Facebook pixel Pepperdine Welcomes Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State | Pepperdine Magazine | Spring 2011 Skip to main content
Pepperdine University
Pepperdine University

Pepperdine Welcomes Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State

Pepperdine Magazine is the feature magazine for Pepperdine University and its growing community of alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends.

Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State (2005-2009), visited Pepperdine on February 9 as a special guest at the School of Law and as part of the W. David Baird Distinguished Lecture Series at Seaver College. Rice participated in a lively conversation exploring “National Security in a Post-9/11 World” at the law school, before presenting “Remarks by Condoleezza Rice” as the penultimate lecture in the 2010-11 series. Both events covered a wide range of topics—from 9/11 and terrorism to the Middle East, the economy, and immigration—and included a Q&A and book signing of her recently published memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (2010).

At the law school, Rice sat down for a conversation about foreign policy with three fellow experts in the matter: Colleen Graffy is the director of global programs at the law school and served with Rice as deputy assistant Secretary of State for public diplomacy for Europe and Eurasia in the U.S. State Department during the Bush administration; Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper served as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large in charge of the Secretary of State’s Office of War Crimes Issues under Rice and her predecessor Colin Powell; and associate professor of law Gregory McNeal is a national security specialist who has codirected a transnational counterterrorism program for the U.S. Department of Justice and served as an advisor to the Department of Defense. Graffy opened the floor to ask Rice about America’s response to the revolution in Egypt, which erupted two weeks before Rice’s visit.

“The right to live in freedom is something that is found in each heart, it is not something that is bound by culture, or religion, or place,” Rice commented, before pointing out that nations that have lived with stability instead of democracy for the past few decades are the very nations that are undergoing, or in danger of undergoing, major civil uprisings. “We’ve always been served best when we recognize that in the long term, we are always better off when our governments are elected.”

A number of the countries comprising the continent of Africa currently face war, turmoil, and tyranny while for the most part escaping the watchful eye of the Western media. Prosper raised the issue with Rice, asking, “Why should the United States care about Africa?”

Citing the continent as having “tremendous potential,” Rice iterated that governmental corruption is the number one problem in Africa. Commenting that simply throwing money at its countries is a proven failure, she said that the priority must be to support the governments that stand for the good of their people, fairness, justice, and openness. As an example, she recalled the 2006 inauguration ceremony of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, which Rice attended with then First Lady Laura Bush and which marked the first time a woman has been elected and sworn in as president on the African continent.

“Of course, every African leader was there; as she gave her speech they were all applauding. It was a very joyous day. And then she said, ‘And tomorrow, I and every member of my cabinet will make public our personal finances,’… and there was silence.”

When McNeal moved the conversation along to her work in the Bush administration, Rice specified that intelligence “is an art, not a science,” and outlined three key questions the government asked before invading Iraq when Saddam Hussein was suspected of harboring WMDs. “Are we seeing behavior that would suggest he is reconstituting his weapons programs? Is there the capability to build them? Is this someone with the intent? If you find this in a country that would use weapons of mass destruction, then you are worried.”

Answering questions from the audience, Rice talked about China, what it takes to have a career in foreign policy, and the role faith has played in her life and career. Additionally, when asked her thoughts on women’s issues in foreign policy, Rice stressed that so many of the world’s ills—including poverty, overpopulation, and domestic violence—could be medicated by giving women access to education and opportunities that they are still denied in many parts of the world.

“If you see a country where women are treated badly, watch out,” she asserted, before reflecting on a time she met with a very conservative Shiite Muslim in Iraq who could not even shake her hand because of her gender. At the end of their conversation, he brought out his 13-year-old granddaughter for the Secretary to meet. “She looked at me and said in English, ‘I want to be foreign minister too.’ And her grandfather just beamed. I thought, if he sees something different for his granddaughter, that’s a good thing.”

