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Condoleezza Rice visits Rice University

Condoleezza Rice speaks with Baker Institute Director David Satterfield in the Brockman Hall for Opera’s Morrison Theater Feb. 15. Richard Li / Thresher

By Krishna Chalise     2/20/24 10:26pm

Condoleezza Rice, a former United States secretary of state and national security advisor under President George W. Bush, came to Rice to speak with David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute, as a part of the Shell Distinguished Lecture Series Feb. 15. 

President Reggie DesRoches opened the event and presented Rice with the James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership.

“History best remembers Rice for her role during the difficult times after the 9/11 attacks where she was a crucial advisor to George W. Bush … She then succeeded Colin Powell as secretary of state during Bush’s second term, a role from which she forcefully advocated for human rights in the United States and around the world,” DesRoches said in his speech.

According to the Baker Institute, the Baker Prize for Excellence in Leadership is awarded to those who bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action. 

The event was hosted in the Brockman Hall for Opera’s Morrison Theater. Some 100 students and community members assembled in the Central Quad across the street from the Baker Institute to protest Rice’s visit to the university. Satterfield did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

At the start of the event, a few protesters inside Morrison Theater interrupted Rice and chanted, “From Iraq to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” before being escorted out by Rice University police officers. They had signs that read “War Crimes OFF Our Campus” and “Baker Oils the War Machine.” A Rice University police officer told the Thresher that they removed between two and four protesters from the event. 

Rice acknowledged the protestors’ presence. 

“The thing about democracy is that it is noisy sometimes,” Rice said. 

Activists have protested Rice over her role in starting the Iraq War and in authorizing “enhanced interrogation techniques,” accusing Rice of supporting war crimes, torture and genocide.

Rice spoke about numerous topics at the event, including her time serving as the first Black female secretary of state, free speech, the impact of wedge issues in American politics and foreign policy from Iraq to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Around 500 people attended the event in person, and over 1,500 people watched the virtual stream, according to Avery Franklin, a media relations specialist for the Office of Public Affairs.

DesRoches later told the Thresher that he believes it is important to have speaker events at the Baker Institute. 

“It’s important that academic institutions like Rice [University] foster an environment for discussions like the one that happened at this event,” DesRoches wrote in an email. “Hearing from leading voices and varying perspectives fosters both intellectual engagement and personal growth.”

At the event, Rice spoke about how her life experiences such as growing up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., led her to become the first African American woman to be secretary of state.

“We are not perfect but we keep working toward a more perfect union,” Rice said. “I think our challenge is to make sure that generation after generation understands how extraordinary it is to have these [democratic] institutions.” 

The conversation moved to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rice referred to her work facilitating the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access and the Agreed Principles for Rafah Crossing, two documents that aimed to improve economic development and the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza. 

Rice then brought up Satterfield’s role as President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues. Rice reflected on Israel’s military campaign in Gaza in retribution for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which has killed nearly 30,000 and thrown the Gaza Strip into a humanitarian crisis, according to The Washington Post.

“At some point [now] the Israelis are going to have to decide that they have done enough damage to Hamas to knock them back,” Rice said. “[A resolution] doesn’t mean, by the way, the Israelis occupying Gaza, because I’m the one who negotiated the Israelis out of Gaza in 2005 … I think the Israelis can run counterterrorism operations for a long time.”

Satterfield then asked Rice a couple of questions submitted by students. The first question asked Rice to reflect on the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The invasion was justified by accusations — later shown to be false — that then-Iraqi prime minister Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

“What you know today cannot affect what you did yesterday,” Rice said in response. “We thought [Hussein] was reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction … If Japan is buying large amounts of chlorine, then you probably think they’re doing swimming pools. But if Iraq is doing that, you think this is for nerve gas. For a variety of reasons, I think we misread what was going on there.”

Though Rice said that the Middle East and Iraq were better off without Hussein, she conceded that she doesn’t know if the U.S. government would have acted differently had they known that Hussein hadn’t fully reconstituted weapons of mass destruction.

“In the moment, you do what you know,” Rice said.

 Rice then moved on to emphasize the importance of patience in diplomacy. 

“Our impatience with people who are trying to find a way to a more decent life, our impatience with people who are coming out of tyranny and don’t quite get it right with their constitution … We, of all people, ought to be patient,” Rice said. “How can the United States of America, that counted my ancestors as three-fifths of a man in the first Constitution, and then realized that [in] over a couple hundred years we’d get to a place that I could be secretary of state — how can we be impatient with people who are just starting that journey, [transitioning into a democracy]?”

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