Politics

Condoleezza Rice: My role models are ‘old white men’

Candy Crowley, host of CNN’s “State of the Union,” interviewed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before the 2011 Women Working for Change Conference about her new book “No Higher Honor,” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and politics at National Harbor near Washington, D.C. on Friday.

Between questions about history and policy Rice had some advice for those attempting to find their path to success. According to the former secretary of state, people should first find what they love to do and dedicate themselves to it.

Rice recalled how her parents, when she was growing up in segregated Alabama, would tell her that she needed to be twice as good — Rice said that should apply even outside of a racial paradigm.

“They meant [twice as good] in a racial context but I think ‘you have to be twice as good’ is not bad advice for anybody because if you are constantly striving to be twice as good, you’ll work really really hard,” she said. “I think it is important to have people in your life who will take an interest in you and your career and help guide you.”

Rice then explained her philosophy on role models.

“I know we sometimes say you had to have role models who look like you, well I don’t really believe that. If I had been looking for a black, female, Soviet specialist role model, I’d still be looking,” she said. “Also my role models are actually white men — as a matter of fact, old white men, because that is what my field was dominated by.”

She added that women and minorities should try to steer clear of quickly crying “sexism” or “racism,” advising that they give people “the benefit of the doubt.”

“I think it is extremely important, particularly if you are a female or a minority, not to assume the worst in people. Give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just don’t like what you are saying. Maybe they just don’t like you. Maybe it doesn’t have to do with your race or gender,” she said. “And if you are constantly referring to race or gender as the reason you are treated badly, then you are just going to burn yourself out.”

Beyond Rice’s life lessons, the former secretary of state under George W. Bush again defended the administration’s decisions to go into Iraq and Afghanistan, noting the lessons learned from Sept. 11, 2001.

“We got rid of one of the biggest threats,” Rice said regarding Saddam Hussein and the decision to invade Iraq.

“Also, with all due respect to those wanted to save the Libyans from Muammar Gadhafi, and I am glad they did — but he threatened his people. Saddam Hussein put 400,000 of his own people in mass graves. Where is the humanitarian outrage about that?” Rice asked. “So those who believed there was a humanitarian reason for overthrowing Gadhafi, was there not a humanitarian reason for overthrowing Saddam Hussein?”

Rice further asserted that she believes that America can still complete the mission in Afghanistan.

Crowley asked Rice how history will remember the administration and its controversial foreign policy decisions, such as the use of enhanced interrogation.

“I think what history will say about that whole complex of instruments and tools is that the President of the United States protected the country under enormous threats, he did it in accordance with our laws, and in accordance with our values,” Rice said, adding that overtime as America learned more about the enemy there was not as much need to use some of the more controversial information gathering tools.

“They will say that [Bush] left his next president, President Barack Obama, an infrastructure that allowed finally — and I am very grateful to Barack Obama — to kill Osama Bin Laden, to continue the war on terror on the basis of what was put in place, and I think the historians will understand that we were in a different kind of war and we needed different tools.”

Rice added that she does not plan to go back into public service, but instead continue her work as a professor at Stanford — adding that it was a professor who got her involved in policy work as a Soviet studies specialist.

“There is nothing better being a university professor,” she said. “You have these great students you get to help see a world that they might otherwise not see. It was a professor who helped me see that I wanted to be –of all things– a Soviet specialist,” noting that as an young African American from Birmingham, Ala. she did not fit what most would think to be a Soviet specialist.

The 66th secretary of state also had some harsh words for people who assume all African-Americans should be Democrats.

“Nobody needs to tell me how to be black. I’ve been black it all my life. So I often say to people, if you think you know what I think because I have black skin, that says a lot about your prejudice, because you would not look at somebody with white skin and think you know what they think,” she said.

“So the people who want to criticize black conservatives or black Republican, first of all they generally don’t know us and the wide variety of views that we hold,” Rice continued. “But they also are among the most prejudice people in the world because they just want to look at you ant tell you what you ought to think and where you ought to be.”

Rice will be appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning with Crowley.

Follow Caroline on Twitter