Condoleezza Rice in Grand Rapids: Americans must not lose sight of values
by Matt Vande Bunte | The Grand Rapids Press
Monday June 22, 2009, 11:42 PM
GRAND RAPIDS -- The United States has a national myth that Condoleezza Rice saw reflected in the eyes of people all over the world.
Now, amid trying economic times, Americans must not lose sight of the values that craft that image, the former Secretary of State said Monday at DeVos Place.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke in Grand Rapids on Monday
Speaking to a crowd of about 1,550 at the annual dinner of The Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Rice said the country must hold fast to its ideals of global democracy and capitalism.
"The most important thing we can do is stay focused on the principles of who we are and what has made us a successful and powerful and compassionate and generous country," she said.
"The striving and the desire for freedom is universal. If the United States does not stand for the universality of that principle, no one will.
"Not only is it right. Not only is it who we are. It's also the only way the world progresses toward greater peace and prosperity."
Rice was U.S. Secretary of State during President George W. Bush's second term. During Bush's first term, she was national security adviser. She touched on policy toward Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China, tying economic growth to political freedom and pointing at domestic K-12 education as a threat to both.
If Americans are not confident about competing in the global market, "then the pressures of protectionism are going to be overwhelming," Rice said.
"If we protect, everybody will protect and the economic problems we have today will look like child's play," she said. "We cannot allow ourselves or anybody else to question that (private enterprise, open markets and free trade) are the principles that will lead to economic expansion.
"We have to make sure that the great national myth is also true for people here. Our educational system is really not keeping faith with the poorest of our kids. We have to be up to the task of making it true that it doesn't matter where you came from. It matters where you're going."
-- Rice said we learned from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 "that we were in a new generational struggle" akin to the Cold War. She hopes her legacy will be her insistence that the Middle East wants individual freedom as much as anybody.
She cited pushing Syrian forces out of Lebanon and deposing Iraq's "homicidal maniac" as decisions that history yet may praise.
"The freedom agenda and the doctrine against terrorism were always connected in a very fundamental way for us (in the Bush Administration). With the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, you got the first Arab democracy. That's a trade up. The people of Iraq are better off for it. Now we have a chance to make (Iraq) a democracy that is a friend to the United States.
"History has a long arc. Today's headlines and history's judgment are rarely the same."
-- Rice briefly mentioned ongoing protests in Iran, but was asked no questions about it by the moderator.
"A funny thing about authoritarians, they somehow crave legitimacy and so they had an election. People thought they were participating in a real election and when it was clear that they were participating in a sham election they said 'Enough' and they went into the streets. The Iranians in the street are also expressing their desire for freedom. Something is happening. One way or another, Iran is being irrevocably changed by what is going on in its streets today."
-- Rice lauded the risk-taking and innovation of local business leaders. "It's really the foundation on which this democracy is built. Our strength is not in Washington.
"If the United States of America focuses on these core (economic and political) principles and if we do what we believe is right, we will be all right. And if the United States of America is all right, the world will be all right, too."