One challenge of international diplomacy can be just persuading an ally not to kill someone, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at Monday’s Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum in Columbus.
It can be frustrating dealing with infant governments such as the one established in Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion provoked by Sept. 11.
Rice recalled that Afghanistan’s government once was about to execute a former Muslim for having converted to Christianity. The execution was sure to stir up trouble here at home, so President George W. Bush asked Rice to call Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
She informed Karzai that if the execution went through, Afghanistan would get no further financial support from the United States, because Congress wouldn’t stand for it.
Karzai said he’d call her back. About four hours later, he did.
“I fixed it,” he told her.
Asked how he’d resolved the issue, he said of the once-doomed Christian: “We’re going to declare him insane.”
Time to grow
Rice told a packed room at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center that she had to remind herself America’s government has had more than 200 years to mature. In places like Afghanistan, “governance is not a natural act,” she said. It takes time.
But as America learned after 9/11, the time is well spent, she said. The terrorist attack taught us that the greatest threats can come not from organized, established governments, but from “failed states” that cannot control their territory.
Afghanistan is the fifth poorest nation in the world. The events leading to 9/11 included the radical Taliban pouring into the country from Pakistan and inviting al-Qaida to join them. Spending little more than $300,000, the militants organized the attack that brought down the Twin Towers and left the Pentagon in flames.
The United States could not afford to leave Afghanistan an “ungoverned territory” after invading it, she said.
“It is hard work helping failing states,” she acknowledged, but an investment up front can save paying a much dearer price later on.
The day-to-day difficulties in such an endeavor may make unpleasant headlines, from time to time, but America must carry on, she said: “Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same.”
Secretary of state from 2005 to 2009, Rice was the headline speaker for the sixth annual forum which continues today.
Before her remarks, the Jim Blanchard Award for Outstanding Stewardship and Ethics in Business was presented posthumously to Ray Anderson, founder of the carpet manufacturer Interface. He died of cancer earlier this month.
A native of West Point, Ga., and graduate of Georgia Tech, Anderson started his company in 1973. In 1994 he read the book “The Ecology of Commerce.” He then dedicated his work to ensuring his company had as little impact as possible on the environment -- eliminating waste, reducing emissions and switching to renewable energy sources.
“What drives me? Tomorrow’s child,” Anderson said in a video about his mission.
The phrase “tomorrow’s child” came from a poem one of his workers wrote. The idea is to manufacture a product “that does not come at the expense of tomorrow’s child,” Anderson said.