From murderous Jim Crow–era Birmingham, Alabama, via the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to the defeat of Soviet Communism, the past has had a powerful influence over the worldview of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former national security advisor and secretary of state. She also comments on the life and career of the late Mikhail Gorbachev.
To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:
Andrew Roberts: Dr. Condoleezza Rice is a former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State and the current Director of the Hoover Institution. She's also a scratch golfer, history professor, concert pianist, and the newly minted co-owner of the Denver Bronco's American football team. Condoleezza, where do you get your sense of the past from? Who taught you history at the University of Denver? Your father taught a course on history of Africa to 1800. Was it him?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: My father was clearly the person who stimulated my interest in history. He himself actually did his degree in theology, but he was always very interested in history. He could always tell these great tales about history, about the history of the United States, about the history of the world. And so I would really credit him with my keen sense that the past mattered. I will have to give my mother just a little bit here though, because she was a musician. And very early on, she bought a little book for me called Lives of the Great Composers. And so that part of the past, the history of Mozart's life, the history of Schubert's life, I would attribute to my mother.
Andrew Roberts: You were still a teenager when you won the Colorado State Championship for Ancient Greek and Roman history. In one of the early podcasts in this series, Victor Davis Hansen argued that some of the historical and political lessons that Greece and Rome taught us are still valid today. Thucydides famously said that his history of the Peloponnesian Wars was written for all time. Do you agree with that approach or do we study ancient history more for the stories than the morals?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Oh, I think we study ancient history because it has quite a lot to say about modern day human beings. The sad thing is in some ways human beings haven't changed that much. And when I studied Greek and Roman history, which I still love by the way, and I do have to just a disclosure, I think the championship was only held among parochial schools. So it's not as if I defeated the entire state of Colorado. But I had taken Latin, and so I loved the study of Latin, love the language. But I think what all of these great civilizations really teach is something that I wish we could teach in our colleges today. I would have every student study a great civilization that rose and fell because it will teach you about hubris. And I think that unfortunately human beings are still given in major ways to hubris, particularly when they become successful. And so I think that's what I loved about the study of Greek and Roman history, the imperfections of them, the tremendous civilizations that they built, and then the fact that they could never keep them stable for very long.
Andrew Roberts: You yourself were brought face to face with the dark side of American history at a young age, when on the 15th of September, 1963, age only eight, you heard the bomb go off that killed four young black girls on their way to the Sunday school in your hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, in one of the worst moments of the civil rights struggle. Your 2010 book about what you call your extraordinary ordinary family, records that terrible moment and its effect on the black community. When did you first realize that things were happening in the civil rights struggle, that would be studied in history, that you were literally living history?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, going back again to my extraordinary ordinary parents, they never missed an opportunity to point out that what we were going through would have historical impact, that it was really very important to mark that moment. And so during the great civil rights movement, '62-'63, in my hometown of Birmingham, I remember being driven over to see Kelly Ingram Park. Now that was the park where Bull Connor's police dogs famously took on peaceful black demonstrators with water hoses and really quite violent. And I can remember being driven down there a good distance away because my parents wanted us to be safe. But saying, look at what is happening here, this will be remembered. And when the four young girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church, it was not just for us a matter of history, of course, it was a very personal thing because Denise McNair, one of the young girls had been in my father's kindergarten at his Church. I have a picture of my father handing Denise her kindergarten graduation certificate. The parents were known to us, the McNair's were a part of the community. And so it was this odd sense of living history, knowing that this was going to matter for all time. But also it was very personal because we lived in that community. We knew those people. I think my parents always felt it could have been me.
Andrew Roberts: And then two months afterwards, after that bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, you were in Mrs. Riles's geography class, about to take her history class after recess, when you heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Tell us about that moment and the primary emotions that you felt.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, we heard that the president had been shot in Mrs. Riles's geography class. And then there was a recess and then we would come back for history. And by the time we came back for history, I heard Mrs. Riles who was standing at the classroom door, say to another teacher, the President is dead. The President is dead and there's a southerner in the White House. She said, what is going to become of us now? Because there was such great hope that the Kennedys would take that moment of 16th street Baptist Church and push forward the historic, the civil rights legislation, and with a quote Southerner in the White House, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a great fear that everything would roll back. But it shows how history can be sometimes a bit surprising because of course that's not what happened. Lyndon Baines Johnson became the President who would deliver both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But I think nobody would've thought it at that day, and as a little fourth grader, I just remember being a bit terrified myself that there wasn't going to be any progress.
