Transcript: Condoleezza Rice on "Face the Nation," September 15, 2019

Condoleezza Rice on "Face the Nation"

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined Margaret Brennan for a wide-ranging interview that aired on the September 15, 2019 broadcast of "Face the Nation"


MARGARET BRENNAN: John Bolton, someone you worked with during the Bush administration, left the White House this week. How would you assess his work as national security adviser?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: First of all, I think John is a great intellect. I think he cares deeply about the country, he has strong views. But John, I think, did a good job in trying to bring different perspectives to the president. I know that there were sometimes disagreements apparently everyone has said that. But the national security adviser has to be the kind of air traffic controller for the president and help to bring together the secretary of state, secretary of defense and others to- to get the president's agenda done. And I think John put together a good staff. And so I think he'll be missed because I know he was skeptical of some of the diplomacy. John was skeptical of some of our diplomacy so I understand that but he did a very good job, but the fact of the matter is, and I know he understands this, when the president and the national security adviser are not on the same page it's not the president who is going to go. And so he served well and I wish him well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think of the Kissinger model of the secretary of state and the national security adviser being just one person?

RICE: I- I think maybe even Henry Kissinger would say that that might not be the best idea because the president needs a secretary of state who is the chief diplomat who is out executing on behalf of the country who is confirmed by and accountable to the Congress. And the national security adviser has to be the president's alter ego, behind the scenes more. Working to bring all of the Cabinet secretaries together, making sure the defense is heard, the treasury is heard. And so if that person is also the secretary of state you- you're not going to have that kind of separation that you need to make sure that everybody is- is heard. But- but Henry Kissinger was singular. There has never been anybody like him in history probably never will be again. But I think the model works much better when the national security adviser tries to be an honest broker.

MARGARET BRENNAN: President Trump represents- and Trump it's a very different kind of foreign policy for the Republican Party. It's more isolationist than Republicans like yourself have been in the past. Do you think that's more reflective of where the party is now?

RICE: I don't know where the party is, but I certainly believe that President Trump is speaking to something that's in the country. If you think back to the interview that President Barack Obama did with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic just before he left office there are really a lot of echoes of what you hear with President Trump. He talked about allies being kind of free riders. He talked about having been dragged into the Libya conflict and then they couldn't even find enough ammunition. There was this sort of anger and frustration sounding through about allies and what they do. And so this has been coming for some time. Probably a little bit of exhaustion with the wars and terrorism and vigilance- I once said that to President Bush I said "I think people are tired." But the fact is the American people have kind of two impulses simultaneously. One is we're tired of those burdens of leadership can't somebody else do it. You hear that in echoed by President Trump and earlier by President Obama. But they also don't want to see Syrian babies choking on nerve gas. They don't want to see people beheaded on TV as ISIS was doing. They don't want to see Vladimir Putin laying waste to his neighbors or Venezuelans starving because they have a bad government. And so what the president has to do is to activate the part of America that wants to continue to lead. And sometimes I think you get that from this administration. You certainly got it on Venezuela, but it is different language than we've heard from the more internationalist wing of the Republican Party. But remember this has roots that go back to Pat Buchanan and others so that strain has always been there in the Republican Party to have a little bit more isolationism.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there an identity that defines Republican foreign policy now? 

RICE: I don't know if there's an identity that defines republic- defines foreign policy in either party. The United States is going through a transformative period in which we are leaving one era, the era in which the United States emerged really the sole superpower after the end of the Cold War. We're now facing new challenges to the system that produced that outcome. The system that was set up in 1945 with institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and NATO these were all institutions that got us to the end of the Cold War. Then there was a period of having to deal with terrorism and the attacks that we had the anniversary of- on September 11th. Now we're facing all of these new challenges. What do you do about cybersecurity? What do you do about ungoverned spaces where terrorists train, but where you can't go in directly? What do you do about the rise of great powers like China? What do you do about the- the efforts of a declining power like Russia to disrupt the international system? The problems are different and I think we're going to have to come to a new consensus about what really principles are going to guide American foreign policy. I hope that there will be some echoes of the old principles that America is going to be involved, that without the United States the world is a more chaotic place. I hope that those principles will involve patience. One of the things that we talk about in a book that I've just done on To Build a Better World with my co-author Phil Zelikow is that we were patient for 45 years. We stayed in Europe until Germany unified in 1990. We've been patient on the Korean Peninsula keeping the peace there so that the South wouldn't be overrun. Patience has served us well, but we're feeling now impatient. So I hope that that will be a part of the new consensus and I hope we will continue to believe in free markets and free peoples it's- it's served us well to do so in the past.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the book To Build a Better World you say you wrote it because you think the world is drifting towards another systemic crisis. Is this a warning?

