The keynote speaker at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show doesn’t want to hear why Colin the chicken was a brilliant choice to be quartered and fried for a restaurant dinner. “I don’t like menus that have to be explained to me,” explained Condoleezza Rice, who sampled the world’s fares as secretary of state and national security adviser to President George W. Bush.
In a speech laced with humor about her culinary upbringing (“If it isn’t fried, it isn’t food,” quipped the Alabama native), Rice spoke of the harsh realities faced by the United States in a world that was scrambled on Sept. 11. “If you were in a government position on Sept. 11, you lived every day since as Sept. 12,” she said. Rice, as national security adviser, was essentially the point person for the president on gauging the unprecedented homeland threat that unfolded that day for America.
Yet the dangers she cited have less to do with terrorism than the new realities forged by a change in American thinking. Specifically, she cited these threats to what makes the United States unique.
1. Failing at universal education
“The crisis in K-12 education is the highest danger to security in our country today,” said Rice. “We’re creating two societies, one capable and one not.”
She explained that she could look at a person’s ZIP code and predict if that person would be empowered or handicapped by the education they were likely to receive.
“The United States of America is having a human capability problem,” she said. “If you can’t read by the third grade, you’re probably not going to ever read.”
Imagine, she said, trying to land a decent job today when you can’t even read.
2. Tech as a social divider
Continuing on that theme, Rice noted that technology could bring information and learning within the reach of all. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be wielded that way.
“The same technology that could equalize education, that same technology if not applied correctly could increase the gap between those who have and those who do not,” said Rice.
3. Knowledge trumping wisdom
“Human beings have long been better at knowledge than at wisdom,” said Rice, who holds a Ph.D. She cited the example of splitting the atom: Carbon life forms figured out how to release energy through the god-like activity of slicing atoms, then used that know-how to create bombs of nearly unimaginable power.
“The question this time is if we’ll be as good at technology wisdom as we’ve been in technology knowledge,” said Rice.
4. Immigration attitudes
Rice acknowledged that her greatest regret as a key figure in the Bush White House was the administration’s inability to engineer meaningful and responsible changes in the nation’s immigration policies. The executive branch had started down that path by inviting Mexican President Vicente Fox to the White House to start a dialogue on reform. The self-professed performer was the first foreign dignitary to visit Bush, kicking off talks of border changes—on Sept. 8, 2001.
The commitment was never resumed because of the larger issue of safeguarding the nation from terrorism, Rice explained.
She admitted her disappointment with how the matter is being approached today, without specifically citing President Trump or his administration.
5. Stupid mistakes
Rice recounted the tense situation that unfolded during her White House tenure after a Chinese fighter jet collided with an American information-gathering craft in midair. The U.S. plane was forced to land, and its 24-member staff was detained and interrogated.
It was a nail-biter moment, Rice noted, but “I don’t think China and the U.S. ever want to go to war against one another,” she said. “The danger is miscalculation.”
In that particular situation, the Chinese fighter pilot had been “hot dogging,” and ended up dead, Rice explained. Adversaries operating in close but tense proximity are tinder for a potential full-fledged conflict, she noted.