In an interview with C-Span’s Steve Scully, Condoleeza Rics discussed the significance of Obama’s victory, her own experiences with racism, George Bush and the war in Iraq.
Here are some exerpts from the interview
I think what you really saw here was that race is no longer the factor in American identity and American life, and that’s a huge step forward.
I’ve just been also in the Middle East, and there it was seen that a country that had such deep racial divisions – I’ve said myself that America had a birth defect, slavery – and that we could overcome that and that you could have, of course, this really quantum leap to a black – the election of the first African American president, but really something that’s been going on a while. When you look at American life now, you see that America has had a black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (inaudible) in Colin Powell, back-to-back black Secretaries of State; Tiger Woods, probably the most recognizable athlete; Oprah Winfrey, someone who transcends race in many ways, as the most popular figure. I think what is being seen around the world is that old wounds can be overcome. And in a world where difference is still a license to kill, that’s an extremely important message.
Well, I was a child in Birmingham, Alabama, and in 1963, which had been a very, very violent year, with police dogs in the park that Bull Connor had sicced on innocent protesters, or the constant bombings that were in neighborhoods like my own neighborhood in Birmingham, a nice, middle-class neighborhood that was shattered by bombings every several weeks, and then you had the events at 16th Street Baptist Church. And I remember very well being at church, at my father’s church which was just down the street, Westminster Presbyterian, and there was a kind of rumble. And everyone wondered what it was. It was long before cell phones, of course. But somehow the word began to spread that there had been a bombing at the church. And as it became clear that little girls had died in that church, I think the terror, really homegrown terrorism, had come to Birmingham in a very dramatic way. And Denise McNair, one of the little girls that was killed in that church, had been a friend of mine, a kindergarten friend of mine, and it’s hard to believe that that Birmingham gave way, first of all, that the successor to Bull Connor is actually a black woman, it’s hard to believe. But over time, of course, America has begun to heal her – her racial wounds, and that culminated in the election of Barack Obama. …
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama; it was hard not to feel racism. Whether it was going into a store and hearing my mother tell the store clerk, well, no, she’s not going to try that dress on in a storeroom. If she can’t try it on in the fitting room like all little girls do, then we won’t buy that dress. Or shortly after the Civil Rights Act had passed in 1964, going through a hamburger stand and being given a hamburger that was all onions.
Of course racism was a daily companion in Birmingham. But what was remarkable was that I had parents who refused to let it become crippling. They refused to let me be bitter. They refused to let me use it as an excuse, and they somehow managed to send the message that racism was somebody else’s problem, not mine.
There are a lot of things that could have been done differently. I think that it took awhile to really understand how to help a country that was really completely destroyed in its fabric, not just its institutions, but the fabric of society by the years of tyranny under Saddam Hussein and how to help it recover. In retrospect, we did a lot from Baghdad, a lot from the top down. The provinces and the tribes were clearly part of the answer. And it took a while to recognize that the complete integration of the civilian and military effort through the Provincial Reconstruction Teams would empower the provinces to create friends, for instance, the sons of Iraq and Anbar, who would then themselves with our help expel al-Qaida.
I believe strongly that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was right, and it was perhaps the most important change in the Middle East, and I think we will come to see it that way. But how really desperately fragmented Iraq was; I think that was something we frankly didn’t see. I know, too, that we did not have the right institutional structure for postwar operations. It’s funny because we didn’t have the right institutional structure in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. We left it to the UN.