Andrew Roberts: And you were 13 in 1968, and you described that extraordinary year as the moments of your political awakening. Tell us about your reactions to the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and to the Tet offensive and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the long term effects it had on you and your worldview.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, that year of 1968, somebody called it a crack in time. And I've always thought that that was really apt because with all that we've gone through with the civil rights movement, things were starting to settle in. Life was starting to feel normal in '65 and '66 and '67. My parents and I had moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where my dad was now a Dean of students at Stillman College, historically black college in Tuscaloosa. And then on that April day when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and then just a couple of months later after the Los Angeles democratic primary vote in June, it felt as if things were coming apart and they continued to feel as if they were coming apart. That there was, of course, the violence at the Democratic National Convention that summer with Abraham Ribikoff, I'll never forget saying those are our children to Mayor Daley. And of course, on and on the Ted offensive. And of course in France, we were having the riots. And so again, because my father in particular always wanted me to remember those moments and understand them, and that something had happened in Vietnam that was going to change the course of history. We watched the news every night, we talked about these issues every night. It was a little bit hard to avoid what was going on because my father was determined that we would know it. It probably did shape my worldview, but there was a little bit of an interlude. I went to college to be a concert pianist and not to study the great moments in history. But I remember very well, Andrew, that I was sitting in the music lounge with some other music students on the day that the United States had the incursion into Cambodia in '72. And my classmate sitting there said, well, what's that all about? I don't understand. It's about some place called Vietnam. And I thought, oh my goodness, I may be in the wrong major here. The people in this room have never heard of Vietnam.
Andrew Roberts: Well, speaking about Vietnam, when you became the 19th National Security Advisor in 2001, who were the predecessors in that post who you most admired and wanted to learn from? And were there any who you thought might give you an historical lesson about what to avoid? Just to let you know HR McMaster put you and Henry Kissinger in the first category, and some of the Vietnam era National Security Advisors in the second.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, certainly in that first category of people that I admired and helped to live from... you have to learn from Henry Kissinger, of course, because in many ways, Henry Kissinger had my background. He was an academic. Later on, he would become, of course, both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Nobody's tried that since, being of combining the two positions. But Henry was such a great figure. Probably the most influential for me was Brent Scowcroft. I had been on Brent Scowcroft's National Security team as the Soviet specialist at the end of the Cold War. And he was a lowkey personality, never put himself in the story, was always the person who was working to make sure that the President was well supported. And I just admired that quiet way that he would about it. I'll leave aside the ones who I think... I won't tell you. Having been National Security Advisor, maybe I'm just a little bit more tolerant of what it's like to be in that role and make those mistakes.
Andrew Roberts: And then you went on to become Secretary of State in 2005. And you were the highest ranking woman in the history of the United States to be in the Presidential line of succession, as close as fourth in line. As National Security Advisor, you and your predecessor Colin Powell, had already been the highest ranking blacks, say, term you prefer to African American in the executive branch. So on top of your responsibilities, guiding the President on national security, how heavily did these glass ceiling breaking factors weigh on you in both the areas of gender and race?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: I've always thought that people who become first didn't set out to be first. And if you spend too much time thinking about the fact that you're the first, you're not going to actually do the job. One of my very good friends was the late Sally Ride, the first woman in space. And Sally said to me once, I didn't intend to be the first woman in space, I just wanted to be in space. And I felt that way about my role both at the National Security Council and then a Secretary of State. But then there was a moment when I was sitting with the President on one side of him as National Security Advisor, and Colin Powell was on the other side as Secretary of State. And Tony Blair was sitting across from us and he looked at us, this black man as Secretary of state, this black woman as National Security Advisor. And he said, I have to wonder, could this happen in Britain? And he said, not yet. And at that moment, it occurred to me that with all of its troubled history on race and slavery in our birth defect, that this moment for the United States of America, that in some ways I guess you could say the two most critical national security players supporting the President at this extraordinary time of 9/11 and the wars, they were both black. And you had to say, that's something quite remarkable about the United States of America.
