gaddafi, the late Lybian leader, who apparently had a crush on her, as well as some dignitaries from Russia.

The other country she discussed extensively was China, and how they are an economical miracle.  She said that hundreds of millions of people are now out of poverty. But there are millions to go, with increasing labor unrest due to low wages.  And they have a serious demographic problem. China’s one child policy has lead to missing baby girls, and 30 million Chinese men can’t find dates.

Rice added that we are yet to see if China will lead a knowledge-based revolution.

She talked about her concern for Mexico and the violence leading to thousands of murders and killings.

Rice’s Background

After the discussion of world affairs, Rice gave the audience a look at her background.

Since I hadn’t read any of her books, it was interesting to learn she grew up in a segregated Alabama.  Even though her parents tried to shield her from it, she lost a childhood friend in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.  Even with this, Rice was not allowed to see herself as a victim.

Her family taught her that racism was the racist’s problem — not her problem. She never felt others controlled her fate.  Rice said that we live in a country where we can right our wrongs.  “It didn’t matter where you came from; it matters where you are going,” said Rice. “More than any other country, you can come from lower means and achieve great things.”

During the Q & A, there were several questions asking if Rice would consider a vice president slot on the Republican presidential ticket. She stated clearly that she is not a politician but a policy person.

She was also asked what advice she would give to Gov. Jerry Brown.  Rice said she would tell the governor, or anyone who asked, that the foremost solution to helping this state is to find a way to keep industry in California and bring it back. “You can’t keep jobs if you don’t have manufacturing,” Rice said.

She addressed California’s tax structure and, lastly, education. She said we should pay good teacherswhatever we can and applauded the state University system.

The event was the first time I attended the speaker series at the Sacramento Community Center. I was not disappointed. Rice is a living testimony to having faced great challenges and having achieved great things. Coming from segregated Alabama, to becoming a Soviet specialist, to secretary of State was an amazing path.

Jan. 12, 2012

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