Skip Navigation
Democracy the best antidote to terrorism, says Condoleezza RiceDr. Rice speaking at the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture (left); Burkle Center Director Kal Raustiala in a Q&A session with Dr. Rice (right). Photo: Todd Cheney/ UCLA Photo.

Democracy the best antidote to terrorism, says Condoleezza Rice

Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice offered a spirited defense of democracy as the best and most stable system of government at the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture of the Burkle Center for International Relations.

By Peggy McInerny
Director of Communications

UCLA, Los Angeles, February 27 — “Democracies,” she remarked, “are ultimately better guarantors—and their institutions, better protectors—of the human condition than any other form of government.” 

They are also, she argued, the best defense against the “hatred and evil” behind such events as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the murder of Pearl, a journalist for The Wall Street Journal, in 2002.
 
Cosponsored by the Burkle Center, the Daniel Pearl Foundation, and the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, the event generated unprecedented attendance, with an overflow crowd served by a live broadcast feed in a separate auditorium. Rice’s speech was preceded by remarks by both Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller of the Hillel Center at UCLA and Judea Pearl, father of the journalist. President of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA, Judea Pearl asserted that the effect of his son’s murder on the 21st century had been to resurrect the idea of absolute right and wrong. He noted that the United States was respected abroad precisely because it has always defended this idea. 
 
Dr. Rice argued that in order to respond to terrorism in the long run, the United States must address the “freedom gap” in nondemocratic regimes in the Middle East. “The United States made a supreme error for 60 years,” she remarked, “by supporting stability at the expense of democracy [in the region]. And we got neither.” Not only did U.S. policy shut out decent alternatives to authoritarian regimes, these regimes’ intolerance of political dissent caused radicals to organize in mosques and madrasahs. Rice said she was unsurprised by the chaos and messiness of the recent democratic revolutions in many Arab nations. “When rights are denied for so long, people have no option but to seize them,” she observed, noting that she had urged former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to lead democratic reform in the region in 2005.
 
Rice offered a theoretical defense of democracy as the most stable form of government because it is based on citizens’ rights and consent. Characterizing freedom as the seizure of rights, she emphasized that democracy was the institutionalization of those rights. Truly stable democracies, she added, require an understanding that there can neither be a tyranny of the majority nor the exploitation of the weak by the strong. “It’s a hard road,” she reflected, “We tend to forget how really hard democracy is . . . [how hard] it is to deliver on the promise that it doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going.” In her opinion, U.S. policy in the Middle East today should concentrate on helping build democratic institutions. Even in their first incarnation, Rice insisted that democratic institutions still have the potential to be powerful, gaining normative power as people use them to protect their rights.
 
In a question-and-answer period led by Kal Raustiala, Director of the Burkle Center, Rice rejected the idea that China was the main beneficiary of the United States being “distracted” in the Middle East over the past decade. “We were ‘mired’ in the Middle East because that’s where the trouble was,” she remarked, arguing that China would have risen anyway. She described the current U.S. approach to China as a “little too military for my taste,” claiming that U.S. policy in Asia overall should be rebalanced in favor of economic leadership. In a region characterized by poor bilateral relations among individual nations, she asserted that the job of the United States was to calm the waters, not to stir them. Asked about the potential for democracy in China, Rice noted that political institutions in China were not keeping pace with its economic growth. She noted that while the Chinese government enjoys legitimacy based on prosperity, it was an opportune time to move toward legitimacy based on rights.
 
Responding to a question about U.S. foreign policy, Rice admitted that the United States has not always been consistent in its support of democracy. “We don’t have the purest of histories,” she observed. But in the long arc of history, she argued that among all other countries, the United States has been the most persistent defender of democratic values and human rights. With respect to Syria, Rice claimed that lack of U.S. leadership regarding the conflict had been destabilizing for the region as a whole. She added that Syria was emblematic of the real problem of the Middle East: with the exception of Egypt, its states are all constructs that obliterated confessional and ethnic lines (e.g., Shias, Sunnis, Kurds). No longer held together by dictators or monarchs, many of these states now lack a binding glue.
 
Asked about the use of drones, Rice responded that they were a critical element of U.S. defense policy. However, she admitted to being worried about their use for two reasons. First, she explained, there is a risk that drones can be used with impunity because they offer the possibility of striking deep into someone else’s territory at no cost, unlike the cost of military engagement in actual wars, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, the international legal framework for the use of drones is nonexistent, starting with an accepted definition of “eminent danger.” Rice noted that drones will be ubiquitous soon, leading to the possibility that China might want to use them in Tibet, and Russia, in Chechnya.
 
Rice identified herself as a major proponent of comprehensive immigration reform and argued for a path to citizenship for people living illegally in the United States, conceding that regularizing their legal status was a very difficult issue. Nevertheless, she remarked, “We don’t want to be a country where 10 to 20 million people live in the shadows—we’re not that kind of country.” In conclusion, she cautioned that immigration reform would be harder than it looked and expressed the hope that the issues would not be drowned in demagogy.
 
Condoleezza Rice is currently a professor of Political Economy in the Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is also a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates, an international business consultancy. As a professor of Political Science, Rice has been on the Stanford faculty since 1981 and has won two of the highest teaching honors: the 1984 Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 1993 School of Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching.
 

UCLA International Institute