Condoleezza Rice: U.S. can't lead from behind

ROSE: So, what part of President Obama's foreign policy and the decisions he has taken do you disagree with?

RICE: Look, I have said, and I continue to say, I understand how hard it is to be in the White House, how hard it is to be in the State Department, but I do think we need a greater, more assertive America in the world. When things are moving in many different directions as they are, after great shocks to the system like 9/11 and the global financial and economic crisis, and now the positive shock of people insisting on their democratic rights, the United States can't lead from behind.


ANCHOR: Madam Secretary, let's talk about a couple items in the news, specifically starting with Russia, and of course, the impact on Syria there. In your experience with Vladimir Putin, how do you get Russia to come to the table on this?

RICE: Well, you may not be able to get Russia to come to the table. The Russians have a view under Vladimir Putin that is really a kind of 19th-century view of foreign policy. You intimidate your neighbors, as they tried to do with Georgia. They have a fast friend, they believe, in Bashar al Assad. Syria has been the center of Russia's Middle Eastern policy. And I’m not certain that we can bring them. They ought to be embarrassed by being a part of the support structure for a dictator who is murdering his own people every day, but if they are not, then we have to make alliance with those who wish to see Bashar al Assad overthrown. That’s most of the states in the region and including some powerful states like turkey that are now beginning to suffer from the instability that turkey is bringing. We saw this downing of Turkish aircraft. And so, let's make alliance with those who understand that Syria will never be stable with Bashar al Assad in place. Let's help the opposition to organize. And Syria will be better off (without) Bashar al Assad and so will the Middle East.

ROSE: You say help the opposition to organize. Do you support, like senator McCain does, arming the rebels?

RICE: Well, the first thing you've got to do is to get a political structure that can be on the ground and running when Assad is finally gone, and a lot of work has to be done to bring that political alliance together, and in fact, the Turks have been very active in doing so. Yes, I do believe that you're probably ultimately going to have to arm the opposition, maybe even today, because people are being armed. Assad is being armed by the Russians and by the Iranians. So, it's not as if people are not being armed. and even the opposition is receiving some arms from regional players, some of whom have their own agenda in Syria, and the united states, Europe, those of us, I think, who want to see a stable, and ultimately, democratic Syria, are going to have to work with the opposition and probably, indeed, arm them within a political framework, rather than what I fear is happening now, which is that various fragments are being armed in accordance with regional players who have different agendas.