Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks with Christiane Amanpour about her new book, “No Higher Honor.”
AMANPOUR: A deadly morning in Baghdad today, as three bombs exploded in a sprawling market. The attack came as shoppers were preparing for the Muslim festival of Eid. And it comes just hours after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told his security forces to prepare for stepped-up violence. The backdrop, of course, is the U.S. decision to pull out of Iraq by the end of the year. It’s a decision that now has some concerned that Al Qaida will re-establish a foothold in the country, all questions for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She has a new memoir, “No Higher Honor.” And I spoke with her earlier.
AMANPOUR: Madam Secretary, thank you for joining us.
RICE: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So you write in your book, obviously, a lot about the Bush administration, the Bush years. You also talk about when you first met the current president, Barack Obama, during a hearing, and you say his questions were sharp, not rude, he actually seemed interested in my answers. And you say you were really impressed. And lot of people questioned whether he had what it took to be commander-in-chief of the lone superpower. Did he prove them wrong?
RICE: Obviously, I think Barack Obama has done a number of things right, particularly in the war on terror. And I think that President Obama has, indeed, carried the war on terror forward in a very effective way.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, then, about the most controversial of events of your tenure, and that was the Iraq war. For better or for worse, the United States is in it. President Obama has now decided to call an end and to bring all the troops out, portraying it actually as a triumph. Others are saying it was a defeat. Do you think it was right not to push and keep for — I mean, at the very least, 10,000 U.S. troops to guarantee some kind of security, to train, and to be there for counterterrorism?
RICE: Frankly, I think it would help the regional balance to have a residual American presence there. We need to find a way to help the Iraqis sustain themselves through this period and to — to deal with their somewhat meddlesome neighbor in Iran.
AMANPOUR: Of course, the administration says it’s because the Iraqis wouldn’t agree to immunity. But the real issue is that this administration insisted on it ceding to State Department and Pentagon lawyers’ demand that they get this immunity ratified by the Iraqi parliament. You did not do that. You got the agreement without forcing it through the parliament. Why did they have to do that? Was it a mistake for President Obama to do that?
RICE: Well, Christiane, I’m really rather reluctant to criticize negotiations that I didn’t participate in. But it would have clearly been better to have a residual force, from my point of view, and perhaps there was a way out of the immunity clause that wasn’t taken.
AMANPOUR: So is there a risk now of everything that America paid unraveling?
RICE: Yes. What is at risk here is not just the sacrifice of the United States, which is considerable, but also a pillar of a new kind of democratic stability in the Middle East.
AMANPOUR: And perhaps equally important, if not more, is Afghanistan. The Obama administration sources are telling me are likely to change their role, even before 2014, from a combat to a much lesser role, maybe advisory. Is that safe at this time? Is the Taliban anywhere near being defeated?
RICE: Well, I’m not inside, but I don’t see that the Taliban is anywhere near being defeated. And, in fact, if you’re looking for some kind of political arrangement, then ultimately there will have to be a political arrangement in Afghanistan, that brings former warring elements in. But if you’re looking for that arrangement, you should be in the strongest position, not the weakest. And I don’t think that right now the Afghan government and the NATO mission is in a position to make that kind of political deal. So, yes, I think there’s a considerable risk in speeding up a timetable for Afghanistan.
AMANPOUR: In your book, you also write about Iran. The IAEA, the nuclear agency of the U.N., this week is about to reveal, apparently, more details showing, apparently, that Iran is trying to weaponize. Do you think the United States, the Obama administration, has to ratchet up the confrontation? You talked this week about confronting Iran. Does that involve military confrontation by the U.S.?
RICE: Well, the United States should certainly make clear that the president of the United States will consider military action, if necessary, because you never want to take that card off the table. I think there are other ways to confront Iran. You can confront Iran through even tougher sanctions. And I also think, Christiane, this is one of the downsides of having our forces out of — out of Iraq, because we can confront the Iranians in Iraq.
So, yes, I think it’s time to confront the Iranian regime, because it’s the poster child for state sponsorship of terrorism. It’s trying to get a nuclear weapon. It’s repressed its own people. The regime has absolutely no legitimacy left. We should be doing everything we can to bring it down and never take military force off the table.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about 2012. I want to ask you in terms of foreign policy. You know, Republicans, they describe themselves as the adults and the pragmatists on foreign policy. And yet in this particular campaign, they all seem like they’re rushing to the exits when it comes to foreign policy or, in the case of Herman Cain, kind of making fun of a lack of knowledge. I mean, he did the whole Uzbeki-beki-bekistan. Do you find that a little cavalier?
RICE: Well, I think in retrospect it probably wasn’t a great thing to say, if you’re running for president. And foreign policy ought to be more a part of the debate than it is, because we’re so interconnected.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Cain stumbled seriously this week on an issue when he said that China has, quote, “indicated that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability.” Obviously, we all know that China has been a nuclear power since the 1960s. Were you alarmed by this statement, by this lack of knowledge?
RICE: Well — well, I don’t know the context in which he said it. People sometimes misspeak. But I will say this: When you are…
AMANPOUR: Do you really think it was a misspeak? I mean, it was a long — it was a long statement.
RICE: I don’t — I don’t know. Christiane, I wasn’t listening…
AMANPOUR: But does it worry you?
RICE: And I really don’t — I don’t know. It — it concerns me that we are not having a discussion about foreign policy. And, obviously, I would suggest that anybody who’s going to run for president of the United States spend some time on the basics on foreign policy. I remember when I was working with George W. Bush. He’d been governor of Texas. He knew Mexico and Latin America well, but he spent a lot of time in 1999 really addressing the issues, bringing people to the governor’s mansion to talk to him about foreign policy. We had seminars at George Shultz’s house. Anybody who’s running for president really owes it to the American people to take the time to do that.
AMANPOUR: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining me.