Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States must remain vigilant in the fight in Afghanistan and help calm the drug battles along the Mexican border to help prevent the type of failed states that lead to more terrorism.
Rice delivered the keynote address to a crowd of more than 2,500 police and security professionals gathered in Anaheim for the 55th annual American Society for Industrial Security International Seminar, billed as the largest security expo in the world.
"Nothing has ever been the same since 9/11," she said.
Unless the U.S. leads the charge to stabilize Afghanistan and other volatile regions, "you can be assured you'll have (terrorist) attacks from there again," Rice said. "This is a long war, not a short one."
She emphasized that unpopular decisions may need to be made in order to bring about lasting peace.
"If you govern for today's headlines, you will not have history's judgment on your side," she said.
Rice, the first black woman to serve as secretary of state, served in that position from 2005 to January of this year, and previously served as national security adviser.
In March, she returned to Stanford University to teach political science, but maintains an active speaking schedule. (She is scheduled to return to Anaheim for the Produce Marketing Association's convention in two weeks.)
Rice said she's enjoying a break from international politics. "Not only can I sleep, but I can get up and read the newspaper and not need to do anything about what's in it," she said.
Rice spoke for about 30 minutes, then spent an additional 20 minutes answering presubmitted questions from the audience on subjects ranging from international politics to her mentors and her proudest accomplishments.
The biggest disappointment of her time as secretary of state, she said, is that she was unable to make more progress toward a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Asked what she is most proud of, she said: "I am most grateful - not most proud - that there was not another attack under our watch. And that we were able to defend this country in a way that allowed people to go back to their lives after 9/11."
Rice told the police officers and security professionals gathered at the conference that they are vital to maintaining safety every day at a local level.
While the government can worry about securing ocean ports and fighting the Taliban, she said, they are the people looking out for backpacks filled with explosives or suspicious cyber activity, making them "essential to the overall war on terror."
"For that, I thank you," she said.
Among her mentors, she included her parents for teaching her while growing up in racially segregated Alabama that "a girl like me may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth's, but she can be president of the United States if she wants." (Rumors have swirled about whether Rice will run for president. She made no announcement.)
And she credited President George H.W. Bush, for whom she served as a Soviet expert on the National Security Council, as a mentor. He taught her to "think about power wisely and with humility," she said.
Rice also urged everyday Americans to continue believing in the "national myth" that America is a place where any dream can be accomplished, to educate themselves and work toward achieving those dreams. "We are admired for our national myth," Rice said. "A myth is not untrue, it's just oversized. ... And our national myth is the log-cabin myth - that it doesn't matter where you came from, it's where you are going."
Rice said she's a living example of that because of her paternal grandfather. A sharecropper in Alabama, he decided to pursue a college education but found out he couldn't afford a second year.
When he asked about how others afforded it, he learned that he could get a scholarship if he became a Presbyterian minister.