WASHINGTON – Before Condoleezza Rice would get down to the messy business of Middle East politics whenever she saw Binyamin Netanyahu, she first had a question for him: How’s your father doing?
Long before Rice became the first female US national security adviser and then the first black female secretary of state, she and her parents lived next door to Netanyahu’s parents in Denver, Colorado.
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“One of the first things I always asked Prime Minister Netanyahu when I would see him is, ‘How’s your father?’” the former secretary of state told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Rice was a teenager at the time, and Netanyahu was in college. That meant they had little direct contact during the time both of their fathers worked for the University of Denver. But the ties did affect their future relationship.
“It allowed them to connect back to a common point,” a source close to Rice said. “It was very, very helpful.”
Her father, Presbyterian minister Reverend John Wesley Rice Jr., was an assistant dean, and Benzion Netanyahu, a professor of Hebraic studies, shared an interest in religion. One year her family even joined the Netanyahus at their Passover Seder.
Rice wrote about that incident in her new memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, which she is currently promoting on a book tour. The book, the first of two volumes of an autobiography she will be releasing, focuses on her family and upbringing and ends just as she becomes national security adviser for former president George W. Bush.
The second volume is expected to cover her time in the White House and at Foggy Bottom, where she dealt with the thorny issues of Iraq, Iran and the Middle East peace process.
Her first book does detail some of her earlier experiences in Washington, particularly her time on the National Security Council under president George H.W. Bush, when she served as a Soviet adviser.
She speaks warmly of her former boss, then national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, whom she “adored,” and his deputy, Robert Gates, who would go on to serve as defense secretary while she headed the State Department.
“I was drawn to Robert M. Gates, the deputy national security adviser, with whom I shared a background in Soviet studies as well as an acerbic sense of humor,” she said.
Rice also praised both Bushes, though she did admit that she questioned the younger president’s chances of winning when he first told her of his interest in running.
“When the then-Texas governor told me that he’d likely make a run for the White House, his presidential bid struck me as having long odds for success,” she said. “The governor was untested and would likely face a real pro in vice president Al Gore. I was too polite to say these things, but I sure thought them.”
Serving as an adviser to him on the campaign, she acknowledged that, “Foreign policy would be the governor’s Achilles’ heel.”
Mostly, though, the book is devoted to her upbringing by her parents,
who helped her overcome the racism of the Deep South as a child in the
1960s with the abiding conviction that she could do whatever she set out
to do through faith and hard work.
Even many of Rice’s recollections of time spent on the campaign trail
and in her early days as national security adviser are portrayed through
the lens of her parents’ influence, though both had passed away by the
time she took office.
“Visiting the Holy Land, I thought of how much my father would have
relished walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ,” she wrote.