Andrew Roberts: Certainly. Certainly. Now there is a chance that the next Prime Minister is going to be an Indian in Britain. That's a chance anyhow. Now your description of slavery as America's birth defect, which is a brilliant description, your great-grandmother Julia Reed was a freed former house slave. No fewer than 42 of the 56 signature of the declaration of independence owned slaves at some stage in their careers. So how do you feel about the 1619 project, which it seems to view the entirety of American history through the prism of slavery and race relations?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I would say that slavery and race relations shaped a lot of America. Of course, when one thinks about how the United States finally got built, it was because they made a compromise that allowed three fifths of a man for the counting of slaves. So it was there. But I just have to think that to see that as the entire prism through which to see American history, American revolutionary history, American colonial history, is just patently wrong and a historical. One can say that we had a birth defect. One can say that slavery played a major role in the way that the United States evolved. But one would then also have to tell the story of John Adams, who actually as a lawyer defended the Amistad rebellious, the slaves. And so one would have to tell the story about the tensions that so many had that, the tensions that so many felt. And one would have to tell the story of how that remarkable constitution of the United States of America was eventually the vehicle that not only enshrined the freeing of the slaves, but also was the constitution that led to the descendants of slaves finally getting their rights. So it's a complex history, and the 1619 project isn't complex in its telling of it.
Andrew Roberts: We have a fairly warm feeling about John Adams as well in Britain, but partly because he defended the Boston massacre, British soldiers, but much more because he was the first ambassador to the Court of St James and got on well with George III, that I think shows a great deal of graciousness in both people, don't you?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I'm very much looking forward to my summer reading of the Last American King.
Andrew Roberts: Well, we might have to edit that out of the recording, but thank you very much indeed. It's long struck me that history is likely to be far kinder to the George W. Bush administration. The current affairs have been where the narrative has been overly influenced by leftwing media outlets and anti-war groups and the hostile academia, including historians. As the official papers become available to historians, and we're able to see the events of 2001 to nine in their proper historical perspective, how do you think that administration will be viewed in the future?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I believe that when historians get the full story, they will first of all see that the caricature of George W. Bush is somehow a cowboy who wanted to take America to war no matter what. That he was callous somehow in thinking about the challenges that would emerge in Iraq. That he didn't take the time to understand the Middle East or Afghanistan. I think it will show a very different picture of someone who after the horrors of 9/11. And imagine that you're eight months into your presidency, and all of a sudden you have the biggest attack on American soil, really in our history if one discounts that nasty affair with the British during the war.
Andrew Roberts: Which I think you should.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yes, during the war of 1812. But to be that President and to see the Twin Towers come down and then the hole in the Pentagon, and I was with him every moment as we walked around in that Pentagon and we saw this attack on America, of course you were going to take some actions that were very tough. You were going to take some actions that in retrospect some would say were extreme. But I think the history will show a President whose greatest fear was that he would be the President who let it happen twice. And that would have been inexcusable as President of the United States.
Andrew Roberts: And do you think history has that capacity to be more objective as time goes on? Do you think that because that the sheer passage of time allows historians to see in the round things that perhaps academic historians today aren't able to?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: I certainly hope that historians maintain that capacity. If I look back on the great histories from which I learned, I think it's very obvious that... Probably the first really great history that I read was Barbara Tuchman's, The Guns of August. And that perspective on what was going on there in a way that was not accusatory of any of the parties, and that tried to understand the puts and the takes, the ups and the downs that they were all facing, I would hope that there would be historians who can do still do that about modern history. But I have to say, I'm sometimes concerned that history has become so much a lens of the historian, rather than an effort to try to get the lens on those who were making the history.
Andrew Roberts: And of course, Barbara Tuchman's book came out some 65 years after. Do you think it might take 65 years for people to be able to view the Bush administration in the round?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: It might well take that long because we're still living so much with the implications. But then on the other hand, as a University professor, I'm fully aware how fast time flies. I remember one day that a young woman was giving her report on the Cold War and she kept saying Brezhnev, Brezhnev. And I thought, how could she not know that it's Brezhnev? I thought she's probably never heard his name. She, of course, wasn't born when the Cold War was ended. So maybe the time will go a little bit more quickly. But even if it takes 65 years, 70 years, a 100 years, I just hope that the history will reflect the real dilemmas and challenges of those times.
