Rice Defends War, Talks Diplomacy
Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was dominated by her detailed defense of Bush’s Iraq war strategy. Rice, who consistently used the threat of WMDs to justify the invasion, was clearly rankled by the well-backed grilling from Senator Barbara Boxer that her “loyalty to the mission…to sell this war…overwhelmed [her] respect for the truth.”
Rice raised some eyebrows at the hearings when she suggested that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained, a figure which Senator Joe Biden described as “malarky.” Biden responded, “Based on his own interviews on trips in Iraq, the actual number of fully trained Iraqis was closer to 4,000.” Rice’s optimistic statements on Iraq to the committee have been flatly contradicted by a growing accumulation of intelligence reports submitted to the White House, according to a Knight-Ridder report. The hearings continue Wednesday morning.
Senator Boxer weighed in on another confirmation hearing when she told blogger DailyKos that the “torture memo” record of Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales was what swayed her vote. “I would say I am leaning ‘no’ on him at this point because I saw those pictures and they haunt me and I’ll never get it out of my mind and I couldn’t even sit and watch all of them.”
The continuing descent of Iraq into bloody chaos was underlined by the Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib, who told a press conference, “If there are not good elections, we won’t have a constitution, and there will be chaos, and we will have a civil war.” The minister’s warning was followed by unusually frank remarks from John D. Negroponte, the American ambassador to Iraq, who “acknowledged that there was no end in sight to the insurgency and that American officials still did not know how big it was.”
Support from the American people for the war continues to slip. A new Los Angeles Times poll found that the percentage of Americans who believed the situation in Iraq was “worth going to war over” has sunk to a new low of 39%.
The British Army is now embroiled in its own Iraq torture scandal. On Tuesday, three soldiers went on trial for what prosecutors called “shocking and appalling” mistreatment of Iraqi detainees. Photos taken in May 2003 by British soldiers showed a “bound Iraqi being dangled over a loading dock by a forklift, another being subjected to a simulated kick, and both Iraqis stripped and simulating sexual acts together.”
The White House plan to privatize Social Security received a sharp jab from a top Republican lawmaker when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) told the Washington Post that “partisan warfare over Social Security will quickly render President Bush’s plan ‘a dead horse’.”
The Florida delegation to the Democratic National Committee has voted unanimously to endorse Howard Dean to be the party’s next chairman, “bucking an effort to orchestrate an endorsement of one candidate by all 50 state party leaders at the same time later this month,” the New York Times reports. Scott Maddox, the Florida Democratic chairman told the Times, “The only knock against Howard Dean is that he’s seen as too liberal. I’m a gun-owning pickup-truck driver and I have a bulldog named Lockjaw. I am a Southern chairman of a Southern state, and I am perfectly comfortable with Howard Dean as D.N.C. chair.” In The Nation magazine, columnist John Nichols also praised Dean’s candidacy for DNC chair. “His presidential run was inspired in its use of new technologies and grassroots fundraising, in its willingness to get ahead on issues like the war and in the overall boldness of its approach — all characteristics that a resurgent Democratic Party must emulate,” writes Nichols.
Rice Sees Iraq Training Progress but Offers No Schedule for Exit
Published: January 19, 2005
ASHINGTON, Jan. 18 - Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's nominee for secretary of state, refused Tuesday to set any timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, but declared that the United States was making "some progress" in training Iraqi security forces.
Under persistent bipartisan questioning at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Rice also declared that beyond strengthening Iraq's fledgling police and military, the most urgent task facing Iraqis after the elections was to overcome differences among Sunni Arabs, Shiites, Kurds and others by seeking political reconciliation among themselves.
"The Iraqis lack certain capacities, and if we focus in this next period after the election on helping them to build those capacities beyond where they are now, I think we will have done a major part toward the day when less coalition help is needed," she said.
By far the most severe questioning came from Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, whose berating tone clearly rankled Ms. Rice and brought an uncharacteristic flash of irritation. In the morning session, Ms. Boxer focused sharply on Ms. Rice's position that Saddam Hussein had been close to acquiring nuclear weapons, showing her statements on a cardboard display.
"I personally believe, this is my personal view, that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth," Ms. Boxer said, noting that she was one of the minority of Senators to vote against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.
"Senator, I have to say that I never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything," Ms. Rice responded, her voice sharpening. "It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before, and what went on before and what I said, without impugning my credibility or my integrity."
Democrats also focused on Ms. Rice's past advocacy of the Iraq war and her role in deciding how many troops would be needed there, while several Republican senators called on Ms. Rice and the Bush administration in general to be more forthcoming about its strategy and specifics to back up its claims of progress.
"I can't give you a timeline," Ms. Rice said, in discussing how the administration planned to measure the success in Iraq that would allow an American disengagement. "But I think we will know when the Iraqis are able to have in place institutions, no matter how fragile and no matter how young, where they're actually beginning to try and solve their own problems within those institutions."
Ms. Rice opened the hearing by pledging to reinvigorate diplomacy on a number of fronts, from the Middle East to North Korea to Europe. But while going out of her way to commend various senators for their questions and their support, she refused to second-guess the decisions of the past or predict the future.
