She advised his father as the Cold War melted into the New World Order. Now President-elect George W. Bush relies on her counsel as he faces a more complicated international landscape.
Condoleezza Rice — an accomplished academic, provost of Stanford University, and former member of President George Bush’s foreign-policy team — is once again set to return to Washington, this time, as George W. Bush’s national security adviser.
Rice was Bush’s chief adviser on foreign-policy issues throughout his campaign, and before that, served as one of the 10 members on his handpicked Presidential Exploratory Committee, leading many observers to wonder just where she would end up in a new Bush administration.
During the campaign, Rice was part of a group of foreign-policy advisers to Bush nicknamed “The Vulcans,” a group that included Bush’s running mate, Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State George Schultz, and Paul Wolfowitz, a senior Pentagon official in the elder Bush’s administration.
In the early stages of Bush’s candidacy, Rice told ABCNEWS that her job was to help the Texas governor with “the very basic work he has wanted to do on the nature of the politics in various countries, the nature of alliances, really laying a lot of the groundwork” for the tougher foreign policy positions he would be asked to take as a candidate.
She also served as a de facto part of his campaign response team, defending Bush after Vice President Al Gore attacked the Texas governor’s for his supposed lack of foreign-policy expertise during an April speech.
“Where was he [Gore] when it was time to stand up and be counted in Seattle?” asked Rice, referring to the disruption of the World Trade Organization meetings by protesters in December. She also criticized Gore for not endorsing permanent normal trade relations with China more strongly, saying “when it comes to the vote on China, he’s been missing in action.”
However, Rice says Bush is capable of holding his own in the international arena, citing his first major foreign-policy statement, on Kosovo, as an example.
“He said what he thought, I didn’t sit there and dictate it to him,” says Rice.
From Rachmaninoff to Russia
Rice, 46, grew up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., the only child of two educators who instilled in her a strong sense of family and community. As the civil rights movement reached her town, where racism ran rampant, Rice, who is black, says she felt insulated from the upheaval all around her.
“My parents really provided a shield as much as they could against the horrors of Birmingham,” says Rice, who lost a kindergarten classmate in a now-infamous1963 church bombing. “At the same time I can remember my parents taking me to watch the marchers — they wanted us to know the history and to know what was happening.”
After her father took a job in Denver, Rice decided to take college courses while still in high school. An accident of fate led her to become an expert on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
“I was saved from a music major by Russia,” says Rice, who abandoned her music studies after realizing she would end up “teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven.”
And so began a search for a major that ended in the classroom of Professor Josef Korbel, the father of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
“He gave a lecture on Josef Stalin and the politics was so Byzantine, there was so much intrigue,” Rice says. “I decided I wanted to study the Soviet Union.”
Career Marked by Achievement
Rice went on to pursue her doctorate after graduating with honors from the University of Denver at only 19. She began teaching at Stanford in 1981. Five years later, a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship brought her to Washington to work on nuclear strategic planning under Adm. William Crowe at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It was an experience she remembers fondly.
“There were four of us in one little office and it was great,” Rice says. “I gained so much respect for military officers and what they do, and I think I really got an experience that few civilians have.”
In 1989, President Bush’s national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, helped convince her to leave Stanford again and work for him in Washington. She quickly became one of Bush’s most trusted advisers, helping craft policy in the region she had studied for so many years.
The Next NSC Adviser?
Many prominent Republicans have hoped Rice enjoys many more such remarkable moments in the foreign policy arena — in another Bush White House.
“The people who have done the best in some of these appointed positions have been once around the track,” says Carla Hills, who served with Rice during the Bush administration as U.S. trade representative. “I would think she should be on his list for several positions, certainly national security adviser.”
Hills serves on several boards with Rice, including Chevron (both women have tankers named after them), and says she thinks Rice’s recent run at the Stanford helm will serve her well should she return to Washington.
“I think her experience as provost in Stanford has given her an interesting window on budgeting and management that is really quite extensive,” Hills says. Regarding Rice’s management style, Hills says, “I would say she is firm, which is maybe a nicer word for tough, and that is because she does her homework and knows her position.”
Her tenure at Stanford, however, has not been without controversy. What Hills regards as firm, others call autocratic.
“I don’t think Condoleezza Rice believes in strong faculty governance at a university,” says Stanford Professor Emeritus Ronald Rebholz. While Rebholz praises Rice for balancing the university’s budget during tough fiscal times, he says she and Stanford President Gerhard Casper do not always listen as well as they lead.
“I think that they believe in the downward flow of power,” says Rebholz. “They want power centralized at the top and flowing down from their decisions to the rest of the university.”
Sports Fan, Star Student
Rice met the younger Bush a couple of times while working for his father, but the two did not speak at length until she and the former president joined the Texas governor for lunch during his first legislative session.
“We are both sports fans,” says Rice, whose father served as a local football coach. “We got along well right away.”
In the summer of 1998 the two discussed foreign policy at length when they met at the Bush family’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
“I am immensely fond of him,” says Rice. “I think he would be a terrific president.”
And she praises Bush’s ability to tackle the sometimes arduous foreign policy terrain.
“He is quick in a good way, he has got a very sharp intellect that goes right to the core of something,” says Rice. “Particularly when you are dealing with areas you may not know very well, the ability to get to the essence of the problem is critical.”
ABCNEWS’ Gayle Tzemach contributed to this report.