Condoleezza Rice: George Bush's "Warrior Princess"

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Condoleezza Rice: George Bush's "Warrior Princess"


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


"My parents had me absolutely convinced that you may not be able to get a hamburger at Woolworth's but you can be president of the United States," Condoleezza Rice recently told a Newsweek magazine reporter. The most academic of any member of President George W. Bush's inner circle, Rice is able to speak on demand. It is only later, when press members parse her phrases, that one learns that sometimes her words are telling, and other times virtually meaningless.

Her immediate predecessor was Gen. Colin Powell, an authentic hero who was as popular as any Republican secretary of state. That is a tall order for anyone to live up to, especially Rice, who can be convincing-in contrast to her boss, who can be winning but has no eloquence when it is needed. Rice knows how to assuage the raw edges of the president's words, but manages never to upstage him.

When George W. Bush embarked on his first presidential campaign in 1999, he became dependent upon Rice's advice because of her expertise in Russian and European politics, which had been her academic specialty. Her books include Germany Unified and Europe Transformed (1995) with Philip Zelikow; The Gorbachev Era (1986) with Alexander Dallin; and Uncertain Allegiance: The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army (1984). Bush frequently said that Rice "gives me everything I need to know on the subject"-which is exactly what she has been doing ever since.

One of the reasons for Rice's close relationship with Bush is her tact and charm with those around her, including Laura Bush and others such as Alma Powell, her predecessor's wife. Rice stayed with the Powells when she was looking for an apartment of her own. In mid-January First Lady Laura Bush and Rice attended the inauguration of newly-elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, "The Iron Lady" whose election followed 15 years of civil war.

It is absolutely correct to say that in Bush's first term Rice, then serving as national security adviser, did her very best to give Powell a voice when Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were virtually ignoring him. It was Rice who made it possible for Powell to have "face time" with Bush when he otherwise would have been consigned to the background.

Born in 1954, Rice grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents always said that to get ahead as an African American she had to be "twice as good" as anyone else, and her childhood chiseled her strong determination and self-respect. One of Rice's first memories was seeing the freedom marchers when they marched through Birmingham.

Her father, John Rice, was a Presbyterian minister and also a dean at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa. A childhood friend, Denise McNair, was killed along with three other girls in the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham. Her mother was a teacher and a musician. Condoleezza's name is a variation of the musical direction con doleezza, or "with sweetness."

Both parents were deeply committed to bringing out the best in their only child. They moved to Colorado, where her father became an assistant dean at the University of Denver and taught a class called "The Black Experience in America."

Rice became a skilled figure skater and also studied to become a concert pianist. Skipping two years of high school, she enrolled at the University of Denver, where she graduated at 19 with a degree in political science. It was in Denver that Rice first became interested in international relations and the study of the Soviet Union. Her academic mentor was Prof. Josef Korbel, a former Czech diplomat and the father of future Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Rice sometimes dined at their home, and has described Korbel as "one of the most central figures in my life."

She went on to earn her master's degree at the University of Notre Dame, and a Ph.D degree at the University of Denver. In 1976 Rice joined the Republican Party, and the following year served as an intern at the State Department. …

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