Condoleezza Rice faces Senate confirmation hearings next week on Tuesday and Wednesday to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state. If confirmed, she will face major foreign policy challenges in the months ahead.
The current National Security Adviser is President Bush's most trusted foreign policy adviser. The president made that clear when he nominated her on Nov. 16 to become secretary of state.
"During the last four years I have relied on her counsel, benefited from her great experience and appreciated her sound and steady judgment. And now I am honored that she has agreed to serve in my Cabinet," he said.
Ms. Rice's association with the Bush family goes back a long way. Under the first President Bush, she served as a Soviet expert on the National Security Council. During the 2000 presidential campaign, she tutored George W. Bush in foreign policy, and following his election Ms. Rice was named to head the National Security Council. Since then, she has become even closer to the president and a frequent visitor to the presidential retreat at Camp David.
Ms. Rice was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama 50 years ago under the shadow of segregation. Her father was a college administrator and her mother a music teacher.
After her father took a job in Denver, Colorado, she studied at the University of Denver. She wanted to become a concert pianist, but became interested in foreign affairs after attending a class taught by Josef Korbel, the father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
She received her doctorate from the University of Denver in 1981. She went on to teach at Stanford University (in California) and spent six years as the university's provost, or chief financial officer.
Ms. Rice is an accomplished pianist, ice skater and an avid sports fan. She has said on several occasions that her dream job would be commissioner of the National Football League. In addition to English, she speaks Russian, French and Spanish.
Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft knows Ms. Rice very well. He brought her into the White House under the first President Bush. Mr. Scowcroft says her new responsibilities at the State Department will be different than those she had as National Security Adviser. "The job of Secretary of State has a function that the National Security Adviser doesn't and that is, it's beyond policy," he said. "It's explaining policy; it's developing support for policy, and it's explaining other countries' policies to the American policy community. She hasn't done that before. But she is incredibly smart and she's a very quick learner."
Many analysts see the naming of Condoleezza Rice to replace Colin Powell as an effort by the Bush administration to show a unified foreign policy front. One of those experts is David Rothkopf, author of a forthcoming history of the National Security Council.
"What they saw in the last couple of years was fractiousness, fighting, particularly between the State Department and the Defense Department, and the appearance of disunity," he said. "President Bush places an enormously high premium on loyalty and if there is anybody who is loyal to him in the administration, it is Condoleezza Rice, who has become a kind of alter ego for him. And so he has made a move to create a seamless, like-thinking team of people atop the foreign policy decision-making pyramid."
Robert Hunter is a former State Department official and former ambassador to NATO. He says having someone of Condoleezza Rice's stature at the head of the State Department has its advantages. "Clearly, Condoleezza Rice is close to the president, has his trust and confidence. And in senior leaders in foreign policy, that can be of extraordinary importance," he said. "Signals she gives to foreign governments, they will know with confidence that she speaks for the president. Another thing, of course, is that she will clearly be a stronger personality in influencing him than was Colin Powell, who was never really part of the central Bush team."
However Mr. Rothkopf says by naming someone so close to the president to such a prominent position, one runs the risk of silencing dissenting views. "One of the real questions about her tenure is going to be whether she develops her own voice. She will, within a few weeks perhaps, after she is confirmed, go out into the field, into the Middle East and to other places and start advancing initiatives. She will inevitably start identifying those initiatives as her own and will be invested in them," he said. "Whether she comes back and fights for them or develops through them a somewhat different view from some of her colleagues is uncertain."
That, says Mr. Rothkopf is going to be a real challenge for Ms. Rice, because she has been so closely identified with the president.
Analysts say the foreign policy challenges facing Ms. Rice are the same Colin Powell had to face. Former ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter. "Number one, obviously, is Iraq. Number two has to be Afghanistan, because this is where Americans as well as allies are fighting and dying. And of course related to that is the struggle against terrorism. These are the package of central issues. Along the way, repairing relations with the allies and allies repairing relations with the United States is critical to being successful at that," said Mr. Hunter.
Experts also say the United States must play a more active role in finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. David Mack is vice president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based research organization. "This is without doubt, the highest moral imperative of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. But it is also something that is absolutely essential if we are to meet our other commitments in the Middle East, the foremost of those is the question of the security of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf region."
Condoleezza Rice will probably be asked about her foreign policy objectives during her Senate confirmation hearings. Analysts say her confirmation as secretary of state is a foregone conclusion, since President Bush's Republican Party has a comfortable majority in Congress's upper house.