Andrew Roberts: And the idea of context brings me onto my next question about the pulling down of the Confederate statues in the South, which in 2017 you said, if you forget your history, you are likely to repeat it. When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it's a bad thing. Recently, we've seen Thomas Jefferson remove from New York City Hall and Teddy Roosevelt from the Natural History Museum on Central Park West. Where do you think we are in the culture wars today? And do you see a way that they can be resolved amicably?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, when I see these incidents with Jefferson or Roosevelt, let me just say on the Confederates, I understand why we should not name military bases after Confederate Generals. They were traitors to the country. Why would we do that?
Andrew Roberts: And losers as well.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: And they lost on top of it. They lost. But even some of the statutes, I said, I would like the seven year old to be able to say this, mommy, who was that Stonewall Jackson then? And for the mother to be able to explain. Because I do come from the study of a culture and a history and a society that used to airbrush people out of photographs. And then you do lose a sense of your history. But then when I see it for people like Jefferson or those who had one point wanted to not name a school after Abraham Lincoln of all people, I think how incredibly callous of us. And talk about hubris, who are we to judge in that way? These were human beings. They were in many way flawed human beings. But can anybody say that Jefferson didn't have an enormous impact on where we are now and in a positive way?
Andrew Roberts: And also, doesn't did it open up the probability that our statues are going to be pulled down for something that we consider we know is wrong today, but we aren't able to do that much about?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, that's the point of the hubris, to think that somehow we in this age have all of the answers and they were so wrong that we should dishonor them now, as to whether or not the culture wars, we can find a bridging. I do think that there are those who are beginning to think that this has become too extreme. I have a lot of friends in the University whose politics would be quite left, but they find some of the chilling of the academic environment to be truly troubling. They find that those who don't want to understand the history, but simply want to criticize or cancel those who were a part of that history, troubling. And so maybe there's a broader support for trying to honor our history, understand our history, be cold eyed and clear-eyed about what it was, but not to engage in this almost silliness of they were so bad and we are so righteous.
Andrew Roberts: Actually in England, what we found recently is that asking the local people is a good thing to do. When the local people in Watford and Lamberth have been asked what they want, they tend to want to keep the same street names they've grown up with and the street furniture and the statues that they're used to. Lots of them are very happy to have plaques nearby explaining the full history and the negative side, but they don't want to just eviscerate it.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: And I really believe that's the right answer. We've had some controversy here at Stanford University because the first President, David Starr Jordan, was unfortunately something of a eugenicist. And so we've renamed things and pulled statues down. And I think you could explain that history, still admire the things that he accomplished. But it goes back to this notion that human beings are not perfect. My grandmother, who was a quite religious woman, used to say, the only human being who's perfect was Jesus Christ and that's because he was God. If we could think in that way sometimes and be a little bit more forgiving of those who lived years before, I think I would like the hope that we could be treated that way a hundred years from now.
Andrew Roberts: Now I'm going to bring you on somebody who I don't think you are going to be forgiving of terribly much, is our Russia expert. What do you make of Vladimir Putin's historical sense of Russia and its destiny? His decision to invade Ukraine seems to have been at least in part, impelled by a sense of what he called the historical unity of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples, in a 6,500 word essay of that name that he published in July last year. Seems a very strange document when I read it. What did you make of it first as a work of history, and secondly, as an indication of intent?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, it is this diluted sense of history, of course, and this effort to liquidate the Ukrainians as a separate people, their language, their history, it is a sad fact that for a lot of its history, Ukraine was not independent. It belonged to a lot of empires during its time. But these are people who kept their distinct culture, their language. I speak very good Russian. I can make mistakes if I try to understand Ukrainian, because they're not the same language. And so Vladimir Putin has this conceit and he told me, he told President Bush and me, Ukraine is a made up country he said. It isn't a real country. And so that diluted sense has led him to believe that Russia will only be great when it reestablishes the Russian empire. And there can be no Russian empire if there's an independent Ukraine. I think we have a hard time in the 21st century understanding what is going on right now, because it's a way of thinking that we assign to the past, but it's very much the way that Vladimir Putin thinks about modern day Ukraine. And by the way, it led him to make a terrible mistake, which was to believe that the Ukrainians would welcome their Russian brethren. And it led him to send his Army to capture Kiev with five days provisions and their dress uniforms for the parade. So that misreading of history has had quite a cost for Russia as well. But I have no doubt that this is about the reestablishment of the Russian empire. He told me once, Andrew, that Russia was only great when it was ruled by great men like Peter the Great in Alexander II. And now he fashions himself as something of Peter the Great.