"This was never going to be easy," she said at one point, responding to a challenge about Iraq from Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was making his most prominent appearance in Washington since his defeat in the election by President Bush.
"It was always going to have ups and downs," Ms. Rice added. "I'm sure that we have multiple, many decisions, some of which were good, some of which might not have been good." But she added that "the strategic decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was the right one" and that success in Iraq would spread freedom and stability elsewhere.
The theme of Ms. Rice's opening statement was that history would favorably judge the Bush administration's struggle to expand freedom, particularly in the Muslim world, just as President Harry S. Truman is hailed by historians for laying the foundation of defeating Communism after World War II.
Declaring that there would be a renaissance of diplomacy in the administration's second term, Ms. Rice also promised the senators to upgrade American efforts at "public diplomacy," the term for waging a public relations campaign to sell American policies in the face of a skeptical world, particularly in the Middle East.
She said the administration would step up its efforts in the Middle East, hold Russia accountable for its backsliding on democracy and work with allies on Iran and North Korea.
Rice Sees Iraq Training Progress but Offers No Schedule for Exit
Published: January 19, 2005
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As she testified into the evening, answering round after round of questions from all 18 senators on the committee, Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is its chairman, scheduled a brief additional hearing on Wednesday, indicating that the nomination would be approved and sent to the Senate for final confirmation on Thursday, shortly after Mr. Bush's inauguration.
Despite the widely understood outcome, it was a day of considerable drama. Though Ms. Rice is a well-known advocate of administration policies, this was the first time for her to answer questions from senators since being chosen to succeed Colin L. Powell, and the Democrats' tough words on the eve of Mr. Bush's inauguration signaled that the war would continue to be a divisive issue.
The hearing ended in the evening with an extraordinary colloquy between Senator Kerry and Ms. Rice in which the senator, the recent Democratic presidential nominee, alternatively asked sharp questions and offered lectures about various themes from his campaign, from Iran to North Korea, to Russia, working with the Europeans, enlisting Arab countries to help in Iraq and the role of the State Department in planning for the war.
But in concluding, Mr. Kerry pledged that if Ms. Rice reached out, he was prepared to meet her halfway, and Ms. Rice said she looked forward to working with the man who had spent the last two years trying to replace President Bush.
Other Democrats with skeptical questions were Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee; Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut; and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.
Mr. Biden dismissed as "malarkey" Ms. Rice's assertion that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained. He said that based on his own interviews on trips in Iraq, the actual number of fully trained Iraqis was closer to 4,000.
Mr. Dodd and Mr. Kerry also focused on whether the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and elsewhere constituted torture or violations of international law, and on the damage that disclosures about those techniques had done to American standing in the world.
Citing instances of forced nudity and simulated drowning as interrogation techniques, Mr. Dodd asked "whether or not you consider them to be torture or not." Ms. Rice declined to characterize them.
"Senator, the determination of whether interrogation techniques are consistent with our international obligations and American law are made by the Justice Department," she said. "I don't want to comment on any specific interrogation techniques."
But not all the difficult questions came from Democrats. Mr. Lugar cited the exchange between Mr. Biden and Ms. Rice over the number of trained troops and acknowledged that it might be difficult to determine the exact number. But he appealed to Ms. Rice to come up with "some measurement" to gauge progress on the issue. "This is going to be up with the American people for quite some time," he said.
Also reflecting some impatience with the difficulty of measuring results in Iraq, Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, asked what constituted success in Iraq and what American plans were after the election. Ms. Rice again returned to the need for training Iraqis to defend themselves and for time to let Iraqis write new laws and a constitution.
"Our role is directly proportional, I think, Senator, to how capable the Iraqis are," she said. "And so as Iraqis become more capable, then I would assume certainly our help will be needed less. I am really reluctant to try to put a timetable on that because I think the goal is to get the mission accomplished, and that means that the Iraqis have to be capable of some things before we lessen our own responsibility."
Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, followed later with a question about whether the United States should "take a more realistic and perhaps a different view of how we define success" than one calling for the country to be fully stable, democratic and pluralistic.
On other subjects, including the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Ms. Rice avoided specifics except to say she intended to re-energize the American role. She deflected a question about whether there should be a special Middle East envoy, saying the time had not come for that decision.
One hint of her views came, however, came when she told Senator Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, that a Palestinian state "has to have territory that makes it viable" and not be "so broken up that it can't function as a state." That appeared to be a reference to Palestinian complaints that the West Bank should not be pock-marked or broken up by Israeli settlements.
Ms. Rice told senators that despite setbacks in Russian democracy , evidenced by its crackdown on freedoms and its interference in Ukraine and elsewhere, there was much cooperation with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin.
She reserved some of her harshest language, not for China or Russia, but for President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, whose government she said had "not been constructive" because of his tough tactics against the news media and the opposition.
"Is it possible for you to say something positive about the Chávez administration?" Mr. Chafee asked, apparently taken aback at the toughness of her words.
When Ms. Rice said "it's pretty hard, Senator, to find something positive," Mr. Chafee said her attitude "seems disrespectful to the Venezuelan people" who elected Mr. Chávez.