Condeleeza Rice, who served as secretary of state and national security advisor to President George W. Bush, said Wednesday that the world's interconnectedness means “America cannot afford to be tired” in its role as protector of free markets and free people “or our interests and values will suffer.”
Rice went on to describe several "great powers behaving badly" and other national security trends affecting the United States today to an audience of about 2,000 people on Wednesday at Pershing's annual INSITE conference, taking place this week in Hollywood, Fla. And she explained that China’s actions over several disputed island and ocean territories, also claimed by Vietnam and Japan, require the U.S. to send clear signals.
“Signals that we are sending that the U.S. may not use military force or is constrained by using either hundreds of forces or nothing create a vacuum [in international security], and then that vacuum can be filled,” she said.
Instead, the U.S. “should make clear what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and leave some ambiguity in terms of when we will act,” Rice added. “If we do not act, then our allies will make their own arrangements."
She cautioned advisors and investors to keep in mind that the challenges of governing China are “growing,” despite the fact that the country has lifted some 500 million people out of poverty.
“The export-driven model may be running out of steam,” the Stanford professor said. But the United States should do all it can to support China’s exports and its economy for the sake of global stability.
“There have been several major shocks in the past several years,” the former national security advisor said, pointing to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Every day after Sept. 11 felt like Sept. 12,” Rice said of her time in office. “As a nation, we have not faced this type of situation since 1812.”
Since that day, she notes, ungoverned spaces — like parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen — have become more dangerous and threatening to the United States than traditional rivals or strong states have been.
“Our conception of security would never be the same,” Rice said.
The second recent threat the ex-secretary of state pointed to is the 2008 economic shock “that nearly brought financial system to the brink.”
The crisis showed Americans that “housing prices can in fact fall, and that the long-term unemployed may never get a job again.”
Another trend Rice described is that of “great powers behaving badly,” and the chief example, she says, is Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The Stanford professor, who has specialized in Soviet studies, has met with Putin multiple times. “He is a person who wants to intimidate …” Rice said. “And the bargain that emerged at the end of a Cold War was, he called it, was the greatest tragedy of the 21st century… mentioning that it has orphaned some 25 million outside of Russia.”
This was his “pretext” for acting in Crimea and for further involvement in the eastern part of the Ukraine. “He is a uniter, and one who wanted to bring back Russian greatness.”
Rice says that the danger in his approach is that Russia takes action in the Baltic states, which have large Russian populations.
“But Article 5 of the NATO treaty guarantees the protection of these states, since an attack on one is considered an attack on all,” the ex-diplomat said.
To avoid such a situation, the U.S. could station troops there. “Putin is not suicidal,” she commented.
Rice also pointed to the incredible boom in the U.S. energy industry as a means of applying more leverage internationally. “We must go on a mission to exploit the North American energy platform we have been given.”
Such an effort should involve Canada, which we “have insulated” by the slow process of approval for the Keystone pipeline, and Mexico, which is in the process of changing its constitution to allow the U.S. and other countries to make energy investments.
As for the recent agreement to release five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Rice says it sets “a bad precedent.”
She believes that the Taliban prisoners “will go back to the battlefield,” and that the deal means “you are putting a price on the heads of soldiers. From the outside, it does not look like a very good deal.”
While she didn’t endorse direct involvement in Venezuela, Rice did urge President Barack Obama to comment directly on the instability and deterioration of the political economy there.
In terms of other issues, Rice says she is in favor of immigration reforms that would give citizenship to some 12 million individuals now living in the U.S. and also supports programs that maximize school choice for public school students.
“This is a key issue: can you get a quality education?” she asked, stressing the importance of fostering an educational system that enable the students of today to move up the economic ladder in the United States, as so many have done in the past.
Despite her passion for global affairs, Rice says she has no intention of running for office or returning to the White House in other capacities. “I can read papers today with calm, which I couldn’t do a few years ago,” Rice remarked.
Check out Condoleezza Rice: Russia Really Just a Large Oil, Gas Syndicate on ThinkAdvisor.