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Profile: Condoleezza Rice


Staff Writer, BBC News, November 16, 2004
Condoleezza Rice is the First Black Female to be Appointed as US Secretary of State
She was also the first to occupy the key post of national security adviser. She is the most academic member of the Bush foreign affairs team and - because of her gender, background and youth - one of the most distinctive. Personally close to Mr Bush, she spends almost every weekend with the president and his wife Laura at Camp David. She has been one of his key supporters during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the continuing war against terror. Despite a somewhat stern demeanour, which has earned her the nickname "warrior princess", Ms Rice has consistently been one of the most popular members of the Bush administration and a proven ally for a president who came to office with little experience of foreign affairs.

Against all odds
Ms Rice was born in 1954 and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama under the shadow of segregation. Racism was so ingrained in her childhood that she says she hardly noticed it. When she was just eight years old, Ms Rice was standing inside her father's church when she felt the floor shake. A Ku Klux Klan bomb had exploded at a Baptist Church two blocks away, killing four young black girls, one of them her classmate since kindergarten. She has often said that to get ahead, she had to be "twice as good", and her childhood chiselled her strong determination and self-respect. Ms Rice's mother was a music teacher who taught her to play the piano. Her father was a pastor and college principal, who shared his enthusiasm for sport with his daughter.

Change of heart
In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Ms Rice said that despite growing up with racial segregation, personal expectations were high. "My parents had me absolutely convinced that, well, you may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth's but you can be president of the United States," she said. Her parents taught her that education was the best armour against segregation and prejudice. Regarded as one of America's brightest and best, Ms Rice went to the University of Denver at 15 and graduated with a degree in political science at the still tender age of 19. A concert level pianist, she had originally enrolled as a music student, with the intention of becoming a classical pianist. But while at Denver she came under the influence of Josef Korbel, a Czech refugee and father to the US' first woman secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Under his guidance, she became interested in international relations and the study of the Soviet Union and switched courses.

Testing times
A masters and doctorate followed and, at the age of 26, Ms Rice became a fellow at Stanford University's Centre for International Security and Arms Control. After serving as the Soviet affairs adviser on Bush senior's National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice returned to Stanford in 1991 and, in 1993, became the youngest, the first female and first non-white provost. When the Bush administration came to power, her influence over early foreign policy strategy was considerable.

She led the tricky negotiations with Russia over missile defence, and is thought to have spearheaded the unilateralist tone of the first months of the Bush presidency. But it was in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks in Washington and New York that she really proved her strength, standing staunchly by the president during the difficult days ahead and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She is thought to be one of the most significant creators of the controversial Bush doctrine of pre-emptive action against states thought to be a threat against the US.

"The United States has always reserved the right to try and diminish or to try to eliminate a threat before it is attacked," she stated firmly in an interview shortly before the war in Iraq. But controversial as this view may be it has done nothing to diminish her popularity, both inside and outside the White House. In fact, her steely determination in these times of conflict may serve her well as she prepares to take up the post of secretary of state.

Keywords: African American, black, women, politics