In Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday is to hold a second day of confirmation hearings for Secretary of State designate Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Rice faced tough questions from Democrats about the Bush administration's Iraq policy on Tuesday, as correspondent Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee used the confirmation hearings for Ms. Rice to criticize the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq.
Senator Barbara Boxer questioned the administration's rationale for going to war with Iraq, citing Ms. Rice's public statements in the run-up to the invasion about the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.
“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,” she said.
Ms. Rice, saying the administration used intelligence that later was judged faulty, responded coolly to Senator Boxer's comments.
“I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything,” said Ms. Rice. “It is not my nature, it is not my character, and I would hope 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.”
Another Democrat, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who unsuccessfully challenged President Bush for the White House last year, also took aim at the administration's Iraq policy.
“The current policy is growing the insurgency, not diminishing it,” said Mr. Kerry.
But Ms. Rice defended the policy, and urged patience as the Iraqi people move toward democracy in small steps, as she put it.
“As long as they are on a strategic road that is getting them to a government that can actually represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people as a whole, I think they have got a chance,” said Ms Rice. “The insurgency wants very much to halt that process and throw Iraq back. We have to provide the Iraqis with the tools, through training, through capacity-building to defeat that insurgency.”
Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the committee, took issue with Ms. Rice's estimate that more than 120,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained, saying he was told by U.S. officials in Iraq that the figure is closer to 4000.
In response to several questions about a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq, Mr. Rice said that would depend on Iraq's ability to defend itself against terrorists after elections there later this month.
While the focus of the hearing was Iraq, Ms. Rice also said ending the Isaeli-Palestinian conflict is a priority, and she vowed to do more to reach out to U.S. allies and to work to improve the image of America overseas.
The Republican chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, said Ms. Rice, who served as President Bush's National Security Adviser in his first term, is well qualified for the job of Secretary of State.
“American credibility in the world, progress in the war on terrorism, our relationships with our allies will be greatly affected by the Secretary of State's actions and the effectiveness of the State Department in the coming years,” he noted. “Dr. Rice is highly qualified to meet those challenges.”
Despite tough questioning by Democrats, Ms. Rice is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate as Secretary of State, succeeding Colin Powell. A vote could come as early as Thursday.