Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the Trump administration’s foreign policy work on Iran, but also offered this advice to him and members of Congress: “Before you tweet, think.”

The comment drew laughter and applause as Rice spoke Oct. 4 at Rackham Auditorium as part of a two-day visit to U-M during which she participated in a number of activities with students and faculty.

Rice’s visit was co-sponsored by the Office of President Mark Schlissel and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s Weiser Diplomacy Center.

The wide-ranging discussion touched on leadership, foreign policy, inclusion and even college athletics. Ford School Dean Michael Barr served as moderator.  

Photo of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ford School Dean Michael Barr.
Condoleezza Rice, 66th secretary of state of the United States, engaged in a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Ford School Dean Michael Barr on Oct. 4 at Rackham Auditorium. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Rice, who was secretary of state under President George W. Bush from 2005-09, took a winding career path. Her plans to play piano professionally changed when she wandered into an international politics class in her junior year of college.

“I knew all of a sudden what I wanted to be,” she said.

Rice said leadership is a learned skill. Good leaders, she said, have integrity and surround themselves with truth tellers.

“The higher up you go in an organization, the less people are willing to give you bad news,” she said. “Unless you have people who will walk in, close the door and say, ‘You’re about to make a big mistake,’ … you’re not going to be very successful.” 

When it comes to foreign policy, Rice said the U.S. needs to “reach beyond” Russian President Vladimir Putin to a new Russia “that is going to be different.” She acknowledged the Bush administration made mistakes in Iraq in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, but said the country is still better off without Saddam Hussein.

Photo of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ford School Dean Michael Barr.
“The higher up you go in an organization, the less people are willing to give you bad news,” Rice said, adding that successful leaders need people wiling to tell them when they’re about to make mistakes. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

When asked about the current U.S. administration and its foreign policy decisions, she said it has to deal with something she didn’t: Twitter.

“The process is constantly interrupted by people trying to get ahead of themselves, ahead of the story before they talk to their colleagues, before they’ve heard the advice,” she said. “I think that’s really a challenge to any decision-making process.”

Still, Rice said she approves of U.S. officials using sanctions rather than military force in response to Iran’s recent attack on Saudi Arabian oil installations.

Speaking about diversity, Rice said people seem to increasingly break themselves into smaller and smaller identity groups, each with its own narrative. She noted that she has ancestors who were slaves and ancestors who were slaveholders.

“I’m totally proud of that identity. But I don’t want to weaponize it against other people, because that will cause other people to weaponize their identity against me,” she said.

Photo of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ford School Dean Michael Barr.
“Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to celebrate identity, to recognize the very real demerits and the very real challenges that come with being minorities in this country — and they are real — but in a way that is empowering to everyone,” Rice said. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

“Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to celebrate identity, to recognize the very real demerits and the very real challenges that come with being minorities in this country — and they are real — but in a way that is empowering to everyone.”

“I like the term ‘inclusion’ a lot better,” Rice said. “Because the goal of diversity is not to remind us how we’re all different. It’s to take people from different experiences and backgrounds and help us find a common future, and I think we are failing at it, and it’s beginning to cause rifts.” 

When asked about California passing a law allowing student athletes to be compensated for the use of their name and likeness, Rice said she worries about how marketplace compensation would impact the ability of universities to stay in compliance with Title IX.

Rice also spoke, among other topics, about the need to improve the K-12 education system and the importance of ensuring a high-quality college education is accessible to everyone.

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