WASHINGTON D.C. — MSNBC’s Chris Matthews spoke with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an interview scheduled to air Tuesday, June 14, on “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” 7-8 p.m.
Matthews asked the Secretary of State about the Downing Street Memo, the insurgency in Iraq, Bashar Assad of Syria, the Iranian elections, Russia, North Korea and the war on AIDS in Africa. In a poignant moment, Rice reflected on the pending Senate apology on anti-lynching legislation. Rice recounted her own personal experience on the topic.
Following is a preview of the interview:
On Iraq and the Downing Street Memo
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": Madam Secretary, there's a lot of concern in this country, as you know, about the strength and the violence of the insurgency. We just got these two memos in the last couple of weeks that—they're called the Downing Street memos. One of them is a memo from now the British ambassador to the United States, David Manning, in his capacity as adviser to British Prime Minister Blair, where he said in March of 2002, he met with you. And among the big questions that were still out there in your mind was something to do with—what's it going to be like in Iraq the morning after? Do you recall those meetings?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, of course. David Manning is a fine public servant and an extraordinary foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Blair. And we had a number of conversations. I don't remember this one in particular. But I would just note, Chris, that that was a year before the actual invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime. We had not yet gone to the United Nations to try and resolve the issue through diplomatic means. But a lot of planning went on between March of 2002 and March of 2003.
MATTHEWS: When the president made the decision or began to make the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, whatever it took, whatever means, whether it be multilateral or basically with coalition, did he calculating then the strength and violence of the current insurgency? Did you have a fix then on the size of this opposition we'd face at this point?
RICE: I think it's fair to say that we knew that there were a lot of unknowables about Iraq. The strength of the institutions—we were concerned, for instance, that—whether or not the ministries would be strong enough to stand up once you had taken away the kind of Ba'athist leadership that was supporting Saddam Hussein. We were certainly concerned about what to do about the armed forces.
But it was our view, we thought at the time that the army would stand and fight. You could then demobilize that part of the army that was associated with Saddam Hussein, and the remainder of the army could be brought to—for a transitional government in Iraq. But we were looking at all of these imponderables, all of these unknowns in that period of time.
I think we had, when we went to war, having tried everything diplomatically to avoid war, I think when we went to war, we had a plan for how to deal with the aftermath. There were a number of things that surprised us, including the fact that the army, in a sense, kind of melted away in those last days after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
MATTHEWS: Were you surprised that the Army was able to slink away into the cities of Iraq and still maintain the power of its ordinance and its fighting ability?
RICE: Well, it's not clear to this day the degree to which this is the structure of the old Army. There are clearly a number of old Ba'athists, people who want to return the Saddam Hussein-like forces to power. There's also a significant of people who have come in as foreign terrorists, who recognize the importance of Iraq to the war on terrorism and are therefore fighting as if this is, in a sense, their last stand to make certain that democracy can't take hold in the Middle East.
So I would never claim that the exact nature of this insurgency was understood at the time that we went to war, but that there might be forces after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, yes, that was understood.
MATTHEWS: Before we go on, that second memorandum that has been talked about—the one that was originally dubbed the Downing Street memo—said that the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.
What do you make of that word, “fixed?” Is that an assertion that we were fixing the argument, making a case for intel that said there was a connection with al Qaida, a connection with the WMD, just to get the war started?
RICE: Well, I don't understand—I can't go back and judge what was said.
MATTHEWS: But the word “fixed,” which is like fixed the way you fix the World Series.
MATTHEWS: Or is it British sense, which means just put things together.
RICE: Put things together. And I know the people who were involved in this, and someone like the head at that time of the British intelligence services was very much involved in the discussions we were having on intelligence. A lot of the intelligence was from Great Britain, from British sources. And the entire world thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
I think if the world had not thought that he had weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn't have had him under sanctions for 12 years, trying to deal with these weapons of mass destruction. And there's good reason to have thought that he did, given that he'd used them before, that in 1991 he'd been much closer to a nuclear weapon than anyone thought.
