Condi and Me

Mark N. Katz*

Oakton, May 11, 2014 (Alochonaa):I’ve been waiting for years now for one of Condoleezza Rice’s biographers to interview me about her, but so far none of them has.  Well, I’m not going to wait any longer.  I’m going to reveal everything I know.

I must admit, though, that I don’t actually have all that much to reveal.  Those hoping for salacious gossip, then, can stop reading this right now.  I’ll just relate what little I do know about her.

We met in the summer of 1977 at the State Department in Washington, D.C.  She and I—along with two other graduate students—had been selected for summer internships in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.  I can’t remember the names of the other two interns—both male—but I do remember that one had just finished his first year at Cornell Law School while the other had just completed his first year at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

I had just finished my first year at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  Condi, by contrast, had already earned an M.A. and had spent two years in the Ph.D. program at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of International Studies.  Thus, although we were all about the same age (indeed, Condi and I were born just three days apart), she was definitely senior to us.

We four interns spent quite a lot of time together that summer.  I remember that we regularly met for lunch in the State Department cafeteria (which was not nearly as nice then as it is now) where we would earnestly discuss the issues of the day among ourselves, other interns, and (if we were lucky) career State Department employees from the various offices we worked in.  Sometimes we would go to the official State Department press briefing (which, we soon learned, was a lot less exciting to see live than as snippets on the nightly news).

We also spent a lot of time together because the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs arranged briefings for us with each of its many component offices.  In addition, there were lots of other seminars outside our Bureau that we attended.  These attracted a much larger audience of State Department employees and interns.  (There were many other interns at State besides us that summer, but we four felt special because our Bureau was one of the very few that actually paid its interns.)

The four of us would sometimes meet on evenings and weekends too—again, for more earnest conversation about foreign policy issues.  I forget all the places we went to together.  Once, though, Condi and the other two interns came to a party I threw for my SAIS friends at the Georgetown townhouse where I was housesitting.

But all this, I hear you saying impatiently, is not what you want to know.  “What was she like?” is the question you are interested in.  Well, I recall her as being intelligent, serious, conservative, and religious, but also as being funny and just a little quirky.  She once declared that she had adopted the city of Cincinnati, and sang its praises to us.  I was surprised that she knew so much about football (whereas I think she was surprised that I knew so little about it).  She was especially enthusiastic about the music of Stevie Wonder.

There are two episodes about her from that summer that stand out in my memory.  The first came relatively soon after we four interns started at State.  Two of us (including me) were assigned to Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (which we soon learned to refer to by its State Department organizational code:  CU) offices in the Main State Department building.  Another was assigned to the CU Legal Affairs office in a State Annex building across the Potomac in Rosslyn, VA.  Condi was assigned to CU/Arts, which was located in a State Annex building a couple of blocks north of Main State.

I remember going over there once to see her.  She was not happy.  Where she sat was dark and stuffy (due, perhaps, to this building’s managers being more zealous than those at Main State about enforcing the newly arrived Carter Administration’s insistence on saving money through minimizing the use of air conditioning and electricity).  She was also much less interested in the subject matter of this office than in Soviet and East European affairs (we figured that they had put her in CU/Arts for no better reason than that she played the piano).  And she wanted to be where the action was in Main State, and not this awful little annex.

A few days later, a triumphant Condi announced to her fellow CU interns that she had arranged to be transferred from CU/Arts to CU/EE (Eastern Europe) in Main State, just across the hall from me in CU/EA (East Asia).  We were amazed.  It never even occurred to me that any of us could ask for a transfer and actually receive one.  I realized from this episode that not only was she ambitious, but that she also had the ability to achieve her ambitions—a sign of things to come!

The second episode occurred later on that summer.  The four of us—along with what appeared to be hundreds of others—attended an in-house address by the Deputy Secretary of State, Warren Christopher.  I recall that Condi and I were sitting next to each other toward the back of the room.  During the question-and-answer session after his talk, Condi and I were among the dozens of people who raised their hands over and over again in what seemed to be the increasingly forlorn hope that the Deputy Secretary would call on one of us to pose a question.  Finally—and I believe it was for the last question of the session—he called upon her (and not me).

I cannot recall anything about what she asked or what he answered.  But years later, it occurred to me that their exchange had been a conversation between two future Secretaries of State (Christopher would serve in this capacity for President Clinton).

And I couldn’t help but wonder:  If he had called upon me instead of her, would history have been different?

*Dr. Katz is a Professor of Public and International Affairs, George MasonUniversity. He earned a BA in international relations from the University of California at Riverside, an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and a PhD in political science from M.I.T. He is one of the world’s leading experts on Russia. He has authored  several books including The Third World in Soviet Military Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), Russia and Arabia: Soviet Foreign Policy toward the Arabian Peninsula (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), Gorbachev’s Military Policy in the Third World (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1989). He is also the editor ofThe USSR and Marxist Revolutions in the Third World (Wilson Center/Cambridge University Press, 1990). 

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Categories: America, Reflection

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