Security adviser to Bush is woman with remarkable talents

 

Condoleezza Rice has spent her life, 46 years so far, as the youngest and smartest person in almost any room. Now, as president-elect George W. Bush's choice for White House national security adviser, she faces what may be the toughest challenge of her career - managing the foreign policy agenda of the only remaining superpower at a time of rapid global change.

"I think she will do a great job," says Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the administration of Mr Bush's father.

"She has the personality for it. She has the background for it. She starts off with a very powerful set of credentials."

Ms Rice was senior director for Soviet and Eastern European Affairs on Mr Scowcroft's National Security Council staff from 1989 to 1991, working closely with the then defence secretary, Dick Cheney, now vice-president-elect, and former Gen Colin L. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and now Mr Bush's choice for secretary of state.

The trio of Cheney, Powell and Rice gives the incoming administration a substantial core of foreign policy expertise.

Ms Rice was a piano prodigy at three, a college graduate at 19, a college professor at 26, a senior White House adviser at 34 and provost, a combination of chief operating officer and chief financial officer, of Stanford University at 36.

"She has a nice combination of three kinds of experience: scholarly intellectual knowledge, real experience working in government and responsibility for administering a large institution," says Philip Zelikow, director of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. He worked with Ms Rice at the White House and co-authored with her a book on the unification of Germany.

Mr Zelikow dismissed suggestions that Ms Rice may suffer from hubris, the intellectual arrogance that has brought down generations of "best and brightest" government officials. "She is pretty level-headed," he says. "She never displayed an overly large ego, elbowing people out of the way. She never had that kind of reputation at all."

Ms Rice prides herself on a hard-headed, pragmatic approach to foreign issues. She told interviewers earlier this year that she considered herself a Democrat until 1979, when President Carter confessed he was shocked and saddened by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For Ms Rice, a young professor specialising in the Soviet Union, it was a damaging admission of ill-informed sentimentality in foreign affairs.

Ms Rice has made it clear she expects the US government to put its own national interests first in setting any plan of action. For instance, as Mr Bush's chief campaign adviser on foreign policy, Ms Rice said the US should not be deterred by overseas criticism from developing an anti-missile system. She said she hoped Russia would agree to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, signed in 1972 by the US and the Soviet Union, to allow the missile defence programme to proceed. But if Moscow balked, she said, Washington should be ready to repudiate the pact unilaterally.

To be sure, promoting an anti-missile program was popular campaign rhetoric. It is now up to Mr Bush and his advisers to determine if the system is technologically feasible and worth the high cost, both in budgetary dollars and in diplomatic friction. Foreign governments on both sides of the Cold War divide have objected strongly to any US action that would undermine the ABM treaty, which has been the cornerstone of arms-control efforts for almost 30 years.

Ms Rice sparked a controversy in October when she said in an interview with the New York Times that a George W. Bush administration would pull US peacekeepers out of the Balkans. That task should be left to European armies, she said, while the US concentrates on preparing to fight wars. The suggestion produced a wave of anxiety among NATO allies. A little more than a week later, the NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, said he had been assured Mr Bush would not withdraw US peacekeepers unilaterally.

Ms Rice was born on November 14th, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father was a college administrator and her mother a music teacher. The family were a fixture of the rigidly segregated city's black middle-class.

She was nine when a bomb exploded at a Baptist church a few miles from Westminster Presbyterian Church, where her family attended. Four black girls were killed, one of them a kindergarten classmate of hers.

She told interviewers that her father became a Republican in 1952 in reaction to the racial policies of the Democrats in the one-party South of that era. For "Condi", as she was called, surviving the racial climate of the time only strengthened her determination to excel in a world that was not defined by race.

The Rice family moved to Denver in 1967. Two years later, aged 15, Ms Rice enrolled at the University of Denver as a music major, intending to prepare for a career as a concert pianist. But music, which had dominated her life from birth - when her mother named her for a musical term meaning to play with sweetness - was pushed aside by a new love, international politics.

Ms Rice's new career was shaped by her professor of international relations, Josef Korbel, a former Czech diplomat, refugee from communism and the father of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Like the outgoing Secretary of State, Ms Rice's area of specialisation has long been eastern and central Europe - the Soviet bloc of the Cold War.

After receiving a doctorate from the University of Denver in 1981, Ms Rice joined the faculty at Stanford, where her class became one of the most popular on campus among undergraduate students. In 1986, she was a Council on Foreign Relations fellow at the Pentagon and, from 1989 to 1991, she was the top Soviet expert in the White House. From 1991 to 1999, Ms Rice was provost of Stanford, ranking just below the university president on the operational chart.