The important thing is that I think we've all taken a look at the intelligence problems of the time. We've made steps to try and improve the capability of the United States—and I think the British have too—for intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. It's always going to be hard when you're dealing with very secretive regimes, when you're dealing with the dual-use capabilities that are usually involved in weapons of mass destruction.
You know, Chris, the same chlorine that can be used in a swimming pool can be used in chemical-weapons development.
And so it's not easy. But the improvements that we've made to intelligence, the creation of a new director of national intelligence, the sharing of information, the changes in the way that sourcing is reported to policy makers—I think those are all things that we'll—we've learned those lessons from the Iraq experience.
MATTHEWS: The interesting contradiction you just point to is the fact that the president, in his State of the Union in 2003, used that reference to British intelligence about the African—turned out not to be the case, apparently, although that's still murky—the purchase of the uranium from Niger, right?
MATTHEWS: At the same time the British intelligence was saying, “Well, we don't have our act together.” And yet we're trusting them.
RICE: Well, in fact, the British intelligence services are fine services. I don't think there's anyone in the world who would say that they aren't one of the best services in the world.
But the nature of the intelligence around Iraq was always hard. We were focused on a long pattern of engagement with weapons of destruction of Saddam Hussein. And it's interesting, the report that Charles Duelfer did at the end when the Iraq Survey Group reported, showed that this was somebody who was never going to lose his connection to weapons of mass destruction, who continued to harbor ambitions, continued to try to keep certain capabilities in place. Sooner or later, it was going to be necessary to deal with the unique circumstances of Iraq—a state that was linked to weapons of mass destruction, so linked that there had been 17 Security Council resolutions against him; who had used weapons of mass destruction before; who had invaded his neighbors twice; who had caused massive deaths of his own people, somewhere in the nature of 300,000 or more people found in mass graves; and who was, by the way, still in a state of suspended war with the United States and with Great Britain as we tried to fly these no-fly zones to try to keep his forces under control, was shooting at us.
So this is a pretty unique set of circumstances that led to war against Iraq, and that we had to sooner or later deal with this terrible tyrant in the middle of the Middle East.
MATTHEWS: You mentioned the fact that not all the insurgents are domestic. Let me ask you about Syria. Bashar Assad, is he supporting the movement of jihadists into Iraq?
RICE: We believe that there is substantial activity of the terrorists on Syrian territory. Now, the degree to which the Syrian government is or is not witting of that, I think no one would want to judge.
MATTHEWS: Are they trying to stop it?
RICE: Well, they're not doing enough to stop it. And we understand that this is a long and permeable border, but there are many efforts could be made, many steps that they could take to improve the security on that border. And the problem with the Syrian government is that they're out of step with the entire region. They're still supporting Palestinian rejectionists who are frustrating the efforts of people like Mahmoud Abbas to bring about a Palestinian state. They are still trying, through, we believe, their surreptitious means in Lebanon, to continue to have an effect on Lebanese elections there. And in Iraq, with the Iraqi people trying to get a better life, trying to get a democratic government, they continue to do very little about the people who are gathering on their territory, despite the fact that those terrorists are coming to Iraq and killing not just coalition forces, but innocent Iraqis as well.
MATTHEWS: Do we support the opposition in Syrian, like the Democratic Party of Syria?
RICE: Well, obviously the Syrian people deserve to have the same freedoms that we've talked about everywhere else. But how that comes about I think it yet to be seen. We have had diplomatic relations with the Syrian government. We still do. But we just want to see a change in Syrian behavior. That's the important thing at this point.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of Bashar— I mean, there's all this new generation coming into the Arab world. King Abdullah seems to have done well. Mohammed the VI is a moderate leader. You've got Saif Qadaffi coming down the like, maybe a new Mubarak. But Bashar, has he been a disappointment.
RICE: Well, the Syrian regime has been a disappointment, and we've tried many times, including trips that my predecessor, Colin Powell, took, that Rich Armitage took to say to the Syrian government, do these things if you want to be in step with changes in the Middle East and if you want to be—if you want to have better relations with the United States.
