10 Questions for Condoleezza Rice

Former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on mistakes, fights and sleazy despots

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Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times / Contour / Getty Images

You write in your book No Higher Honor that you and Dick Cheney clashed over keeping captured terrorism suspects in secret prisons. How did you differ?

We didn't initially. When you're fighting al-Qaeda, you don't want one hand tied behind your back. And this was a new kind of war. But once we captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and knew more about how al-Qaeda operated--in 2003, 2004--I thought it was time to talk about what we were doing. The Vice President wanted to continue to keep these programs in the shadows.

If you'd foreseen the Arab Spring--that people can overthrow autocracies without foreign armies--would you have done things differently in Iraq?

Some people get there on their own, and some can't. As much as Mubarak [in Egypt] and Ben Ali [in Tunisia] were authoritarians, they didn't match the brutality of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi or Bashar Assad. One has to be careful not to look at different circumstances and see the same strategy.

How did you think it would end for Gaddafi?

I didn't really think he was the sort of leader who would surrender. Revolutions aren't pretty.

Of all the creepy guys who have come on to you, was he the creepiest?

Yeah. By far. Our meeting [in 2008] was a pretty strange set of events, especially since he had a song written about me. But we got through the diplomatic encounter O.K.

What kind of face did you put on when he played that song for you?

Well, he showed a little video of me with [Vladimir] Putin and me with Hu Jintao, all set to the song "Black Flower in the White House." I probably looked totally shocked.

Gaddafi called you his "African princess." Did you find that your race had any effect on people overseas?

You're the Secretary of State, and that's effects No. 1 through No. 5. But I did think it actually allowed me to talk about the forward march of democracy in a way that didn't seem arrogant because I knew that the U.S. at times had fallen short.

When you look at Hillary Clinton, do you primarily feel sympathy, dismay or admiration?

Empathy and admiration. We're friends. The Secretary of State club is a pretty small one. You know what it's like to be the inbox for the world. Almost every problem comes to your desk. I think she's a terrific person.

As a Russia expert, how do you view Putin's comeback?

Disappointing. I had hoped that some of the things that Dmitri Medvedev had talked about in terms of the knowledge-based economy might really get a foothold, and I now wonder whether that's possible. Russia should be so much more than it is. Right now, 80% of Russian exports are in extractive industries, and it could be at the forefront of the knowledge revolution.

Just say your time in the Administration was a golf game. What mulligan would you take?

Well, I don't like to take them. But I would look at the way that we approached the relationship with Mexico and the whole immigration debate.

You've played piano with some big names. Who's more difficult to work with, Aretha Franklin or Dick Cheney?

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