RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There was word this weekend that Russia may have been behind a hack into the campaign of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron. It's another stark reminder of the lengths that Vladimir Putin could go to try to undermine Western democracies. Condoleezza Rice has spent most of her adult life studying first the Soviet Union and then Russia, and it features prominently in her new book, "Democracy: Stories From The Long Road To Freedom."
Rice came into our studios for a wide-ranging conversation about the nature of democracy. In light of everything we know about Russia's interference with the U.S. election and its push to expand its influence, I asked her if she thinks that country could ever join the family of democratic nations.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It was so hopeful after the collapse of the Soviet Union because Russia seemed genuinely poised, really, to become a part of the Democratic family of nations, and yet it failed. Now, I have to believe that this is again an institutional story. It's not a cultural story. There are those who want to say, well, the Russians - they just can't get it right. And they want to talk about strongman theory or the Russians are only comfortable when they have a strong leader like a czar - there are all kinds of cultural explanations.
MARTIN: You don't buy them.
RICE: I don't believe those. I just don't believe them.
MARTIN: You identify in the book Russia, Turkey and Egypt as countries that, quote, "discourage us," when you think about democracy's global trajectory. These are countries led by strong men who oppress their citizens. President Trump has had glowing things to say about the leaders of all three of these countries. Does that concern you?
RICE: Well, with Vladimir Putin, I think we're starting to see that whatever was said in the campaign about Vladimir Putin - we're very clearly coming up against what American interests are in dealing with Russia. I thought Rex Tillerson had a great line when he said, in regards to the chemical weapons deal that the Russians had sponsored, that they were either incompetent or they weren't telling the truth. I'm not sure I would have been brave enough to say that, but it was exactly the right thing to say to them.
So the U.S.-Russian relationship is exactly where it should be. It recognizes all the difficulties, and it recognizes who Vladimir Putin is. When it comes to Turkey or to Egypt, this is hard because they are allies. And so for an American president or secretary of state, the challenge is always to find a way to continue those relationships and promote those relationships, recognizing the flaws and the foibles of those allies.
MARTIN: Well, you know, the symbolism of those first few weeks in office and what it means when you invite a foreign dignitary into the White House.
RICE: Yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: And for President Trump to have made the decision to include President el-Sissi...
RICE: He is also, however, the president of Egypt, and I understand that. I would hope this - and it goes to whether it's President Sissi or Erdogan or Duterte, if he indeed does come - it's fine. You have to talk to these people. But you can also say to them, what you're doing is unacceptable. And it's unacceptable for moral reasons. But I'm going to tell you, it's also unacceptable because eventually, it is going to bring you down.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you about that because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has talked about American foreign policy in a far more transactional way than past administrations. He was on this program, and when asked what his mission was for the State Department, he said, to advance America's national security and economic interests - no mention of spreading democracy. In fact, he has talked about his desire to make human rights less central to America's foreign policy. Does that disturb you? That's very different from the administration of George W. Bush or his predecessors.
RICE: Exact formulations matter here. So American national security and American economic interests, of course - every president, every secretary of state - that is the primary goal. As you are in this job and in the work, you begin to see, though, that in the long run, both American economic interests and American national security are better served when there are other decent countries in the world who are both your allies and even when your adversaries are acting more decently because, ultimately, we didn't go to Germany to create a democracy. We went to overthrow Adolf Hitler. But once a democracy was there, Germany was a much bigger supporter of and help to our national interests, both economic and security than had ever been before.
MARTIN: You spent more than 300 pages in this book talking about democracy and freedom and liberty and America's role in making sure that those ideals are captured for every human being.
MARTIN: This is an administration that doesn't use that language, and you know words matter. Do you crave from them a more overt endorsement of these values?
RICE: I am going to answer that question for you at a later date because it's early. I have heard expressions of why NATO matters that I didn't hear in the campaign. And NATO is, by the way, built on security, but it's also built on values. I've heard expressions about why the United States of America cannot stand by and let Syrian children be gassed by their leaders. That wouldn't have been the language of the campaign. So I'm hearing echoes of many of these values, and I believe you're going to hear more. I hope we hear more.
MARTIN: You believe we are still a bright, shining city on the hill?
RICE: I think we're still a bright, shining city on the hill - not because we're perfect but because we struggle in our imperfections every day. And when I was standing in the Ben Franklin Room about to be sworn as secretary of state - by the way, by a Jewish woman justice, Justice Ginsburg, with Ben Franklin looking over us - I couldn't help but think that this was the Constitution to which I was about to take an oath of allegiance that had once counted my ancestors as three fifths of a man, a Constitution that had to be referred to by Martin Luther King to say that America shouldn't be something else, just had to be what it said it was. That's a pretty powerful story of evolution. Human beings are not perfect. Their institutions are not perfect, but they have to keep trying. And America has to help people keep trying.
MARTIN: Dr. Condoleezza Rice - she served as secretary of state and national security adviser under President George W. Bush. She's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and she was in our studios here in Washington.
Dr. Rice, it's been a pleasure.
RICE: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
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