The Boston Marathon bombing this week, like 9/11, was an evil act that shatters the idea of national security, former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said during an appearance at Drew University in Madison Thursday night.
In a wide-ranging speech and Q-and-A before a sellout crowd of around 2,000 people, Rice touched on national and international issues as she closed out the Drew Forum lecture series.
"We will learn from this experience and this now will be put into the memory banks as to how to try to better protect soft targets," Rice said in response to an audience member who asked for her assessment of what happened. "But just horrible events. My heart goes out to the victims and the families and the people who are trying to recover. It was a shock. And for me it was something of a flashback to that awful day."
Her first instinct was the Boston attack was not carried out by a main affiliate of al Qaeda because they tend to take credit for attacks and did not in this case, but more likely was a "homegrown radicalized element" or someone with a domestic grievance, she said.
She said open societies always will have vulnerabilities and, after main terrorist organizations were dismantled, "I think everyone's worst nightmare was that this kind of atomization of the terrorist threat away from more centralized groups that you can track might make it more difficult to exercise the kind of vigilance that you need."
'Shifting before our eyes'
Her speech focused on what she said were three "major shocks" to the international system that occurred in a little over a decade: 9/11, the financial crisis and the wave of demonstrations and revolutions in the Middle East known as the Arab Spring.
"The international system is quite literally shifting before our eyes," she said.
She recounted her experience on 9/11, including being taken to a bunker and the only time she ever raised her voice to President George W. Bush, telling him to "stay where you are." After the attack, the conception of national security was never the same as the U.S. would focus on threats in non-governed areas where terrorists could train and hide, she said.
While the scale of 9/11 was much larger, the Boston Marathon bombings also showed evil, she said.
"For me, the events in Boston really were a kind of a flashback. Not to a feeling of responsibility ... but that sickness in the center of your stomach that says there is no way to describe this but to describe it as evil," she said during the Q-and-A. "Sometimes there are things that have no explanation. There are things that have no justification. And you have to call them by name, and that's evil. And that's what we saw in Boston."
On the upheaval in the Middle East, she said revolutions are never pretty and the formation of new government institutions there is just beginning and will take time.
"We were once those people in Tahir Square," she said.
When she took a private tour of the National Archives in her last weeks as secretary of state, she was struck by the anger in the Declaration of Independence, Rice said. The further down you go, "the more fist-shaking and petulant and angry this document becomes," she said.
Asked about U.S. drone attacks, she said their use should be extremely limited, and the U.S. needs to think about a time in the future when drone technology is in the hands of other countries.
Questioned on the Bush administration's used of "enhanced interrogation" on suspected terrorists, she said she is not surprised that decision is being second-guessed, but she could not live with people second-guessing why the administration did not do more to stop another terrorist attack had there been one.
Asked to explain the administration's decision to invade Iraq, she said it was based on incorrect intelligence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but the Middle East is more stable without him.
Rice, a professor and former provost at Stanford University, also spoke of the importance of education and encouraged students in attendance to find their passion, challenge themselves, and stay optimistic by helping others. A "crisis" in K-12 education in U.S., with unequal access to opportunities essentially based on ZIP code, amounts to "the greatest national security threat that we face," she said.
Asked about North Korea's recent threatening rhetoric, Rice said she dealt with her own North Korea crisis when the country tested a nuclear device in 2006, but "this feels more dangerous." North Korea's then-leader Kim Jong Il, at the end of the day, was bounded by some sense of reality.
"I'm not so sure about junior," she said of his son, current leader Kim Jong Un.
"It's a situation you have to manage your way through," she said, and the situation calls for taking the first steps Secretary of State John Kerry has taken: assuring allies, including South Korea and Japan, the U.S. stands by them.
Rice said there was good news Thursday in that North Korea mentioned the word "talks" for the first time, albeit with unrealistic demands attached.
Rice appeared at Drew as the school’s eighth Thomas H. Kean visiting lecturer, closing out the 2012-13 Drew Forum lecture series. She arrived on campus around 3 p.m. and taught an honors class and political science class before the speech.
Before her remarks, she thanked Drew's interim President Dr. Vivian Bull for her leadership of the college. Rice also thanked Kean, former New Jersey governor, 9/11 Commission chair, and Drew president—who was in attendance—for his contributions to the school, state and country.