Foreign dignitaries cannot help but be impressed by the perfectly subdued lighting, antique furniture, and official painted portraits of America's Secretaries of State on the walk toward the current secretary's office or, in our case, to a settee and chairs in the George Marshall Room.
Graciously giving half an hour to me and my CBS News colleague Charles Wolfson on Tuesday, Rice went well beyond her own legacy – and even voiced high hopes for Barack Obama, while heaping praise on her successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who she privately dined with earlier this week.
To hear Rice talk about the Rice-Clinton dinner click here.
To listen to the entire interview click here: audio.
Some excerpts from our radio interview for CBS News, beginning with that dinner:
Rice: We've long had a friendly relationship, and we had a really nice talk.
Raviv: How's she going to do as Secretary?
Rice: She'll be great. She is somebody of great intelligence. She is somebody who really loves this country, who speaks forcefully and well for American interests and values. She'll be great.
Raviv: Are you personally excited about Barack Obama becoming our next President and our first African-American President?
Rice: Sure, it's meaningful. It's meaningful to me personally. It's meaningful to the country. I'm a kid from Birmingham, Alabama, and until we moved to Denver, Colorado, when I was 12 I didn't have a white classmate – the whole time when I went to school in Alabama. So sure! This is a huge move forward for our country. Our country has been getting there. You know, we've had back-to-back African-American secretaries of state! We have heads of Fortune 500 companies who are black. The world's greatest golfer – not exactly a sport known for African-American dominance – is an African-American. And so, slowly but surely this country has been overcoming race.
I want to make a point, though. We're still not race-blind. We shouldn't deceive ourselves that we've overcome everything about race. And the particular witch's brew that is race and poverty is still very, very hard. And unless we improve our ability to provide a quality education for underprivileged kids, we're not going to really overcome in a massive way our past.
Raviv: May I take it that you actually preferred a victory for Senator Obama, and not John McCain?
Rice: I have constantly told people that I was Secretary of State and I was not going to get into a partisan debate. And I would vote my ballot in a secret way, as all Americans do. But I just want to acknowledge that after the election took place, it was a special time for Americans.
Raviv: Promoting America's image – How's that gone? Because there's a general perception that what Karen Hughes – an old friend of the President – tried to do, didn't work.
Rice: It's short-sighted to worry about changing some negative perceptions of the United States in a matter of a couple of years. It's just short-sighted. Sometimes people just don't like our policies. In some places in the Middle East, our steadfast support for Israel just not popular. But if you marry that with the President's advocacy for a Palestinian state, people understand that the United States is really trying to bring peace.
Sometimes it's not popular to tell the truth about the roots of terrorism, and what needs to be done to make certain that terrorists can't attack again.
But I'm always a little bit puzzled. In the two most populous countries – China and India – even if you want to take a popularity test – which I don't think is the issue – the United States is very well regarded.
So yes, there are some places where our policies are not popular; where the fact we've had to tell people hard things – and tell people we'll have to do hard things – is not popular. But the United States should never seek popularity. IT should seek respect. It should seek a reputation for standing for the right values. And sometimes – and it's often been the case, not only in the Bush Administration – that will lead people to criticize us.
Raviv: When you leave this job, Madame Secretary, what's your plan? Where are you going?
Rice: I'm going West of the Mississippi, where I belong. I'll go back to Stanford. I'm on leave from Stanford.
Raviv: Did they hold your job?
Rice: Well, George Schultz was on leave for 12 years. I've been on leave for only eight. I'll go back. I plan to do some writing. I want to write, obviously, about foreign policy. I want to write a book about my parents, who were educational evangelists. I want to do work on something I worked on a lot before I came here – which is excellence in K-12 education.
You know, as Secretary of State, I've been privileged to represent this great country; and I know its strengths, and I know its challenges. One of its strengths is the belief – here and abroad – that this is a place where you get ahead on merit. It doesn't matter where you came from; it matters where you're going. It's the Log Cabin myth: modest circumstances, great achievements.
But I worry that the weakness – particularly of our public schools – is going to make that less and less true for everybody. And if we ever lose that as our core, then we're going to lose our confidence. We're not going to lead. We're going to protect. We're going to turn inward. That would be very bad for the world. So as a former Secretary of State, I think I can advocate for education as a national security priority.
Wolfson: Do you want to give us a peek into your memoirs and tell us which leaders you've enjoyed dealing with, and which you really didn't look forward to?
Rice: Oh, I think I'd better wait until after I'm Secretary of State (laughs). I really don't know who I may need to call. No, it's been a great experience. It's been hard at times. For those of us who were positions of authority on September 11th, every day since has been September 12th. I would like to be able – if nothing else – to vivify for the American people the dramatic change that that event made.
It would be wrong to say that America had a kind of innocence before September 11th. But it wouldn't be wrong to say that we had a kind of complacency about what the great oceans protected us from – having not had an attack on our soil really since the 19th Century. That changed a lot – changed the way we viewed foreign policy; the way we viewed failing states; that the greatest threats came from failed states, not from powerful nations. I'll hope to have a chance to vivify that and try to talk about how we tried to deal with the threats and also try to capitalize on the opportunities.
(Dan Raviv is the host of our radio magazine broadcast, the CBS News Weekend Roundup, which can be listened to and downloaded at https://feeds.cbsnews.com/podcast_weekend_1.)