(TAMPA, Fla.) — Condoleezza Rice never addressed President Obama by name, but the former secretary of state delivered a sharp rejection of his foreign policy Wednesday night, charging that the White House had forsaken past and potential allies, leaving the world to wonder, “Where does America stand?”
“When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question,” she told the Republican National Convention, “the world is a chaotic and dangerous place.”
Rice picked up on a theme laid out earlier that night by Sen. John McCain, who warned that “if America doesn’t lead, our adversaries will, and the world will grow darker, poorer and much more dangerous.” Rice criticized the president for taking a backseat to NATO during the battle for Libya and not doing more to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
“We cannot be reluctant to lead,” Rice told fellow Republicans, who welcomed her to the stage with enthusiastic applause. “And you cannot lead from behind. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan understand this reality, that our leadership abroad and our well-being at home are inextricably linked.”
“Our adversaries must have no reason to doubt our resolve because peace really does come through strength,” said Rice, who was secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s administration.
Turning to concerns that a growing deficit could undermine American influence abroad, she focused on China.
“Just consider this,” she said. “The United States has ratified only three trade agreements in the last few years and those were negotiated in the Bush administration. China has signed 15 free trade agreements and is in the progress of negotiating as many as 18 more. Sadly we are abandoning the field of free and fair trade, and it will come back to haunt us.”
Working without a teleprompter, Rice occasionally looked down at her notes, but mostly drove home her points with a fierce right hand.
And her speech did not stop at the shoreline as she touched on domestic issues, lines that won her some of her evening’s most raucous applause.
“On a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the most segregated big city in America,” Rice said, talking about her childhood in Alabama. “Her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant, but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter she can be president of the United States — and she becomes the secretary of state.”
That dream, she said, was in doubt as economic dislocation crushes opportunity in areas hardest hit by the slow recovery.
“Your greatest ally in controlling your response to your circumstance is in a quality education,” Rice said. “Today, when I can look at your zip code and can tell whether you are going to get a good education. Can I really say that it doesn’t matter where you came from? It matters where you are going. The crisis in K-12 education is a threat to the very fabric who we are.”
It is an issue Rice knows well from her time as provost at Stanford University, which she returned to in 2010 to work as a professor.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Tom LoBianco, CNN
Stephen Collinson and MJ Lee, CNN
Jose Pagliery, CNN