Fri, Nov 19, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Rice to get more responsibilities

It's not clear what induced Rice to agree to take a job she had said she was not keen on, but she isn't the type to turn down a direct request from the US president


US National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice's 500m move from the White House to the State Department is a supreme act of vindication by a president who believes he has the popular will behind him.

Under Secretary of State Colin Powell, the State Department has been the lone unruly province in President George W. Bush's kingdom, paying dutiful lip service to his authority while whispering multilateralist sedition.

Restored with a clear majority vote, Bush has dealt with the nagging problem in imperious fashion, dispatching a courtier so close to him as to be almost Bush royalty.

Rice, who turned 50 on Sunday, has been tutoring him on foreign policy since 1998. She quickly emerged as the leader of the self-styled "Vulcans" who met at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, to craft a conservative strategy for the world, and it was clear that the then Texas governor had taken a shine to the elegant academic who shared his obsession with sports.

"She's fun to be with," Bush said at the time. "I like lighthearted people, not people who take themselves so seriously."

"Besides, she's really smart!" he said.

As national security adviser for four years, Rice has been indispensable and constantly available. She has no other life, has never married and a handful of dates with eligible men organized by well-meaning friends have led nowhere romantically.

She spends many of her weekends at Camp David with the president, watching baseball and football and doing jigsaws with the first family. Her only time off appears to be occasional sessions playing the piano with a classical music group in Washington.

At a dinner party with some senior journalists in spring this year, her dedication was revealed in an extraordinary Freudian slip.

"As I was telling my husb-" she blurted, before correcting herself. "As I was telling President Bush."

It says a lot about the prim reputation of both that hardly anyone in gossip-ridden Washington interpreted the slip as a sign of a romantic connection.

As Bush campaigned for re-election, Rice's colleagues and friends were suggesting that she was longing to get away and get a life of her own. She even mused publicly about becoming the commissioner of the National Football League.

Before the election, a longstanding friend confidently predicted she would go back to academia, unless she got the defense department.

But there was to be no vacancy at the Pentagon.

It is unclear what induced Rice to agree to take a job she privately said she was not keen on, but she is not the sort of person to turn down a direct request from the president. She may also have found it hard to turn down the opportunity to become the first black woman to fill a post that first belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Nevertheless, the State Department is hardly a natural fit for a woman who has always been more interested in the exercise than the balance of power.

She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and her early years were spent amid the turmoil of the civil rights battles. A young schoolmate was killed when white supremacists blew up a black church, and her father, a college teacher, had to patrol the streets to protect their middle class neighborhood.

The young Condoleezza (the name derives from the musical term con dolcezza, which means "to play with sweetness") leapt high over every social and racial barrier. She was a prodigy -- a pianist who gave her first recital by the age of four, an accomplished skater and a precocious intellect accepted by the University of Denver to study political science at 15.

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