Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rice transcript

On Arpil 4, members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I must report that the secretary was very gracious to this fellow Alabamian.
Here's a portion of the conversation:

QUESTION: I'm Bob Davis from the Anniston Star.
SECRETARY RICE: From Alabama, that would be, let me just note.
QUESTION: I thought everybody knew that. Our first speaker, Mr. --and I'm going to mispronounce his name -- Ereli -- he mentioned a concern about an image problem, although not unduly concerned, but there is a concern.
That's how he put it. We didn't have a chance to really flesh that out, so I'd like to turn it on you and ask, does a perception of the United States being a torturer among the prisoners or detainees that it's holding, is that the primary cause of this image problem? And if it is, is that what you're confronting? And if it is what you're confronting, how are you confronting it?

SECRETARY RICE: Yeah. I think the question of America's image in the world, of which the Muslim world is a subset, but image in the world, is a fairly complicated phenomenon. Let me be the first to say that something
like Abu Ghraib doesn't help and, in fact, it was, as the President put it, a stain on us and on the United States.

But I hope that in the way that it was dealt with, people could see why democracies are different than the kinds of dictatorships that have recently been overthrown. We have had people who have been punished for Abu Ghraib.
Their rights were acknowledged. I mean, they had due process, but we've had people who have been punished for Abu Ghraib and people will continue -- there will continue to be investigations of Abu Ghraib. It was all over our newspapers. The Secretary of Defense was be-fore the Congress testifying.

I mean, we have checks against certain -- that kind of be-havior in democracies that do not exist in dictatorships. And it was extremely important, in light of that incident, to make sure that people understood that we operate as a transparent democracy that punishes -- I was on television in Germany not long after it happened and I said, "Look, democracy does not mean that bad things won't happen. Bad things happen in democracies, too. People do bad things. But the difference is democracies are transparent about it and people are punished when they do."

Now, as to the broader question, I think there's several things going on. One is that the United States has had to do some difficult things and make some difficult deci-sions, not all of which were popular. And if you're too worried about how you will be viewed, then you won't make difficult decisions. For instance, it was simply time to take down Saddam Hussein's regime. It was time. This had been 12 long years of a torturer, somebody who -- whatever -- despite the fact that he did not have stock-piles, apparently, of weapons of mass destruction, where you were never going to break the link between Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, you were simply never going to break the link, where he had desta-bilized his neighbors, where he had invaded his neigh-bors, where he had used weapons of mass destruction, where he was shooting at American and British aircraft trying to patrol the no-fly zone, where you could not con-ceive of a Middle East, a different kind of Middle East, with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the middle of it. So it was time to do -- to get rid of this regime.

Not a popular decision, but a decision that now, I think, people are beginning to see has unlocked the possibility of a different kind of Middle East, most especially as they saw Iraqis voting on January 30th and as people in Egypt and Lebanon and other places saw Iraqis voting on Janu-ary 30th.

So tough decisions. The decision that Yasser Arafat was a problem and we weren't going to deal with him any-more. Well, now you see how much of a problem he ac-tually was. So yes, we had to say some things and do some things that were not popular.

I also think, though, that we had a bigger problem, which was that for 60 years or so, the United States has been as-sociated with a policy of exceptionalism vis-à-vis the Middle East where it came to issues of democracy. We talked about democracy every place else in the world --
Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe -- but not in the Middle East, because there we talked about stability. And what we learned was we were not getting stability and we were not getting democracy; we were getting a malig-nancy that caused people to fly airplanes into buildings on September 11th. And so the President finally spoke out about that and I think that has started to change people's views in the Middle East of what the United States stands for.

The final point that I would make is that we could do a much better job of getting our message out. It's not well understood that the last several times that the United States has used force, it has been on behalf of Muslims, whether it was Muslims who were being -- in the Balkans who were being oppressed and killed by Serb and Croat forces, whether it was in Kuwait where Saddam Hussein had annexed a Muslim state, whether it was in Afghani-stan where Muslims were being oppressed by the Taliban, or in Iraq where people were suffering in rape rooms and torture chambers. This is the kind of message that needs to get out.

But we need not only to have better messaging out, we need to also make this a conversation, not a monologue, which means that we need to better understand other cul-tures, other languages. Now, I'm a Russianist, Soviet
specialist. I was trained during a period of time when those of us who were good in school were told, "Well, Russian is an important thing for the United States of America. It's a critical language for the United States of

We have far too few people who speak Arabic and Dari and Farsi and all of those languages. We need, as a country, to recognize that we're in a generational struggle in this war of ideas and we have to prepare ourselves
for it by being able to understand cultures and listen to them and speak to them in their own tongue.

So yes, we have a big job to do, but it's a more compli-cated issue than just the latest polls on who likes America and who doesn't.