Hua Wang

Talking Leadership with Condoleeza Rice

Condoleezza Rice served as the 66th Secretary of State of the United States.  She is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates.

Hua Wang:  What should the U.S. government do about Iran? 

Condoleeza Rice:  Iran is the most disruptive power in the Middle East today.  If you lift Iranian sanctions too quickly, you can create a maker of chaos.  Your leverage is the only reason you are at the table.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are very concerned about Iran’s nuclear capabilities and they recognize it as a nuclear threshold state.  I’m worried that if the Iranian program isn’t truly constrained, you will set off an arms race in the Middle East.  The President wants to protect our gulf allies through enhanced security measures, but the US is not prepared to sign off on a guarantee against a nuclear Iran.

Any thoughts on Vladimir Putin? 

I once knew Vladimir pretty well.  He actually kind of liked me.  He once said, “Russia has always been greatest when it is ruled by strong and great men, like Peter the Great and Alexander the Second.”  He wanted to say “…and Vladimir the Great.”  That’s what he sees himself as.  He is on a messianic historic mission.  He’s going to avenge what he calls the greatest tragedy of the 20th century – the collapse of the Soviet Union (despite the fact that Russia lost 25 million people in World War II).  He is doing it by threatening any state in his way.  He will push until he is stopped. He has a domicile population that is looking at the worst propaganda campaign since I was there in graduate school in 1979.

Putin is overwhelmingly popular, especially among ex-military, rural, and old people.  He is not very popular among those in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but they are the minority.  There is an undercurrent of nationalism that Putin has tapped into.  He makes himself very popular to those who aren’t able to access outside sources of information.  If the economy continues to suffer, there will be more workers’ protests.  Putin got on television recently and blamed local authorities for not paying them and promised workers that they will be paid. 

Even though 5% of Putin might be unhinged, I actually favor deploying additional NATO forces.  Putin may be a maniac (how many world leaders hunt tigers bare-chested?) but he is not suicidal.  He is not going to attack a country where the United States will deploy forces. 

We have to find a way to isolate Putin’s Russia without isolating the future of Russia.  Young Russian entrepreneurs – including my students at Stanford GSB – are working in law firms and western banks.  They are accustomed to a different way of interacting with the world and they are not going to isolate themselves from the world.   They are an important element to a better Russia. 

How can we better combat cyberattacks?

I am worried about cybersecurity and the ability to penetrate without a physical presence.  Companies need to cooperate with the government and share information about what is happening to them.  They are reluctant to do so because they don’t want to be on the front page of The New York Times for being hacked because that affects shareholder prices. 

We are at a nadir of trust between the government and the private sector, and it could not come at a worst time.  The inability to cooperate between public and private lines is a serious problem.  We need cooperation between the government and private sector if we are going to have a fighting chance on the cyber issue.  For the most sophisticated attacks, you want the government on your side in terms of being able to retaliate if necessary.

Any advice for the next U.S. President?

I have always thought you do not have to be a foreign policy specialist to run for President of the United States.  We have great presidents who were well-versed in foreign policy and great presidents who were not.  I advise the candidate to avoid the following:  On day one I will.  Likely on day 1 you won’t.  You will realize what has been happening and it can’t be shifted on a dime.  You will think, oh my goodness.  I better step back. 

What do you look for in a presidential candidate?

I want to know what you think the role of America should be in the world.  How much are you going to advocate for democracy in the world on the principle that men and women want control of their future.  What do you think of American power in the world?  What you think about free trade and the North American energy platform?  I rather know the answers to bigger questions about principles and general issues.

It’s no secret to anyone that I will support the Republican nominee.  I’m glad it is a great, big, noisy field right now.  For me, the two most important issues right now are immigration and education.  If done right, the U.S. will be in a position to lead for a very long time.

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