Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom
Secretary Rice’s vision was very much shaped by her personal experience growing up in Birmingham, Alabama where she witnessed the civil rights movement unfold. In fact, in the opening section of her book, she likens the struggle of nations for democracy to the struggle for freedom and equality that took place in those tumultuous times. The passion embedded from her experience growing up in the south when civil rights were denied to people based on race or religion is prominent in her belief that America has no greater mission than to bring democracy to impoverished and disempowered people around the world.
Nationalism Endangers Everything We Worked to Build
Rice sees the rise of nationalism as a threat to the international order whose mission it has been to spread freedom throughout the world. She is especially troubled by America’s seeming slide in that direction. She asks what will become of those places in the world where people still live in tyranny when America ceases to be a powerful voice of democracy. After so much time building up this global order, she wonders, what will happen if one by one, the initiators fall away and fail to live up to their responsibility of nurturing what they created.
To make her point, Secretary Rice takes us on a tour, so to speak, of various countries that have struggled to achieve democracy, such as Poland, Iraq, Russia, Colombia, and Kenya, among others. She acknowledges that the journey to democracy can be chaotic and frightening, but believes in the stability of institutions as an answer to the chaos. She also points out how important it is to maintain a balance between these institutions in order to promise true equality and democracy for all parties.
The Importance of Democratic Infrastructure
When discussing the need to have strong institutions to facilitate transitions, Rice cites the example of Russia that lacked the necessary legal framework and state establishments when the country transitioned from communism to capitalism. This, she explains, created a vacuum within which corruption could flourish.
A significant portion of the book focuses on the Middle East. Rice stands solidly behind her belief that if the Middle East is to achieve peace, it must become a democratic region. She observes that the region is changing, primarily through war and civil unrest, nevertheless, the landscape is transitioning and with continued leadership by the US, it will become democratic.
Secretary Rice is candid and honest in her review of previous strategies, acknowledging when they failed, such as in Iraq. At the same time, though, she admonishes those who would take the failures as evidence that the overall mission is flawed. Instead, she beseeches American policymakers to stay the course and strengthen the effort to shepherd the world as it struggles to establish democracy.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Condoleezza Rice speak recently at the McKinsey Women’s Leadership Conference here in San Francisco on April 21st. I was incredibly inspired by the stories she shared of her upbringing and some of the challenges she faced demonstrating her courage, drive and authenticity. And she has a great sense of humor too. I would encourage everyone to read her new work!