National Press Club

Former Secretary of State Rice Defends Invasion of Iraq

October 15, 2010

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

An Iraq moving toward democracy could transform the Middle East, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an Oct. 15 sold-out NPC luncheon audience.

She said that's because Iraq is such an important country in a region dominated by authoritarian governments. But she emphasized creating democracy wasn't why the U.S. invaded Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein has brought the United States into wars twice," she said. "Every intelligence agency in the world thought Iraq had weapons of mass distruction." She said Hussain could have been dealt with later, but "we decided he had to be dealt with now."

Rice also said the Israeli-Palestinian problem requires political rather than religious solutions. She said those solutions are on the table and indicated they were mainly territorrial.

Questioned about Russia, she said the country's golden age was the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin wall. But she said the United States didn't help Russia enough in that period.

As well, she applauded what she said has been Russia's help on Iran, North Korea and other countries. Where problems evolve are in Russia's treatment of such countries as Ukraine that were part of the Soviet Union, she said.

The author of a new book, "A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me," her speech was framed by the Civil Rights era when she was growing up in Birmingham, "the most segregated city in America."

She paid high tribute to her parents' emphasis on education as catalyst of her career in which she was not only a professor at Stanford University but also national security advisor and then Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration.

Reforming the nation's educational system is the nation's highest priority, Rice said. She lamented the plight of so many of the nation's poor children, many of whom can't read by the third grade. "If they haven't learned by then," she said, "they won't." America's future, Rice said, depends on turning that around.

Having returned to teaching at Stanford, Rice also emphasized the need for more racial diversity in university faculties.

But for all the need for further racial progress, Rice stressed the nation's major strides since the explosive days in Birmingham where four young children, including one of her friends, were killed in the bombing of a church.

"Our last two or three mayors (of Birmingham) were black," she said.

Asked whether she might return to public service, Rice made clear she had no plan to. "I was national security advisor and secretary of state," she said, suggesting that was enough.

-- Robert Webb,