Rice tells Fayetteville crowd that Putin is ‘ruthless,’ and an ‘intimidator’

story by Ben Pollock, special to The City Wire

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an audience of several thousand Wednesday night that Russia's takeover of the Crimean peninsula was a "violation of international law" as Crimea is a part of a sovereign state, Ukraine.

Rice was in Fayetteville to speak in the University of Arkansas' student-funded Distinguished Lecture Series. She was chosen by a student committee. Essentially no seats were unoccupied in the lecture configuration at Barnhill Arena, which a UA spokesman said could be up to 6,000 people. It was an impressive number, considering the Razorbacks were playing basketball at the same hour at nearby Bud Walton Arena, beating Ole Miss 110-80.

Rice quickly summarized the region's history with western Ukraine formerly part of Poland, eastern Ukraine and Crimea being Russian, either speaking or in ethnicity, yet the divisions were not terribly important when all of it was in the Soviet Union. Crimea was given to Ukraine in 1954, she said, and earlier this week Russian President Vladimir Putin took Crimea back.

Putin took advantage of chaos in Kiev when Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, using it as a pretense to send Russian military into Crimea.

"Putin has never been reconciled to the loss of territory that the Soviet Union suffered when it dissolved," Rice said.

‘A RUTHLESS MAN’
As national security adviser in the first term of President George W. Bush then secretary of state in his second term, Rice met several times with Putin.

"He's an intimidator. He's a ruthless man. He's former KGB," she said. "He has to be reminded that after the Cold War that most of Eastern Europe has chosen to move to the West," meaning capitalistic economies and democratic governments.

Rice gave one anecdote of his intimidating personality. She met with him in 2007 about the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

"My job for President Bush was to deliver the message that any move into Georgia would damage relations with the United States. I delivered the message. He stood up. He is standing over me. I instinctively stood, too. I'm 5-10, and I had heels on, too. He's about 5-7, and he moved away. He will not intimidate the United States of America."

Rice was Bush's second secretary of state, following Colin Powell, and served throughout Bush's second term. She is the nation's 66th secretary of state. Rice, 59, was born in Birmingham, Ala., and earned her doctoral and bachelor's degrees from the University of Denver, a master's from Notre Dame, all in political science.

Rice in the 1980s was a political science professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Her first federal position began in 1987 as an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the 1990s she served as Stanford's provost. In 2001, Bush appointed her national security adviser. After her government service, she returned to the Stanford faculty.

THE POST-911 WORLD
In the main body of her speech Rice noted the the century's chaos began with the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but did not end there.

"Every day after seemed like Sept. 12," she said.

The devastation of the planes was relatively inexpensive, by military standards, costing al Qaeda about $300,000. "That is why even today we worry about ungoverned spaces and ungoverned territories, like Afghanistan. ... Our conception of national security would never be the same."

U.S. security, she said, also is threatened by the continuing effects of the banking and housing crisis that began in 2008 and "continues to reverberate throughout the world." China looks like it's weathering the recession but Rice sees that as temporary.

"The Chinese Communist Party has legitimacy based on prosperity. But China is going to get old before it gets rich, due to its one-child per family policy,” Rice explained.

She also cited the country's high levels of air pollution.

The third threat to security are the civil wars and revolutions throughout the world – Ukraine in recent weeks but also Syria and Egypt. Rice called it the "Ceausescu syndrome," after Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu who was deposed in 1989 then with his wife were executed by military firing squad.

"The fact is whenever people have to take their rights it is chaotic until there's a constitution. They have to balance the rights of a citizen and the responsibilities of the state," Rice said. "We are lucky to have had the forefathers we did."

BENGHAZI, CURRENT AFFAIRS
Rice's remarks lasted about 30 minutes, but she took questions for nearly an hour. All the questions were picked beforehand, and the selected students stood in line before microphones in the aisles to ask them.

Rice did offer comments on the fatal attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, in which four Americans including its ambassador to Libya were killed. She is not troubled by the administration having different explanations at different times, as "that happens." What concerns her greatly was the underestimation of how dangerous the area was for foreigners.

Rice said the Pentagon's proposal of a drawdown of personnel and bases may become a victim of coincidental bad timing, as the plan was announced about the same time as the trouble in Kiev. The United States must not leave a vacuum in military power, she said. Allies and friendly nations may not fill in.

"What steps into the vacuum is groups like al Qaeda, China in the South China Sea, and Vladimir Putin."

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STUDENT ADVICE
A large part of Rice's talk resembled a commencement speech, advising students on setting goals, establishing self-discipline and finding good mentors. She related her own life story, raised in a middle-class African-American family in Birmingham, Ala., with aspirations to be a concert pianist. In college she realized that "I'm about to teach 13-year-olds Beethoven, I may play in a bar, but I'm not going to play Carnegie Hall." She explored other subjects and found her passion for the international relations wing of political science.

Her advice: Find good, personal role models. Pick some hard tasks: "You will not fail if you work hard and find people to help you." Study abroad, or learn a foreign language or even befriend foreign student on your own campus. "Listen to people who are completely different from you." And spend time helping people less fortunate. She also advised all students to take courses in economics and statistics.

She said she never has an interest to run for office. "I've never run for anything, even student body president." Now that she's had the highest post possible in her life, secretary of state, she works on public service projects while continuing to teach at Stanford. Rice did recommend that students interested in careers in international relations help in domestic political campaigns, as the experience will show them how policies get developed.

Rice foresees a female president in the near future, with a perhaps unexpected explanation. As most presidents come from the Senate or terms as governors and more women are taking those positions, then it's only a matter of time, she said.

One student asked about government gridlock, which Rice explained by noting that the federal government was designed to work slowly, which modern communications has made even more troublesome.

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