America's Best Leaders: Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State
"Con dolcezza," in Italian, means "with sweetness," a musical reference. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a classically trained pianist, can indeed show a touch of southern charm in her meetings with foreign leaders.
But there is also a steeliness behind the svelte, well-dressed "slip of a girl," as one of her mentors, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, once described his first impression upon meeting the young scholar of Soviet and Russian affairs. For this is the woman who, later as an aide on Scowcroft's National Security Council, physically blocked burly Russian leader Boris Yeltsin from barging in on then President George H. W. Bush without an appointment. As the provost of Stanford University, then President Bush's national security adviser, and now America's top diplomat, her reputation for toughness has only grown.
European diplomats were surprised at her blunt warnings in private this year not to lift an arms embargo on China; they eventually backed down, preserving the ban. "She told them our ships and sailors would be on the receiving end" of European-made weapons if the United States and China ever came to blows over Taiwan, says an aide. A devout Christian, she attended church services in Beijing, a not-so-veiled statement for religious freedom in the Communist country. And after the arrest of a democracy activist in Egypt, she canceled an expected visit. When she did travel to Egypt, Rice met with the activist and delivered perhaps the sternest public lecture ever by a visiting American diplomat on the need for Egypt to move toward full democracy.
To many, Rice's Olympian career riseto be the first African-American woman to serve as secretary of statealready offers a heady role model of leadership. But Rice, 50, is now facing her most severe professional challenge: to launch the "transformational diplomacy" she says is needed to spread the blessings of democracy and freedomand tear out the roots of Islamist terrorism.
Already in her first nine months at Foggy Bottom, she has scored some at least tentative successes. U.S. diplomacy on North Korea has shown new suppleness, leading to the resumption of stalled talks and an agreement on the goal of no nuclear weapons. Relations with Europe have improved after disputes over Iraq and other issues. Washington is suddenly on the same page as Europe on pressuring Iran to abandon its suspect nuclear projects. Rice encouraged a deal to send war-crimes suspects in the ethnic violence in Sudan's Darfur region to an international court. And Rice personally negotiated a deal over who would lead the Organization of American States, avoiding a damaging spat with Latin American countries.
Sensing the need to conduct some global repair work on America's relationships, she has broken past records for travel as secretary of state. She has drawn to her side a group of experienced pragmatists. And Rice has restored the primacy of the State Department in the making of foreign policy after four years of internal squabbling. "You can put a bow on that one," says Derek Chollet, a foreign-policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former adviser to Democratic Sen. John Edwards.