Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that it was always the Bush administration’s intent to redesign the Middle East after the September 11 attacks, which exposed a “deep malignancy growing” in the region, and that the Iraq war was part of that plan.

Miss Rice, in her first testimony on Capitol Hill in eight months, refused to outline benchmarks for reducing the U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Instead, she offered a short-term strategy to stabilize the country, including the creation of civil-military teams in key provinces, but that plan was met with skepticism by both Republican and Democratic senators on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“Even if withdrawal timelines are deemed unwise because they might provide a strategic advantage to the insurgency, the American people need to more fully understand the basis upon which our troops are likely to come home,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and committee chairman.

“We have to level with the American people,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican. “This is another world war.”

The testimony, during which Miss Rice was interrupted several times by senators on both sides because they did not feel she was answering their questions, culminated in objections by three Democrats to the administration’s mission to rebuild the Middle East.

“Unless we commit to changing the nature of the Middle East, and if we tire and decide that we are going to withdraw and leave the people of the Middle East to despair, I can assure you that the people of the United States are going to live in insecurity and fear for many, many decades to come,” Miss Rice said.

Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Barack Obama of Illinois and Bill Nelson of Florida said that was not the reason the administration had given Congress for the Iraq war; rather, it was the threat dictator Saddam Hussein was said to have posed with his weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.

“Now, in an unbelievable rewriting of history, you talk about this bolder mission we undertook in response to 9/11 to transform the Middle East with Iraq as an anchor,” Mrs. Boxer said, adding that the administration “didn’t tell the American people that at the time.”

“This broadening of the mission is disturbing and difficult for us in the Senate to deal with as it requires a leap of faith on our part that a mission of that breadth can be accomplished in a reasonable time frame,” Mr. Obama said.

Miss Rice, while conceding that the Senate’s war resolutions regarding Afghanistan and Iraq were limited to action against the Taliban, al Qaeda and Saddam, argued that killing Osama bin Laden and other terrorists will not secure a victory over extremism.

“We had to make a decision that we were going to go after the root cause of what caused September 11,” she said. “So what I’m describing to you, Senator, is not what you voted for in the war resolution, but the broader strategy of the administration.”

Turning to the short-term strategy in Iraq, the secretary defined it as “clear, hold and build” against “the enemy’s strategy to infect, terrorize and pull down.”

“To execute our strategy we will restructure a portion of the U.S. mission in Iraq,” she said. “We will embed our diplomats, police trainers and aid workers more fully on military bases, traveling with our soldiers and Marines.”

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