Published on Thursday, October 20, 2005 by the Associated Press
Rice: U.S. May Still Be in Iraq in 10 Years
by Anne Gearan
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declined on Wednesday to rule out American forces still being needed in Iraq a decade from now. Senators warned that the Bush administration must play it straight with the public or risk losing public support for the war.
Pushed by senators from both parties to define the limits of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the Middle East, Rice also declined to rule out the use of military force in Iran or Syria, although she said the administration prefers diplomacy.
"I don't think the president ever takes any of his options off the table concerning anything to do with military force," Rice said.
Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations committee for only the second time since members gave her an unexpectedly tepid endorsement to replace Colin Powell in January, and she fielded pointed questions about U.S. intentions and commitment on Iraq from lawmakers who said they are hearing complaints at home.
"Our country is sick at heart at the spin and false expectations," Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., told Rice. "They want the truth and they deserve it."
Rice said Iraq's police and Army forces are becoming better able to handle the country's security without U.S. help, and she repeated President Bush's warning that setting a timetable for withdrawal plays into terrorists' hands.
"The terrorists want us to get discouraged and quit," Rice said. "They believe we do not have the will to see this through."
Rice said the United States will follow a model that was successful in Afghanistan. Starting next month, she said, joint diplomatic-military groups called Provincial Reconstruction Teams will work alongside Iraqis as they train police, set up courts, and help local governments establish essential services.
By State Department design, Rice testified before the committee just days after Iraq apparently approved its first constitution since a U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Her appearance also coincided with the start of Saddam's trial in Baghdad for a 1982 massacre of 150 of his fellow Iraqis.
Sen. Richard Lugar (news, bio, voting record), R-Ind., agreed with the Bush administration's stay-the-course approach but said there are legitimate questions to ask about the future.
"We should recognize that most Americans are focused on an exit strategy in Iraq," said Lugar, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman. "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."
An AP-Ipsos poll this month found 61 percent of respondents disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq while 32 percent said they approve. In August, 53 percent said the United States made a mistake by going to war while 43 percent said it was the right decision.
The figures represent a sharp drop-off from strong support for the war in the early going. The war also had overwhelming support in Congress, including from most of Rice's questioners Wednesday.
"One thing the Vietnam generation learned is no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. And we haven't gotten that informed consent in terms of them knowing what they're signing on to from here on out," Sen. Joseph P. Biden Jr., D-Del., told Rice. "So I'm not looking for a date to get out of Iraq. But at what point, assuming the strategy works, do you think we'll be able to see some sign of bringing some American forces home?"
Rice did not address the Vietnam comparison, and said the question of withdrawal is one for military planners.
"I really don't want to hazard what I think would be a guess, even if it were an assessment, of when that might be possible," Rice said of a troop withdrawal.
Later, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (news, bio, voting record), D-Md., told Rice that her response to questions about U.S. troop withdrawal leaves open the possibility that U.S. forces could be in Iraq five or even 10 years down the road. Rice did not dispute that.
"I don't know how to speculate about what will happen 10 years from now, but I do believe that we are moving on a course on which Iraqi security forces are rather rapidly able to take care of their own security concerns," Rice responded.
Boxer read quotation after quotation from administration figures about Iraq, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's February 2003 prediction that the war could "last six days, six weeks, I doubt six months," to make the point that the war has not gone as the administration predicted.
Sen. George Voinovich (news, bio, voting record), R-Ohio, read portions of a letter from a father who lost a son in Iraq. The letter called the war a "misguided effort."
"We have to really level with the American people," Voinovich told Rice. "This is not going to be over in two years ... we're not going to just be able to walk out of Iraq and this is going to be over."
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press.