Andrew Roberts: And that delusion is obviously a great one and did lead to this terrible miscalculation. But do you think now that he's seen the Ukrainian people rise up in their virtual entirety and fight back, fight back with tremendous courage needless to say in the leadership of President Zelenskyy, that he might have had second thoughts about this? Or do you think like most dictators, he just goes and bangs on thinking he was right all the time anyway?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: I think like most dictators, he is not susceptible to arguments that are contrary to his own thinking.
Andrew Roberts: In that document, in that essay that he wrote, he referred to Lithuania no fewer than 17 times. Do you think if Putin were allowed to win in Ukraine or indeed go back to the status quo or in any way not be punished for the attack on Ukraine, the parts of NATO might be in danger? Or does he recognize that the collective defense Article five of the NATO treaty makes countries like Lithuania safe from what President Biden called incursion?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I would like to think at least that he's not suicidal and that he doesn't want to test the American President on Article five, an attack upon one is an attack upon all. Let's remember that we have actually never, as the United States, simply depended on the words of the President. That's why we had a trip wire of American forces in Germany for 45 years. Because the view was, if you are going to do this, Soviet General staff, Russian general staff, you'll have to kill an American. Now, do you really wanted to do that and present the President of the United States as a choice to how he responds? And so I believe we've done a very fine job of limiting the choices that Putin has. I'm very pleased that Finland and Sweden have decided to finally join NATO. A friend of mine said that Putin has managed to end German pacifism and Swedish neutrality all within a matter of months, and it does seem that he's done exactly that. I have several regrets, but one is Ukraine was a vacuum because NATO and Article five protected everything around it, but not Ukraine. And perhaps that's something that we'll all look back and think, could we have gotten even closer to Ukraine?
Andrew Roberts: How closely are the Chinese watching this would you say? We've seen obviously some saber rattling in recent days from China over Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. Do you think what happens in Ukraine has an effect on what President Xi is thinking over Taiwan?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: I'm quite certain that Xi is watching what is happening in Ukraine. It would have to, at this point, I think be something of a solitary lesson however. Because on the one hand, not only is the Russian Army not performing terribly well, and he must wonder how really good his armed forces would be under these circumstances, having by the way, not really fought wars in any recent time. And the one that they did, the so-called Vietnam incursion, that didn't turn out so well. So there's that. There's also the tremendous sanctions that have been imposed on Russia. But again, getting inside the mind of an authoritarian I think is extremely difficult because they are authoritarians because they insulate themselves from contradictory thoughts. And so we have to be prepared for the fact that he's thinking, oh, I'll just do it better.
Andrew Roberts: You're on record is saying that history has an essential part to play in what you want Hoover to achieve. Would you like to elaborate on that?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: I am a great believer that not only can you repeat history if you don't know it, the old notion about being condemned to repeat it, but history is such a rich way to understand the human condition. And to understand the achievements of human beings, the frailties of human beings, as I've said, the hubris that lead civilizations to rise and fall... And what I loved about it as a student, was that it opened up this world to me of the past. And I loved for a moment trying to live in the shoes of those people. Now, it also was a history that I'll call big history. It was the grand sweep of history. It was the people who by their decisions moved history. And we've moved away from that in the study of history, in the modern academy. There's some very fine historians. The stories that they tell, the work that they do is getting narrower and narrower. By the way, it's happening in my own discipline of political science as well, because big issues are hard to get your arms around. And so I hope that here at Hoover, in part because it is in our DNA, we are a library and archive... We were a library and archive first, and it was in large part because people wanted a place to store and maintain and nurture and protect the history that was being driven out of Russia at the time of revolution. And so it's in our DNA to do this, and we have very fine historians like Niall Ferguson and Victor Davis Hanson. We've just been fortunate to bring Stephen Kotkin along. We have a lot of historians who visit as you know Andrew. And I hope that we will be a place where that big history can be done, a place that mobilizes and uses that history to understand the policy challenges of the current times, and most important, illuminates this great thing called history for our students so that they can rubble in it a little bit and maybe even read a book or two.
