National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is one of President Bush's most trusted aides. She started off tutoring him on foreign policy during the 2000 campaign, then emerged as a key behind-the-scenes player as September 11 shifted the national-security focus from constraining such strategic competitors as China to minimizing the threat from terrorism. In fact, in a 6,500-word article she wrote for Foreign Affairs in 2000 to explain what a Republican foreign policy would look like, she mentioned terrorism only once in a subordinate clause.
Now it's her preoccupation, and that of the Administration. And while Republicans have long been dismissive of nation-building, that, too, is a focus of her attention.
Indeed, some analysts believe Rice has presided over a revolution in U.S. foreign policy. The conventional wisdom is that the Bush team has abandoned the pragmatic internationalism that relied on traditional institutions such as the U.N. for six decades and instead adopted a unilateralist policy. The Administration, however, has adopted a different form of multilateralism. It's more ad hoc and relies on different groupings for everything from the invasion of Iraq to negotiations over Iraq's and North Korea's nuclear programs. Sometimes it even relies on the U.N., though Washington must overcome considerable ill will to do so.
It's also clear that while Rice hasn't ended the foreign policy sparring among various GOP factions, one group has clearly won. It was not, as many believe, the neoconservatives, who want to remake the world into one big democracy. Analysts on the Left and Right now realize that President Bush never devoted the resources and manpower to Afghanistan or Iraq to pursue the neocon version. Nor was it the traditional multilateralists such as Secretary of State Colin Powell who think there's value in international institutions that can serve U.S. interests.
Instead who came out on top was the wing that wants to strike threats abroad before they hit home without being constrained by international organizations and rules. This reflects more than anything else the wishes of the President. And pushing his agenda is Rice's job. On Aug. 30, she discussed the first term and the outlook for a second with Chief Diplomatic Correspondent Stan Crock. (Editor's note: After BusinessWeek's publication deadline, the White House declined to approve an extended version of Rice's remarks.)
What did you learn over the last 3 1/2 years?
When this President came into office, nobody would have expected the earthquake that was September 11. It was a life-changing experience for all of America. The primary lesson was that you can't afford to let threats gather. It led us to understand the need for the ability to intervene and even reconstruct, in ways that I think were quite unexpected for this country.
Is there a tradeoff between efficient U.S. action and international legitimacy?
I wouldn't put it in those terms. It is at some level efficient to have the U.S. try to solve something on its own. It's not always effective to do it that way. And it's not just a matter of legitimacy; it's a matter of what is effective.
What can we do about North Korea's and Iran's nuclear capabilities?
I think what you can see is that the international community does not want a nuclear weapons-capable North Korea, and they don't want a nuclear Iran. What you have to do is confront countries with a very stark choice -- that you give up your nuclear weapons ambitions or you face isolation.
Is regime change the ultimate answer?
Would it be better for the North Korean people if that regime were not in power? Of course. Or the Iranian regime for that matter. But there are ways to focus pressure on regimes to take care of the near-term security threats that they pose. And to stay firm about the aspirations of their people so that over time, pressure may come from within.
What are the plans for Iraq?
The military is trying to provide a secure environment. But it's the political struggle that matters. And every day that that political process moves ahead, the fundamental structures in Iraq get stronger.
Given the intelligence and planning failures in Iraq, does this national security team deserve a second shot?
I don't know about the national security team, but the President does. If anybody wants to tell me, whatever you think about Iraq, that the world is not safer having taken down the Taliban, having taken down Saddam Hussein, winning Pakistani and Saudi Arabian cooperation in the war on terrorism -- that's a record I think this President is prepared to run on.
Why isn't Iran a candidate for preemption, like Iraq?
I don't think Iraq was preemption. I think preemption actually would have been to go after Afghanistan prior to September 11. Iraq was a universe of one. Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice. He'd used weapons of mass destruction before. That puts him in a class by himself. He had a massive effort to build weapons of mass destruction and then to conceal what he had been doing. We were in a state of suspended hostilities, and he was paying $25,000 to suicide bombers. And he was under international sanctions, which either needed to be removed so that the Iraqi people could live -- because they were really hurting the Iraqis -- or you had to deal with him.
The Iranians may eventually get themselves to international outlaw status, but they haven't quite gotten there yet. So different circumstances, different means.
Do you see any Administration failures?
We thought the Iraqi military would stand and fight. They didn't. They melted. That led to the insurgency. And transfering sovereignty to an interim authority -- when Iraqis opposed a long occupation -- was a shift. Maybe it was foreseeable -- I don't really think so. When dealing with complex events, things don't go exactly as planned. We changed and adapted.