In Iraq, for example, yes, this is a very, very tough fight, but it is for a good cause. It is to have in the center of the Middle East a different kind of regime that can be at peace with its neighbors, that can be a model for democratic development in the region worldwide, that, as the president said, can be an example of an answer to the ideologies of hatred that cause people to fly airplanes into buildings on a fine September day.
MATTHEWS: But who's rooting for that? You go through Syria, they don't seem to be rooting for it. Iran, you know, Congressman Curt Weldon just got back, and I can't—you understand this. Is Iran supportive of the Shi'a-dominated new government, or are they undermining it through support for insurgency?
RICE: Well, Iran's behavior, I would say, vis-a-vis Iraq has been somewhat mixed. On the one hand, I would have to say that the Iranians apparently, with the Iraqis, are trying to develop neighborly relations. We want that to happen. It is Iraq's neighbor. They need to have good relations. But we would hope that those relations would be transparent, that there would not be efforts in any way to destabilize there.
But the Iraqis do have people in the neighborhood who want them to succeed. You mentioned the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, who is training Iraqi policemen and military people on his territory.
We're going to have a conference in Brussels on June the 22nd, where the European Union, the United States and the Iraqis will host many, many countries—I think it's now about 80 countries from around the world—that are going to say to the Iraqis, “We are ready to support a unified, inclusive, democratic Iraq that can be at peace with its neighbors.”
Think, Chris, what a tremendous change that will be for the Middle East, to have that kind of Iraq, not Saddam Hussein in the center of the Middle East.
On the Senate apology on lynchings
MATTHEWS: On Monday, the United States Senate was going to pass a resolution after all these years of opposing any action on lynching laws to apologize for a historic failure. Having grown up in Alabama, what's your reaction to that?
RICE: Well, I'm delighted that they're going to do it. And I know that people like Senator Allen have been involved in it, a number of Southern senators. It's a really good thing.
MATTHEWS: A little late.
RICE: Well, better late than never on something like this. I remember as a kid the stories about lynchings—everybody's family had at least one story in that regard. You know, my grandfather, who ran away from home at 13 because he'd gotten into an altercation with a white man over something that happened with his sister, and he was pretty sure that if he hung around, that's what was going to happen.
MATTHEWS: So it was real.
RICE: Yes, it was absolutely real. And it—but you know what it shows, Chris? It shows that the great thing about democracy and about American democracy is that even though it has taken us a long time to fully realize the principles and the values that were outlined in the Founding Fathers' documents, those very institutions allow you to overcome these conflicts, these historical problems, within the context.
So in that sense, it is a remarkable and wonderful thing that this has been done in the U.S. Senate.
MATTHEWS: I was amazed too that Janet Langhart's relative was one of the people lynched. Amazing.
Let me ask you about this civil-rights case. We grew up with it—you more than I did—in Philadelphia, Mississippi—the three Northern civil rights workers who were maybe buried alive—they were killed; it was brutal. They're finally re-opening that case. What do you feel about that? That happened today?
RICE: Yes. I'm not going to comment on the case. You know, I hope—I'm sure justice will be done. Again, the institutions have matured to the point that whatever the outcome, I really do believe people will trust it because we now tend to trust in the court system.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk Africa. Senator Brownback attacks our program with regard to malaria, which I had a few years ago, and said that it's—we're spending too much money on consultancies and not enough on bed nets and basic materials.
RICE: Yes. Well, this is a broad program. It's HIV-AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis. And we are trying to make sure that the programs work very well. But we also are using direct means, direct action, if you will, to try to help these countries deal with these problems.
I'll give you an example. We have now more than 200,000 people under treatment for HIV-AIDS, just since the president's program began.
MATTHEWS: In Africa?
RICE: Well, in Africa and the countries that are hardest hit, a couple of them in the Caribbean.
But this is a remarkable step toward putting 2 million people under treatment in the next several years. And a lot of this has to be done, working—which is the good thing—working with the countries themselves to improve their health care-delivery system. Because, when I was in Uganda, I was noting, learning about how they put people on bicycles and have them go out into the villages, because the villagers can't get all the way into the cities for treatment.