RICE: I hope it's a bit of a wakeup call. When we see the rise of what we've called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, populism that says don't believe in those institutions. Those institutions- you go around them directly to the people. Well there are some dangers in that. When you see the rise of what I'll call nativism. I-I think saying it's nationalism for Americans- nationalism is not a bad thing. It's not bad to be proud of- patriotic toward your country. Nativism though pits you against them. When you see isolationism, when you see protectionism growing, the whole idea that the international economy is better if people trade- countries trade freely, when you see that under attack, I do think we're drifting toward a systemic crisis. And so what we wanted to say is let's remember the diplomacy that was so successful to get us to what might have been even unthinkable, the peaceful decline and death really of the Soviet Union, the unification of Germany completely and totally on Western terms, the liberation of Eastern Europe. Those are events of- of a lifetime and apocable events. And so to- to go back and look at that is to say let's remember the principles that got us there as we're about to go through another period of upheaval. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But those four things you just outlined sound a lot like what defines Trumpism?

RICE: But it's not just what defines some of the president's policies. America first, for instance. It defines a lot of what you're hearing across the world. It defines what you're hearing in Great Britain with Brexit. It defines what you hear from the Five Star Movement in Italy. It defines what you hear in Brazil with- with Bolsonaro. So the question is why are we getting this response? And elites can't sit back and say oh you're just wrong. There has to be some self-evaluation of how late-stage capitalism is dealing with some of the new challenges. When you tell the unemployed steelworker in Pennsylvania or the unemployed coal miner in West Virginia, oh I'm sorry globalization really was good for you because you can buy those cheap goods now at Wal-Mart. That message isn't getting through. Perhaps instead you have to think how are we going to actually match the job skills to the jobs that are available in the new economy? What are we going to do about the pressures of automation on low skilled workers? The European Union has a quite different problem. How are they going to determine what the proper balance is between what Brussels does, the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels of the European Commission as people sometimes derisively say, and what nations are supposed to do? Because it turns out that people want to be European but they also want to be Polish and British and German. And so the system has produced a lot of gains but those of us who believe in it can't just bury our heads in the sand and say oh it all worked perfectly. It didn't.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think Republicans are doing enough to push back against those four horsemen?

RICE: Well I do think that you see people pushing back on very specific circumstances. Now let's be fair. When it comes to some foreign policy issues that I was dealing with a decade ago,  you have to give the administration credit for having taken them on. North Korea. Nobody's been able to solve the North Korean problem. I don't have a problem with how they're going about that. I would say that on Iran, they're pushing back correctly on an Iranian regime that is the most dangerous and disruptive regime in the Middle East. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should President Trump meet with President Rouhani?

RICE:  I have no problem negotiating with the Iranians. I was the one who set up negotiation tracks with the Iranians back in 2006. But you have to do it when the conditions are right. One of the problems I think with the Afghan negotiations with- potentially with the Taliban, is not a question of do you ultimately have to sit down with all parties. But when you have a negotiation that looks like the Taliban is not going to even recognize the legitimate democratically-elected government of Afghanistan, not going to recognize the Constitution, now you have to step back and say is this time really to negotiate? When you're negotiating from a position of strength, as I think we would be with the Iranians or with the North Koreans because the sanctions have weakened those economies, that's- that's fine. When your partner or your adversary thinks that they have the upper hand, which I think the Taliban thinks because they think we want to get out so badly we'll- we'll take anything, then I think you have to stop and say this may not be the time to negotiate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned being out of touch- the elites being out of touch. In the book, you write 2016 should have been a wake-up call. You fault many people including journalists for being out of touch. Has that message been received? Do you think that the lessons have been learned?

RICE: I was struck after 2016 with what I'll call the anthropological approach to common people, quote unquote, both by academics and journalists who suddenly wanted to go and find out what do those people think who might have taken a chance on a more populist president who had never actually even maybe- his first job in government was president the United States. And it was a sense that there was something different about them than the rest of us. I- I have a sense that we're still not quite capturing what it is that is the problem. And I think there are two problems. One is economic opportunity and that goes to job skills we can't- and by the way, we can't have anymore eighth- anymore third graders who can't read. Eight year olds can't read. So it goes to the education system. But there are also some cultural divides. When I hear people put down people because of their religious values or put them down because they are not a part of the kind of global elite that looks at the world as one big world. I think we've got some work to do to bridge those differences, to get back to a kind of common American narrative that really believes that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going. And I don't think that work has really even begun yet. I think there people who were beginning to think about how that might- how that might work. But there probably is going to have to be some soul searching first about what is produced this division between the elites and- and the people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you concerned at all that the Republican Party might be moving away from that big tent identity and y-you worked in the Bush administration, tried to bring Hispanics into the party. 

