Four years ago, after George W. Bush was elected President, he nominated Colin Powell as his Secretary of State. Powell was the first black American to occupy such a senior post in the US, and was frequently spoken about as a possible Presidential candidate in 2004.
But after four years of controversy, Colin Powell handed his resignation to President Bush, who promptly nominated Dr Condoleezza Rice (who in his first term was National Security Adviser), as his new Secretary of State.
Dr Rice is the second woman, and the first black American woman, to occupy this post, reflecting the fact that there are few remaining obstacles to promotion on merit in the United States.
Born in America’s “deep South” in segregationist Alabama in 1954, she is the daughter of a preacher and academic who instilled in her the values of honesty and hard work.
She told Time magazine, “My parents had me absolutely convinced that, well, you may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworths but you can be President of the United States.”
A schoolmate, Denise McNair, was killed in the bombing of the Black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963.
Her father was a pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Both her parents were university professors.
In 1967, the family moved to Denver when her father accepted the position of vice-chancellor at the University of Denver.
Originally intending to become a music teacher, like her mother, Condi Rice enrolled at the University of Denver, but was attracted to political science when she enrolled in a course whose lecturer was Josef Korbel, a Jewish Czech diplomat who was forced to flee his homeland after the Communist takeover in 1948.
Rice has called Korbel “one of the most central figures in my life”.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1974, a master’s from Notre Dame in 1975, and a PhD from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She speaks four languages, including Russian.
Dr Rice has been on the Stanford University faculty, as a professor of political science, since 1981, interspersed with periods working for US Republican Presidents in a policy-making role.
From 1989 until March 1991, the period of German reunification and the final days of the Soviet Union, she served in the Administration as director, and then senior director, of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council, and a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
President George Bush Snr once told Soviet President Gorbachev that Dr Rice had taught him everything he knew about the Soviet Union.
After returning to academia, she worked for six year as Stanford University’s Provost, during which she was the institution’s chief budget and academic officer, responsible for a $1.5 billion annual budget and the academic program involving 1,400 faculty members and 14,000 students.
She became foreign policy adviser to George W. Bush, when he stood for election in 2000, and became the National Security Adviser in January 2001.
Since the attacks on America on September 11, 2001, she has been President Bush’s senior adviser on foreign policy. She has been unwavering in support of President Bush’s war in Iraq, despite fierce criticism from many in the US, as well as countries in Europe and elsewhere.
She has been one of America’s most outspoken public figures, and was described by Forbes magazine last year as the world’s most powerful woman.
In appointing her, President Bush said: “As a girl in the segregated South, Dr Rice saw the promise of America violated by racial discrimination and by the violence that comes from hate.
“But she was taught by her mother, Angelina, and her father, the Reverend John Rice, that human dignity is the gift of God, and that the ideals of America would overcome oppression. That early wisdom has guided her through life, and that truth has guided our nation to a better day.”
Her reputation is such that some people are already speaking about her as a potential Republican candidate for President in 2008.
If that were to happen, it would be curious if the opponent of this woman who grew up in the segregated south and rose to her current post by dint of character and hard work, happened to be the white upper-class left liberal, Hillary Clinton, now regarded as a likely Democrat candidate.
- Peter Westmore