KWAME HOLMAN: Condoleezza Rice came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning prepared to answer questions on a wide range of foreign policy issues: The U.S. Involvement in Iraq and Middle East peace; the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea; aids in Africa; the massacre in Darfur; and relief for victims of the tsunamis.
However, Rice opened her testimony by pledging to institute a fundamental change in the direction of American foreign policy, different from the directions it took over the past four years.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Sept. 11, 2001, was a defining moment for our nation and for the world. Under the vision and leadership of President Bush, our nation has risen to meet the challenges of our time, fighting tyranny and terror and securing the blessings of freedom and prosperity for a new generation.
The work that America and our allies have undertaken and the sacrifices we have made have been difficult and necessary and right. Now is the time to build on these achievements to make the world safer, and to make the world more free. We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom. The time for diplomacy is now.
KWAME HOLMAN: As expected, questions about Iraq dominated the hearing, most of them about U.S. Involvement once elections are held. However, it was California Democrat Barbara Boxer who challenged Rice over the reasons for going to war in the first place, and it led to this exchange.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: On July 30, 2003, you were asked by PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill if you continued to stand by the claims you made about Saddam's nuclear program in the days and months leading up to the war. In what appears to be an effort to downplay the nuclear weapons scare tactics you used before the war, your answer was, and I quote, "It was a case that said he was trying to reconstitute. He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year." So that's what you said to the American people on television-- "Nobody ever said it was going to be the next year."
Well, that wasn't true, because nine months before you said this to the American people, what had George Bush said, President Bush, at his speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center? "If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." So here you are, contradicting, first contradicting the president and then contradicting yourself. So it's hard to even ask you a question about this, because you are on the record basically taking two sides of an issue.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. 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. It was the total picture, Senator, not just weapons of mass destruction, that caused us to decide that, post-Sept. 11, it was finally time to deal with Saddam Hussein.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote. But again, I just feel you quote President Bush when it suits you but you contradicted him when he said, "Yes, Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." You go on television nine months later and said, "nobody ever said it was..."
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, that was just a question of pointing out to people that there was an uncertainty. That no one was saying that he would have to have a weapon within a year for it to be worth it to go to war.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, if you can't admit to this mistake, I hope that you'll rethink it.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity. Thank you very much.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I'm not. I'm just quoting what you said.
KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Chairman Richard Lugar already had planned to call for a break in the hearing following Boxer's questions. And so when it came, Rice and the committee members seemed to welcome the opportunity. But earlier in the day, the committee's top Democrat, Joseph Biden, urged the bush administration to be more up front as to the capabilities of the new Iraqi security forces being trained by the U.S. Military.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: On Oct. 21 last year, you said, "the Iraqi security force will number 125,000 by the end of he year. There will be 145,000 security forces by February and 200,000 by the time of the permanent election." How many security forces do you think are trained that can shoot straight, kill and stand their ground? How many do you really think are trained that Allawi can look to and say, "I can rely on those forces." What do you think that number is?"
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We think the number right now is somewhere over 120,000. We think that among those people there are clearly... continue to be questions about on-duty time, that is, people who don't report for duty. And so this is being looked at.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel followed and asked Rice if the bush administration was formulating an exit strategy connected to the period after the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, we do have some things that we have to accomplish after the elections. Sen. Biden has talked a lot about the training of Iraqi security forces. I think that's probably in many ways our most important task. Iraq's most important... the task of the Iraqis is to find a way forward from their elections for political reconciliation. And we can, of course, try to help in that and do what we can to support that effort, but that's largely an Iraqi task.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: But how will that change from what we have been doing? Fewer troops, less troops, more NATO troops? Or what will envision the change in what you're anticipating our role to be? And connect that to an exit strategy.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, our role is directly proportional, I think, Senator, to how capable the Iraqis are. 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. The Iraqis will take more and more responsibility for fighting the terrorists, for rooting out the Baathists, and we have to help them get there.
KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold tried to turn the focus of the hearing toward the war on terrorism.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, how have you and the Department been assessing the success and efficacy of policies designed to actually fight terrorist networks, to strengthen the multilateral coalition cooperating to combat these networks, and to prevent these networks from gaining new support and new recruits? And how do you sort of measure that success?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: When you look at the organization that did 9/11, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden's organization, I think that you would see that we have had considerable success in bringing down the field generals of that organization, people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaida and others.
It is true, I'm certain, that they've worked to replace those people, but they lose a lot of skill and experience in these field generals who had trained in Afghanistan together and had worked to produce Sept. 11, and there's a lot of evidence that we've really hurt the organization in that way. Secondly, in terms of their financing, I think we've made a great deal of progress not just in the United States in tracking and dealing with terrorist financing, but around the world. And we have made strides in doing that. We've made strides in denying them territory.
You know, one of the ways that you fight a war is you deny the other side territory. And when you look at what has happened to them, their world has gotten smaller. Afghanistan is not a hospitable environment now for terrorists. It used to be the home base for al-Qaida, with its training camps and its access to Afghanistan's benefits of being a state. They can no longer count on Pakistan, which had such strong ties to the Taliban that it was not really an aggressive actor against al-Qaida.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: I've done a fair amount of work in east Africa, northern Africa. We aren't denying terrorist elements those territories when it comes to Somalia or Algeria or the activities that have occurred in Kenya. Our focus on Iraq has been so single-minded, and in fact I was told by some of our own officials in that region this past week that a lot of things have gone waiting because of the demands of the Iraq invasion, in terms of dealing with this issue.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I know that there are differences on the question of what the ultimate antidote to terror is. And it is our view and the president's view that the ultimate antidote is to deal with the source of that terror, and that really is ultimately the freedom deficit; and that in order to do that, you've got to have a different kind of Middle East. And that's why we do see Iraq as being a part of that war on terrorism.
KWAME HOLMAN: With all 18 members of the Foreign Relations Committee in attendance and asking questions, the hearing continued into this evening. However, Chairman Lugar said he expected a committee vote, moving the Rice nomination to the full Senate before Inauguration Day, Thursday.