Q&A: Rice talks race-conscious admissions, the Iraq War and her lack of ambition for elected office

Susannah Jacob

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited a UT class, gave a speech to a packed auditorium and granted an exclusive interview to The Daily Texan during her campus visit yesterday. 

In the interview, which took place in the residential apartment on the 10th floor of the LBJ Library in a room that remains apparently unchanged since President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife furnished it, Rice addressed questions about race-conscious college admissions, immigration policy and the responsibility of public officials to be candid and honest.

As the national security adviser and then secretary of state under former President George W. Bush, Rice was instrumental in the decision to pursue the Iraq War, which became, as the Vietnam War had for Johnson, unpopular. Throughout yesterday, Rice faced questions  from students, many of whom were not yet teenagers when that war began, about how we should understand the events of the last 10 years, the Iraq War’s consequences and our country’s capacity to overcome them. “Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same,” Rice told her audience twice.

In February, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington announced that Rice would serve on a commission on immigration alongside Democrats and Republicans, including former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Asked what she believes U.S. immigration policy should be, Rice listed three kinds of people she would seek to help: First, individuals who can participate in the “knowledge-based revolution in Palo Alto and Austin”; second, agricultural workers who “come here to make a better wage” and to the benefit of the industries they work in; and third, offering a “path to citizenship” for the “11 million people in the shadows.” As secretary of state, Rice says she gained a different perspective on the attitudes of those seeking entrance to this country. “Understand: America has a universal narrative, one not based on nationality, religion or ethnicity,” she said explaining the ability of an immigrant to become American is specific to this country. “It’s not where you come from, but where you’re going.”

Asked about the UT v. Fisher case, Rice said she “[has] always been an advocate of soft affirmative action,” and believes “diversity adds to the learning environment” and that schools should be allowed to “consider race as one of many factors.” During the Bush administration, the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to declare two race-conscious policies at the University of Michigan unconstitutional in the Grutter case, a pivotal precedent for arguments on both sides of in the pending Fisher v. UT case. According to news accounts at the time, then-National Security Adviser Rice said she opposed the specific methods used by Michigan but recognized the need to take race into account.

In the broader sense, Rice said she believes “it’s hard to tell who is going to be successful in college” and wishes schools would seek out not simply applicants who have the highest grades and SAT scores, but those “who have overcome a lot.” She believes schools should pay closer attention to economic circumstances of applicants and cites one of her biggest worries, today’s developing gulf in the quality of K-12 education.

Asked to contend with the prevailing belief that young people are not only disenchanted and disengaged with politics, but unlikely to pursue public office, Rice said, “Remember that a democracy is only as good as its citizens,” adding that running for office was not the only way to serve the country. Amid ongoing speculation she may be a 2016 presidential contender, she seemed to take herself out of the running. “I’m never going to run for office,” she said she doesn’t have the temperament or DNA for it. 

Does young people’s confidence in their government depend on leaders’ candidness? Is telling the truth an important value in a democracy?

“Number one, you always have to tell the American people the truth,” Rice said, adding, “Sometimes the leaders think they’re telling the truth … That happened with us with weapons of mass destruction [when] we thought they were there when they weren’t.” It happened with Obama in Benghazi, she said, referring to the initial misinformation about the terrorist attack at the Libyan consulate. “Sometimes you have bad information.”