So there are a lot of very clear, direct-action things that are being undertaken here. And, you know, we're always looking at the balance of planning and consulting versus direct action. But I have to say, we're doing an awful lot that's direct action.
MATTHEWS: What do you think about it? I mean, I was in the Peace Corps over there, and we've been over there a lot, and I think my son's going to be involved over there at some point. You have a leadership class, a generation of people in their sexually active 20s to 50 years old—they're the ones getting killed by this disease. So you have kids and grandkids surviving.
What's that going to do to the leadership hopes? Well-educated people, the best-educated in a sense—the best, the brightest of Africa are getting hit by this thing.
RICE: Well, it's the one of the reasons that I think the president felt he had to act. He had the feeling, the sense that you're going to lose a whole generation if you weren't very careful here.
You know, in some places, they're looking at infection rates going toward 45 percent. And so that's why this program is so important.
But, you know, it also takes leadership in Africa. Today, the president was with five democratically elected presidents in Africa, from places like Ghana and Mozambique and Botswana— places that have had recent democratic elections where they've had peaceful transfers of powers a couple of times.
And those are the leaders that are accountable to their people because of democracy. Those are the leaders that are speaking out clearly about what has to be done. Those are the leaders that are embracing the strategy of abstinence and education, recognizing that this is something that you can't sweep under the rug.
There's still too many places in Africa and in other places where it is not considered a part of one's leadership to speak out about this, because it's a sort of taboo subject. Well, if it's a taboo subject, you're going to continue to lose lives. And so the president's program, which he discussed again with these leaders here who are here for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a little mini-summit on that—but he discussed with them again the importance of real leadership.
And we're starting to get it in Africa, and I think it's going to make a difference.
MATTHEWS: Do you like the program where—in Uganda, where they say abstinence first, have a partner second, condom third? ABC? That's the order of...
RICE: Yes. Absolutely. Because there's no reason to be shy about teaching, particularly young people, about the behaviors that are going to stop the spread of AIDS. We know what those behaviors are. And so you have to be honest about them.
On North Korea
MATTHEWS: Relative to a hard line. If there is a hard line—I’m not sure what it is. Do you think Kim Jong Il is a sane man?
RICE: I don’t know. I’ve never met the man.
MATTHEWS: Is he a responsible leader?
RICE: I have to say that anyone has to say that the people of North Korea have not prospered under this regime. They’ve suffered under this regime. We’re talking about malnutrition rates that have led to literal height and weight differentials that are dramatic between the South Korean population, which is well nourished, and the North Korean population that is not.
The sad thing is that while the North Korean regime seeks nuclear weapons, its population is still totally dependent on food aid to try and deal with its malnutrition. The good thing is that if the North Koreans chose to come back the six-party talks, they could significantly improve the well-being of their people, because there are—all of the states of the six-party talks are willing and ready to help them on this score. Even without that, the United States has been a huge provider of food assistance to North Korea.
So there are ways for North Korea to take advantage of what is being offered. They just have to give up their nuclear-weapons program.
MATTHEWS: Last two questions, and they’re related. Russia and the piano. Okay?
RICE: Russia and the piano. Okay.
MATTHEWS: First of all, you’re a Russian expert. Somebody said to me recently that—I think it was my wife—that the word in the world is that if you are a desperate people, times are bad economically, just out of human nature, you go to the tyrants; you go to the strongman. Is that the appeal of Putin? That he will bring back that nostalgic sense of the greater Russia, the greater empire, and therefore—and that’s being driven by this terrible dichotomy between rich and poor in that country?
RICE: Well, first of all, a lot has changed in the 15 years since (INAUDIBLE). This is not the Soviet Union. And so even when we talk about trends of consolidation of power in the Kremlin that we think are troubling, we’re not talking about anything remotely like what it was before (INAUDIBLE)...
MATTHEWS: No Brezhnev.