Later that evening as the W. David Baird Distinguished Lecturer, Rice opened the hour-long discussion with a mantra she said she repeated throughout her political career. “Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same,” she announced, before launching a candid retrospective of the various crises she encountered as Secretary of State and posed suggestions for ensuring proper judgment of history through turbulent times.

Most notably, Rice reflected on the policies put forth by the Bush administration and referred to their outcomes in relation to the current sociopolitical crisis in Egypt. “When men and women do not have democratic institutions, they have no peaceful way to change their leadership,” she noted, suggesting that free countries such as the United States must advocate for those living in tyranny. However, speaking against popular claims that the United States imposes democracy on foreign countries, Rice declared, "You don't have to impose democracy; it just happens. You do, however, have to impose tyranny."

While on the topic of the Middle East, Rice opened up about Afghanistan and of its past and current threat to global security. “The most dangerous states are not actually powerful states, but powerless, failed, and failing states,” she explained, referring to the country’s struggle to thrive in an ungoverned territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Despite America’s grand efforts to quell the threat of terrorism in foreign countries, Rice insisted, “We are safer but not yet safe, because we have to be right 100% of the time and they have to be right once. That’s not a fair fight.”

Rice also spoke on recovering the over-stressed global economy and endorsed the leadership of the “creative, innovative, and risk-taking” private sector in that endeavor. Though suggesting that China poses the greatest threat in supplanting the United States for global, economic, and political leadership, Rice proposed that the greatest overall competitor to the United States is “the United States gone bad,” wherein the country falls into uncontrollable spending and fails to reaffirm private enterprise. “Regulating the deficit so that the private sector can do what it does—create—is an important part of the task-force,” she said, arguing that failing to do so neglects the core values of the United States.

She stressed the American national myth of the log cabin—that an individual can come from humble circumstances and thrive—as an analogy for immigration. “Policies towards immigrants that affirm how important they have been to our past and how important they are to our future will help us to remain a place around the world where people come because it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going.”

In her final remarks, Rice urged the student-filled auditorium to look forward, stressing the transformative nature of education and unique privilege of studying in an institution that allows for the marriage of faith and reason. She also urged the audience to be fearless in following challenging academic pursuits and finding their passion. “What one day seems impossible in retrospect seems inevitable,” she concluded, imparting the optimism that she carried throughout her time in office. She continued, “If we do the right things for history’s judgment, not today’s headlines, then we will come through all crises in good shape.”


Rice is a professor of political economy in the Graduate School of Business, the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, and professor of political science, at Stanford University. From January 2005 to 2009, she served as the 66th Secretary of State of the United States. Before serving as America’s chief diplomat, she served as assistant to the president for national security affairs (National Security Advisor) from January 2001 to 2005.

Rice joined the Stanford University faculty as a professor of political science in 1981 and served as Stanford University’s provost from 1993 to 1999. She was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution from 1991 to 1993 and returned to the Hoover Institution after serving as provost until 2001. As a professor, Rice won two of the highest teaching honors: the 1984 Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 1993 School of Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.

She is the author of Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family (October 2010), which shares how her upbringing in segregated Birmingham, Alabama—along with her strong, caring family and parents—helped to shape the course of her life. She has also authored and co-authored several other books, includingGermany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (1995), with Philip Zelikow;The Gorbachev Era (1986), with Alexander Dallin; andUncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army (1984).

Rice served as a member of the boards of directors for the Chevron, Charles Schwab, and Transamerica corporations. She was a founding board member of the Center for a New Generation, an educational support fund for schools in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, Calif., and was vice president of the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula. She currently serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Rice has been involved in a number of humanitarian pursuits, most notably with PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) and in creating and serving on the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Both endeavors increased aid to developing countries and the world's poorest, most disadvantaged populations. PEPFAR was the largest commitment of funds from any single nation to combat a single disease at any time in history and the Millennium Challenge Corporation promotes sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.

She currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Rice earned her bachelor’s degree in political science, cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Denver in 1974; her master’s from the University of Notre Dame in 1975; and her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver in 1981.