Alfredo Carrillo is a staff writer for The Hoya.

Democracy can successfully develop in any country over time as long as strong institutions uphold freedom and equality, argued former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the signing of her latest book Saturday at the National Book Festival hosted in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

In a conversation with David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, Rice, a professor at Stanford University since 2009, reflected on the ways her upbringing in the segregated city of Birmingham, Ala., and her career as Secretary of State influenced her ideas about democracy.

Rice said the topic of her book, “Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom,” which became a New York Times’ best-seller less than a month after being published, bore a deep connection with her identity.

“In many ways, I wanted to write this book for a long time because it is in some ways an expression of my own life,” Rice said.

She said that her story — a black girl growing up in a segregated city who rose to serving as former President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State from 2005 to 2009 and National Security Adviser from 2001 to 2005 — embodied the potential of the Constitution’s values.

CARLA HAYDEN
Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national security adviser, addressed democracy promotion in developing countries while signing her most recent book Saturday.

“This same Constitution that had once counted in the compromise, my ancestors’ three-fifths of a man, would be the same Constitution to which I took the oath of office as the 66th Secretary of State,” Rice said. “That for me is the story of democracy.”

Rice said this form of slow progress should not be exclusive to the United States, based on the lessons her role as chief diplomat taught her.

Rice rejected stereotypical claims that certain cultures are not capable of maintaining democratic governments, pointing to achievements of democratic states around the world.

“The Asians were too Confucian, but of course you’ve got South Korea, you’ve got Japan. The Africans, well they were too tribal, but of course you’ve got Ghana, you’ve got Botswana,” Rice said. “African Americans, well, they were too childlike to care about that thing called voting. But we’ve had a black president, black attorneys general, we’ve had black secretaries of state,” Rice said. “I just reject this cultural argument.”

Referring to Russia, Rice argued, that the country’s 70-year Soviet history never allowed for such institutions to emerge in the first place.

“Really, it’s the story of the failure of institutions to take hold under enormous pressure,” Rice said. “If you think about the collapse of the Soviet Union and you think about the kind of rapid effort to build capitalism, 50 percent of the Russian population fell into poverty practically overnight. The country broke apart practically overnight.”

She contrasted Russia’s political and economic woes with those of Poland, Colombia and even the United States, in which existing institutions facilitated the emergence of true democracy.

“When Martin Luther King and others took on the struggle, they weren’t asking America to be something else. They were saying, ‘America, be what you say you are,’” Rice said. “Now, you’re in a much stronger position when you have the institutions in place and you can appeal to those institutions.”

Rice said countries like Iraq, for which Rice advised Bush’s foreign policy, Afghanistan, Egypt, Venezuela, North Korea and China will require more development for democratic institutions to consolidate.

“The worst situation is when you have a cult of personality, tyrannical leader where everything had been at the service of that leader. That was Saddam Hussein,” Rice said in reference to Iraq. “And so there were effectively no institutions underneath him.”

However, Rice said certain developments within these countries, like Saudi women becoming more educated, Iraqi civilians defeating ISIS and establishing democratic institutions, and China being exposed to the rest of the world through trade, provide hope for democracy’s growth.

Rice acknowledged that mistakes were made during her tenure as Secretary of State that impeded smooth democratic transitions in foreign countries like Iraq after the invasion in 2003, but emphasized an active role for the United States to spread freedom.

“I think America is at its best, its highest calling when it leads both from power and principle,” Rice said. “When we stand for the proposition that the rights to be enjoyed are indeed universal, and if they are universal, that there are no people for whom they shouldn’t be secured.”

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