Secretary of State John Kerry and predecessor Condoleezza Rice together spoke over 3,500 words today, recalling her time as America’s chief diplomat as they unveiled her official portrait at the State Department.
Not one of those words was “Iraq.”
As former President George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Rice advocated for intervention, telling CNN that there was uncertainty about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities. “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” she said then.
Today, as Sunni jihadists fought to extend their hold on northern Iraq, fighting troops for control of the country’s main oil refinery, Kerry described Rice’s legacy, first as an adviser to ex-President George H. W. Bush, and then to his son. He mentioned the fall of the Berlin wall, Israeli-Palestinian talks, improved ties with India and action against Iran.
Rice came closer to addressing the elephant in the room, making two indirect allusions to Iraq and the impact it will have on her legacy. She reminded listeners that headlines and historical judgment rarely align, and called for “patience” when it comes to the Middle East.
“I know that these are very difficult times,” Rice said in remarks to a small group of friends and former associates, including Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Adviser to Bush senior and her former adviser Eliot Cohen, a strong supporter for intervention in Iraq.
“As people of particularly the Middle East test the proposition that no one should live in tyranny, they’re times that seem chaotic and they seem dangerous,” Rice said. Some doubt whether the Middle East has “the DNA for democracy,” she said.
“I think we Americans, more than any peoples, should perhaps be a little bit more patient with those who have thrown the yoke of tyranny and are trying to find their way to stable democracy,” Rice said. “After all, our Constitution initially in a compromise that would allow the United States of America to come into being, counted my ancestors as three-fifths of a man.”
Kerry noted that Rice grew up the granddaughter of a sharecropper in segregated Birmingham and that her rise to become the country’s chief diplomat, only the second woman and the first African American woman to do so, speaks to the best of America.
Rice talked about drawing inspiration from the portraits of former secretaries that she kept in her offices when she was at State. Alongside Thomas Jefferson and George Marshall, she hung portraits of Willam Seward, who bought Alaska from the Russians, and Dean Acheson.
“I chose Dean Acheson, because when Dean Acheson left these rooms, the question was: Who lost China?” Rice said. “And today Dean Acheson is remembered as the founding father of the foundational institutions that led to victory in the Cold War, like NATO.”
“Let me just assure you that today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same,” Rice said.
— Condoleezza Rice (@CondoleezzaRice) June 16, 2014