NATHAN GARDELS: Since leaving office as secretary of state, you’ve focused on domestic issues such as education, governance reform, civic issues, and citizenship. Why this switch in focus?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It’s not so much a switch in focus, but instead making sure we lead from a position of strength and by example. As an academic and former provost of Stanford [University], I have always cared deeply about the education system here in the United States. My parents were teachers, too, and I watched them from a very early age shape the young minds of our country and help mentor kids to achieve their goals and dreams.
But I also believe that America can only lead abroad if we are strong here at home. This means we must always look inward and make sure that our democracy is providing the same opportunities that we are promoting abroad. Whether it’s good governance in Africa, human rights in the Middle East, or education and immigration issues here at home, we must lead in these issues both here at home and abroad.
GARDELS: The Economist recently ran a cover story on “Democracy, what went wrong?” – pointing out the recent overthrow of elected governments in Cairo and Kiev, but also pointing to the continuing gridlock in Washington. Why is democracy having such troubles?
RICE: I firmly believe that history has a long arc and democracy takes time. If you look back at the history of the United States, we’ve been through many times of trial and turmoil. We fought a Civil War, we’ve had challenges with civil rights and equality, we’ve gone through the Great Depression. Democracy is not easy and it’s certainly chaotic at points, but it’s the only form of government where people have the right to consent to be governed and elect their leaders.
GARDELS: What are the consequences of the US “leading from behind,” as you have put it – not only in the Middle East, but now in Ukraine and East Asia, where China and Japan are at each other’s throats?
RICE: The United States cannot step back, lower its voice, and let others lead. Though we’d like to think that our democratic allies would replace us in such instances, we have instead seen the opportunity grabbed by extremists and dictators in the Middle East and nationalists like the Chinese and Russians.
The recent events should be a wake-up call to all Americans. I know we are tired and worried about our problems at home, but we cannot eschew the responsibilities of leadership and embolden those who don’t share our values. The world is a pretty scary place when led by those who believe in different ideals, and I’m afraid the United States will pay a price in the long run.
© 2014 The WorldPost/Global Viewpoint Network, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.