RICE: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it seems when you're describing things like nativism, et cetera, that- that's the opposite?

RICE: We have a problem in both of our major parties. Now I'm a Republican and I'm going to work to make sure that I do everything I can to make the Republican Party have what you've called a big tent, which means that you unite anyone who has what I think are core values of the Republican Party when it's been its most successful. A belief in the American role in the world is one that is stabilizing. Even if one does not want to believe that the United States ought to be on the frontlines every time, you can believe in alliances and the ability to work with allies. I want to have an America that stands for people who are voiceless. When you see people in the streets of Hong Kong or when you see Iranian dissidents, you-you want them to know that America stands for the view that no man, woman, or child should live in tyranny. I want a Republican Party that does believe that an international economy doesn't have to be zero-sum game. If you grow, it doesn't mean that I can't grow. So there are some basic principles and I'll- I'll continue to work to see that we- that those views are voiced. But this is not a Republican or Democrat pr-problem. This is how are our longstanding political institutions, including our parties, going to respond to some very different challenges. I would say, for instance, on education, I like where Republicans are. I like the fact that we stand for school choice. I like the fact that a lot of Republicans believe in vouchers for poor parents and poor kids and for charter schools so that kids can get a failing neighborhood schools. I don't understand the argument that I can send my kids to good public schools because I live in a really expensive neighborhood or I can send my kids to private schools because I can afford to do it. But oh, if you're a poor parent, I'm going to trap your kid in a failing neighborhood school. So on education, I actually think the Republicans in a better position than the Democrats. So this isn't a Democrat Republican issue. This is a question of how are all of our political institutions going to deal with these very big problems.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But given that you're writing this book as a warning in some ways, do you think that the president needs to be taking more care on those issues when he discusses race and when he discusses immigrants?

RICE: I do and I've said I think that particularly from the White House, you need language that recognizes how raw race is as a factor in America. I grew up in segregated Birmingham Alabama alright. I understand race and racism and the like. But I'm- I'm going to tell you, Margaret, that I think that we can all be better and the way that we deal with this very raw nerve which is race. I think it's time to stop labeling each others and using explosive terms like she's a racist, he's a racist. That- that stops the conversation right. When you say that, that's meant to stop the conversation and we need to have a conversation. We also need to, and I say this very often to my students- you know, identity is a wonderful and marvelous thing. I am tremendously proud of my ancestors who survived the horrors of slavery, came out of it and by the time of my grandfather, were being college educated. I'm tremendously proud of that legacy but I also know that identity has to be something that you don't use against others. And so to the degree that we are breaking ourselves into ever smaller groups with ever larger senses of grievance and ever different narratives, I don't think anybody is doing very well at helping us to navigate this extraordinarily difficult minefield of race.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about Russia since you are an expert. The US reportedly had to extract an asset from Russia who had informed on the Kremlin interference in 2016. Do you think that President Trump is taking this threat seriously enough?

RICE: Well I'm not going to speak to the extraction issue and nobody should've. Let me be very clear it was irresponsible to talk about the extraction of an asset. I don't know the story. The CIA has pushed back on that story but when one starts talking about assets, you're putting people's lives in danger. And so I think was irresponsible to talk about that. When it comes to Russia and the threat itself, Vladimir Putin has clearly decided that he needs an enemy and it's us. And I actually think when you look at the policies and yes, some of them have originated in Congress, not in the White House, the sanctions regimes that are in place are actually having an effect on the Russian economy. So I don't think- and by the way, the Trump administration is the one that armed the Ukrainians. The Trump administration is also the one that put heavy brigades, following on Obama administration work, heavy brigades with Americans in-in them in Poland and Baltic states to say to Vladimir Putin no further. So the policies are very, very good. We need to continue to speak to the Russians who- we have work we have to do with the regime but we also need to speak to the different Russia that's been emerging since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Younger people who travel, who went to school in the United States- I've taught them in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford and people have taught them in law schools. They've worked in- in companies that are of our foreign companies. This is a different population. Middle class Russians who have their 30 year mortgage and spoil their kids at McDonald's. If people look at what happened to Vladimir Putin's party in Moscow, where his candidates were afraid to run under the banner United Russia, it says something about the unpopularity of the autocracy that he is building there. And-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should sanctions be pulled back? 

RICE: I don't think sanctions should be pulled back but I think we have to be careful how we use them because we want to be certain that we're not cutting off access for Russian business people who might look to a different kind of Russian economy rather than the oil and gas oligarchy that currently governs Russia.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm being told that we are out of time but as we leave it there, will you ever run for office? 

RICE: No. Thank you very much. I know my DNA. I'm happy as a professor. Thank you very much. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Madam Secretary, thank you for the time. 

RICE: Thank you. Great to be with you.