Security professionals from around the world gathered in Anaheim, California, in September to attend the ASIS International 55th Annual Seminar and Exhibits. Keynote speakers offered insights on politics and economics. More than 160 educational sessions helped to enlighten attendees on numerous topics. Following are some highlights from the seminar and exhibits. (For in-depth coverage of all seminar events, including products on display in the exhibit hall, see the November/December issue of ASIS Dynamics.)
Rice Reflects on Her Political Role
Keynote speaker and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed Wednesday morning’s opening session, affirming her conviction that the American ideals of freedom and equality will grow roots and thrive, even in the world’s most hostile political and social environments.
Rice compared today’s dual struggle of fighting radicalism and fostering democracy abroad to her primary area of academic expertise: the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. She recalled the decades during which the conflict’s end and the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed unlikely if not impossible.
“If you had said in 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980 that in 1991 the hammer and sickle will come down from the Kremlin for the last time, and the Russian tricolor will go up, and communism in Europe will be done—they would have had you committed,” Rice said.
“So remember the historical context. Today’s headlines and historical judgments are rarely the same,” Rice told a packed convention center ballroom. “If you govern from today’s headlines, you will not have history’s judgments on your side.”
Rice recalled joining the Bush Administration in 2001 as National Security Advisor expecting that her job’s greatest challenges would arise from conflict with powerful states like China. She soon realized—as did the whole world—that the greatest threats emerge from failed states like Afghanistan. They will continue to, she warned, if developed nations ignore such areas, like the United States did following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.
In Afghanistan, to which the U.S. military has shifted its focus following a draw-down from Iraq, the fundamental challenge is abject poverty, Rice said. She compared the current $49 billion national budget of Iraq, with its roughly 31 million people, to the situation in Afghanistan, which has a population of about 28 million but a national budget of only $678 million.
“I can assure you that if the United States of America doesn’t find a way to prevent the return of terrorists to Afghanistan and allows them a safe haven, we will pay for it. Abandon Afghanistan, and you can be sure that you will have attacks emanating from there, perhaps even attacks on our own territory,” Rice said.
Later, in an interview with Security Management, Rice said that along with development aid, the nontraditional, civil affairs military operations, in which forces partner closely with the Afghan citizenry, will be critical to success there.
Following her speech, Rice fielded questions submitted by attendees. One question that she took up concerned her greatest source of pride from her tenure in the Bush White House, and her greatest regret. “I hope that I will be right in saying that we were able to defend the country in a way that allowed Americans to go back to their lives after September 11. I often say that I am grateful—not proud, but grateful—that there wasn’t another attack on our watch,” Rice said. Of her greatest regret, Rice cited failure to establish a Palestinian state.
Rice shared a poignant anecdote about direct meetings with some of the world’s most hard-line Muslim clerics. She recounted how they could not—or would not—shake her hand, because she was a woman. At the end of those discussions, however, the hard-liners often asked Rice if she would meet their young daughters. She told the ASIS attendees that she hopes she inspired those young women to pursue their dreams in an equal society.
Since leaving Washington, Rice has returned to academia, where she is a political science professor at California’s Stanford University; she also serves as a fellow at the school’s Hoover Institution. She is currently writing two books: one is a memoir of her time in the Bush Administration; the other is about her parents and their role in her success.
Rice acknowledged the challenge of maintaining the country’s focus on its post-9-11 struggles but says she doesn’t doubt the United States and its allies will prevail. “It is who we are, and when you lead from your values and principles, you succeed. We’ve done this hard, tough work before, and we’ve succeeded,” Rice said.