Andrew Roberts: There are two questions I always ask to all my interviewees. And the first is what book are you reading at the moment? Obviously, I'm hoping that you're going to come up with a history book or a biography when I ask this. If it's a detective novel, do say so, but I'm rather expecting it not to be.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I love biography and I have been reading a lot of biography lately. I like to go back and read. And I have gone back to read my favorite biography of my favorite Founding Father, it's Alexander Hamilton. And so I've been going back through the Chernow book, in part because we're doing some work at Stanford or at Hoover on some of the institutions of the United States. And we're starting a project called A Center for the Revitalization of American Institutions. And I want to go back and understand what our Founding Fathers intended. So I'm going to read a lot of biographies of the Founding Fathers, and that's really fun. But I have to admit, I'm doing one thing which is... It's not really history. I'm reading a lot about AI these days.
Andrew Roberts: Oh, interesting.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yes. A great book called the Master Algorithm, which is really very, very interesting.
Andrew Roberts: And of course there was Henry Kissinger.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: And Eric Schmidt, which I've read that book, which is really excellent.
Andrew Roberts: It is, but nerve-wracking that last chapter is.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yes. Yes. Yes. it's very, very worry.
Andrew Roberts: And my last question is what's your favorite counterfactual? Your what if moment in history that you like to look back on, or at least wonder about?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: I've always had one, which is suppose Lenin hadn't made it onto that Seal train and gotten there to at that moment. And instead of similar counterfactual is what if we had allowed the Russian Government to get out of the war? I think that I won't say that the Russian revolution was avoidable, but oh my goodness, how life might have been different?
Andrew Roberts: Well, that brings us to the great man and woman version of history versus what T.S. Eliot called the vast impersonal forces. From your own career, from your own life at the top, in the decision making processes of the most powerful country in the world, how do you come down on that seeming dichotomy?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I'll give you a bit of a Solomonic answer if I may. On the one hand, I do not believe that a great man or woman can completely change these great impersonal forces. If I think about a Gorbachev in 1954, we don't get the same answer. But a great man or a great woman, when those great impersonal forces are moving in a particular direction, can make a huge difference in how this comes out. And again, if I use Gorbachev, I look at somebody with now a Soviet Union that was weakening, he could have made other choices. But fortunately, he made the choice to let it die.
Andrew Roberts: I'm very pleased that you chose that one about Lenin, going to the fact that many years ago, I wrote an essay where Lenin is assassinated as he steps off the train at the Finland station in 1917. So I'm going to send that to you.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Please do.
Andrew Roberts: I think it might amuse you.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Thank you. It was a great pleasure being with you.
Andrew Roberts: We recorded that interview in late July. But on the 30th of August, Mikhail Gorbachev died and we thought it worthwhile to ask Condoleezza Rice's views on him. We managed to catch her when she was on her car phone. The global eulogies to Mikhail Gorbachev have been extraordinarily fulsome, but some of them have implied that he deliberately wanted to extinguish Soviet communism all along. Isn't it more historically accurate to say that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher put him in a position whereby he had little real alternatives?
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Well, I do not think that Gorbachev intended to extinguish communism. As a matter of fact, I think he was a true believer, much more of a true believer by the way than those who would come before him. People like Brezhnev. If he actually believed that if you could remove the lies and the propaganda, that was the idea of Glasnost, and you could restructure the idea of perestroika, you could really appeal to people for what was good about the Soviet Union. He once told me I want the Soviet Union to be a normal country. And so in that sense, he really believed that there was something to this experiment that was worth saving, worth reforming. Sadly for him, it turned out that if you removed the lies and you removed the coercion, there really wasn't anything left. And I think the reason that I think the eulogies to him are appropriately favorable is that even when he faced circumstances that were difficult, he just kept going. And I personally do not believe that we could've ended the Cold War peacefully without his courage.
Andrew Roberts: Condoleezza Rice, thank you very much indeed. Please join me on the next Secrets of Statecraft podcast for embracing conversation with former National Security Advisor and current military historian at the Hoover Institution, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.
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