Distinguished Diplomat

Distinguished Diplomat - Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks on foreign policy at the School of Law.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Pepperdine University on February 9 to share insights from her life and career in a conversation entitled, “Foreign Policy in a Post-9/11 World.” A crowd of more than 600 attended the event in the Henry J. and Gloria Caruso Auditorium at the School of Law.

The conversation included Pierre-Richard Prosper (JD ’89), former ambassador at large for war crimes and partner at Arent Fox, and Gregory S. McNeal, associate professor of law. The event was moderated by Colleen P. Graffy, associate professor of law and director of global programs for the School of Law. As Rice spoke on current issues in national security, she drew upon her experiences as the first woman to hold the position of National Security Advisor, from 2001 to 2005, and from her time as the U.S. Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009.

Graffy served under Rice as deputy assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. State Department, and she opened the conversation with a question about the turmoil in Egypt. “If Egypt had made some of the reforms earlier, particularly after 2005, and if there was a presidential election that was relatively free and fair, I think that the people of Egypt would have felt that they had space for decent politics,” responded Rice. “The right to live in freedom is something that is found in each heart. It is not something that is bound by culture, religion, or region. Everyone wants to be able to say what they think and to worship as they please, and to be able to be free from the knock of the secret police. I think we are seeing in the streets of Egypt that that is in fact a universal value.”

As Rice answered additional foreign policy questions, she explained that democracy takes time to unfold. Drawing from her own experiences, she said, “I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the segregated South. My father was not able to register to vote in 1952, so even our democracy in the United States has taken some time to unfold. To the degree that we talk about democracy, if we do it in a way that lets people know we don’t think this is easy, that we in the United States don’t have all the answers, I think it makes it easier for us to get our message across.”

Additional topics raised by the conversationalists included how the U.S. can help Africa, the current situation in Iran, and the controversial question of Saddam Hussein harboring weapons of mass destruction. “I think we knew really by the end of the summer, beginning of fall 2003, that we weren’t finding stockpiles of weapons and that something had gone wrong in the intelligence,” said Rice. “Now that said…intelligence is an art, not a science.”

“We’ve never heard a former administration official tell that side of the story,” said McNeal, who asked the question about the emotional impact of realizing they would not find weapons of mass destruction. “It is an important piece of history.”

Another topic raised by Graffy was the role of faith. “My faith is very integral to who I am,” explained Rice. “I am a Presbyterian minister’s daughter, a Presbyterian minister’s granddaughter, and a Presbyterian minister’s niece. My father, who was a theologian, was someone who encouraged me to think about things and ask tough questions and would debate me about those issues. What he taught me was that faith and reason don’t have to be at war with one another and that made an enormous difference in my own religious development.”

One question submitted by an audience member regarded women’s issues in foreign policy, whether they were merely politically correct or a serious part of foreign policy strategy. “If you want to do something about population explosions around the world, educate women and they won’t have 10 kids, and they won’t start having them too young,” asserted Rice. “If you want to do something about trafficking persons, educate and empower women and they won’t allow themselves to be put in that position. If you want to do something about poverty, educate women, empower them with micro grants, and they will take tiny little businesses, enrich a whole village, and ultimately make your country stronger.”

A number of questions submitted byº the audience asked Rice’s advice on how to develop a career working in foreign policy. “Find something that you love, something that you’re passionate about. For reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with my upbringing or my background, I found out I was passionate about Russia. International relations requires language skills, it requires cultural knowledge, so I would hope that people are studying abroad, taking the opportunity to learn other peoples’ languages, even hard languages,” she concluded. “It is not possible to plan the next 20 years of your life, just the next step. Try to concentrate on the next step that is going to take you to that position.”

Whether agreeing or disagreeing with Rice’s viewpoints, students and faculty alike appreciated her address. “If you had asked me to compile a guest speaker wish list for my time at Pepperdine, Dr. Rice would have been in my top three,” said second-year student Melody Rodriguez. “I was elated that she agreed to speak at our institution, and in such an intimate setting. Dr. Rice was an extremely poised, intelligent speaker and the conversationalists led her through an incredibly engaging conversation. I was surprised at how honest and transparent her responses to the attendee-generated questions came across.”

Tom Bost, former interim dean of the school, added, “Dr. Rice brought a most extraordinary background and perspective to her presentations at Pepperdine. Her conversation concerning United States foreign policy not only reflected her exemplary background as scholar, teacher, academic leader, and humanitarian, but also her years of effective service to our country at the very highest levels during a crucial period in the nation’s history.”


Rice is a professor of political economy in the Graduate School of Business, the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, and professor of political science, at Stanford University.

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