Condoleezza Rice tells Madison audience: 'We are not yet safe'

MADISON — Speaking at Drew University Thursday night while the manhunt continued for the Boston Marathon bombers in Boston, former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said “we are safer than we were on Sept. 10, but we are not yet safe.”

Appearing as part of the school’s 2013 Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lecturer series, Rice said the attack in Boston evoked disturbing personal memories of 9/11 and that “whatever the origin of the horrible events in Boston this week, our conception of security has been shattered because we are an open society. We cannot protect everything. America’s notion of invulnerability was shattered on that September day and we will never feel invulnerable again.”

Recalling the Secret Service “levitating” her out of the West Wing and into a bunker after the 9/11 attacks, she said “From that moment on, our conception of security would never be quite the same. That a group of stateless terrorists could have come from a failed state, Afghanistan, brought down the Twin Towers, blown a hole in the Pentagon, caused a plane to be flown into the ground in Pennsylvania and probably, at perhaps a cost of $300,000, created the worst attack on the territory of the most powerful country in the world, your conception of security would never be the same.

“For the first time we would worry more about ungoverned spaces than powerful states. The real threats would come from Afghanistan, the high mountains between Pakistan and Somalia, and Yemen, and places where terrorists could train and hide.”

Drawing on her rich life experience, Rice spoke of her service to the country as part of two Bush administrations, meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev during the fall of the Soviet Union and advising George W. Bush during the early years of the war on terror.

A capacity crowd of about 2,000 people filled the Simon Forum to hear her 30-minute talk, which was followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer period. Security in the wake of the Boston bombings was tight as everyone had to pass through metal detectors, although campus police said this was the norm for the lecture series.

K-12 education a security threat
As an educator speaking at a college, the former president of Stanford University also spoke passionately about the power of education to balance society and move it forward. She also tied the importance of education to America’s future security.

“The crisis in K-12 education is the greatest national security threat that we face because if we do not educate our children, particularly the least of them, people will not find jobs,” she said. “You want to try and find a job unable to read in this economy? And they’ll live on the dole, they’ll have nowhere else to go and it will continue to be the case that only 30 percent of the people who take the basic skills test to get in the military can’t pass it. And we will tear ourselves apart, two societies, one capable, one not.”

Vivian A. Bull, president for the interim term at Drew, introduced Rice as the nation’s first African-American woman to serve as secretary of state, the first woman to serve as national security adviser and “also importantly one of the first two women admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club.”

“I am especially optimistic in a place like this, where young people are being given the privilege of the transforming power of education,” Rice said to the students in the audience near the end of her remarks.

Currently on the faculty at Stanford and a founding partner of the international business consulting group RiceHadleyGates, Rice opened with discussion of a transforming international system and what she identified as three major shocks to that system: 9/11, the national and international economic crisis that began in 2008 and the Arab Spring.

The economic crisis, she said, “would challenge our conception of economic security and prosperity as much as 9/11 would challenge our conception of physical security.”

She found optimism in the Arab Spring, and “the affirmation now that the values we hold for individual liberty, for individual rights, that those values are indeed universal. We are seeing that authoritarianism just isn’t stable.”

The evening concluded with seven questions from the audience which ranged from budget cuts — “we can’t keep whistling past the graveyard” — to the war on terror.

“I am painfully aware of the sacrifices that were made in the Iraq war, and those are lives that will never be brought back, and that’s something all of us will have to live with who were part of that decision,” Rice said. “But I’m also aware of this Middle East, with Saddam Hussein in the middle of it, would have been a very dangerous Middle East.”