RICE: ... in the Soviet Union. There’s no Brezhnev. There’s no Krushchev, in that sense there is not even a Gorbachev. There a much freer society for individual rights, and the like than there has ever been, I think, in Russian history.
But there is a trend toward the consolidation of power. And I think you have to understand it in terms of the Russian people’s views. I think in the ‘90s, there was a sense that it became just chaotic. And I think there was a sense that Russia sense of being a great power was diminished.
Now some of that has been rebuilt. And some of that is good. But what you don’t want to do is to have an overreaction to the point that the concentration of power in the Kremlin, at the expense of an independent press, at the expense of a strong and independent judiciary, because to swing completely the other way.
And I do think that the income-distribution differences in Russia need to be addressed. They’ve got an opportunity to address them. They’ve got extraordinarily high oil prices. But they’re not going to do it on the basis of an energy-only economy.
MATTHEWS: What’s wrong with Russia, because we’ve been pretty good in this country—obviously not great, but good creating a middle class. Roosevelt had a lot to do with it, the G.I. Bill, things like that, Social Security. The Russians went from the czarist period, where it was horrendously unfair, where there were just a few very rich people. And now it seems like they’re going back to that horrendous dichotomy. People tell me around Moscow that these people are all driving around in Mercedes with incredible wealth and prostitution and huge money. Five miles out of town, or less than that, everybody’s impoverished.
RICE: Well, it’s—I do think it’s gotten better in the last several of years, that there is a middle class that’s developed in Russia.
RICE: It’s beginning to develop. It’s developing in the cities. When you go out to the countryside, it is quite a difference, quite a different matter.
And the Russians, even the Russian leadership, will be quite honest with you about that, that the villages and the smaller cities are still very impoverished. If you go to St. Petersburg or even Moscow, you do have a growing middle class.
I’ll tell you, the longest lines, Chris, are at furniture stores. And why is that? It’s because people are actually buying apartments. They’re buying places to live. They’re fixing them up. So there is a nascent middle class.
But what you need is entrepreneurship in Russia, because one of the great secrets of the United States, of course, is small business. It’s not big business; it’s small business that employs tens of people or at most hundreds of people. And until you have a firm foundation of rule of law and people believe they can recoup their investment, and there are going to be fair tax laws and all of these things, you’re not going to have that entrepreneurship.
So the kinds of issues that we talk with the Russians about, the need for rule of law, is not just to attract big Western investment but also so you can create a culture in which Russians themselves will found small businesses and take the country forward.
MATTHEWS: Why are the—last question. Why are the Russians so good at writing novels, at ballets, at chess, at the piano, anything that requires intense, almost lifelong dedication? Even their national anthem was beautiful, the Soviet national anthem is beautiful.
RICE: It is.
MATTHEWS: The internationale (ph) is beautiful. What they haven’t been good at is society-building.
RICE: Well, the comes down, I think, to political structures. I don’t—I fundamentally don’t believe that there are any people on the earth who don’t have the DNA somehow for democratic development.
RICE: I just don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.
RICE: Everybody in the world is capable of democratic development. Some people in the world are unlucky enough to get stuck with really bad political leadership and with really bad political institutions.
Now, the Russians are—as I said, a lots changed in 15 years. That has improved. And you notice, too, that this is the people that also have some of the best software engineers in the world because they’re brilliant at mathematics. They have the knowledge base, the intellectual base, to be a quite remarkable society and to build entrepreneurship, but they need a legal structure and a political structure that will allow that to happen. When I think about what we got so fortunate about in the United States, it was really that from our foundings—both political institutions and that sense of what values mattered, were there in the first founding documents.
Now to be sure, you know, my predecessor on the wall here . . .
MATTHEWS: Yes, I can see Jefferson flying around Moscow.
RICE: And Thomas Jefferson, you know, my favorite quote from him, Chris, is, you know, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” Well, he was a slave-owner. But these institutions, while they weren’t perfect at the time, did allow people to prosper and to continue to struggle and build toward them. That’s what you need, is good institutions and I think people will eventually live up to them.
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