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Condoleezza Rice: A Profile

TUESDAY 5th August 2003

Her youth and glamour have put her on the pages of Vogue. She is a pianist trained to concert standard, and she relaxes by ice-skating. But this is no tale of "Whitney goes to the White House". With her formidable intellect and Kissinger-esque access to the president, Condoleezza Rice's influence on US policy cannot be overestimated.

Educating George

The desk of America's first female national security advisor is only feet away from that of Bush. It was Rice who told him that they were dropping bombs on Iraq, and probably why. On all things international, the world's most powerful man is her pupil. If Greeks are no longer Grecians, we have Condi the Conduit to thank.

Unlike her boss, Rice has never been suspected of being a lightweight, and her background is a solid catalogue of academia and public service. Raised in the segregated Deep South, Rice listened to her teacher parents who told her, "You might not be able to get a hamburger, but you can be president of the United States."

Early success

Learning to be "twice as good as the white kids" meant Rice graduated while still a teenager, and obtained àa place, by the age of 26, on the faculty of Stanford University.

She is a staunch Republican, drawn to a party that "sees me as an individual, not as part of a group". And, as a fluent Russian speaker, she advised the first Bush administration on Soviet affairs before returning to California as Stanford's first black or female provost. A close family friend, Rice was a natural choice to enter Dubya's smallest political circle.

Since then, she has been determined to protect US interests across the world, proving steadfast, some say uncompromising, on issues such as ballistic missile defence and the environment. She has, however, balanced this forcefulness with diplomacy, an effective combination one observer calls her "steely grace".

"Peace begins with strength"

If Rice stands out, both in California and Washington, she is no mere token of progressiveness. She says herself, "We shouldn't see race and gender in everything", and would surely see this as an insult to her wealth of personal achievement.

When the world's most powerful woman says of foreign policy that "peace begins with strength", she could be talking about herself. She no doubt remembers the injustices of her childhood, and the Rice family's gracious response, "not to rebel, but excel".