During the senate confirmation hearing for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to become the first African-American woman to serve as secretary of state, the sound bites were dominated by her exchange with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
"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," Sen. Boxer stated.
This prompted the normally steely-eyed Dr. Rice to demonstrate an uncharacteristic display of outward irritation: "Senator, we can have this conversation in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity."
The entertaining tete-a-tete about the past between Boxer and Rice notwithstanding, it was Rice's lack of candor about the present and future that I found most disconcerting.
During the hearing, Rice suggested to Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., there were approximately 120,000 trained Iraqi troops, which Biden countered with an estimate of 4,000.
How can Rice's estimates differ from Biden's by a factor of 30? I tend to lean toward Biden's number, for three reasons:
- First, the administration's penchant for painting scenarios rosier than reality dictates. Remember "Mission Accomplished!"
- Biden's estimate was based on his most recent trip to Iraq in December.
- The administration defines three weeks as "trained."
Assume for the moment the accuracy of Rice's estimate of 120,000. Would any of us consider three weeks of training sufficient for a police cadet to begin working the streets of New York City? Of course not. How, then, does three weeks of training prepare one for insurgents who want to disrupt Iraq's election by assassinating candidates and election workers?
The more important question at this juncture is: now what?
If the administration is unable or unwilling to answer the "now what" question, it could mean years, perhaps decades, of perdition for our troops. By our own estimation, 120,000 trained Iraqis, even if Dr. Rice's estimate is accurate, does not begin to meet the need.
According to the Boston Globe, the Defense Science Board recently reported to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that nation-building efforts in unstable environments, such as in Iraq, require about 20 occupation troops for every 1,000 people. In Iraq that would mean a U.S. stabilization force of 500,000 troops, vastly more than the 150,000 now battling the insurgency.
In addition to calling for better planning within the military for postwar operations, the report calls for dramatically greater involvement by the State Department, whose planning for the aftermath of the Iraq war was largely ignored by Rumsfeld and his senior aides.
If diplomacy is a key component to getting our troops out of Iraq, it begs the question: How effective can a secretary of state be in the international community when she is not forthcoming with members of her own legislative branch of government?
While Rice was battling Boxer for the protection of her integrity, she could not bring herself to say that support for the war by American people -- and by Congress -- was based on an imminent threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
When it was clear no such weapons existed, the war became about removing a brutal dictator who somehow was complicit in the 9/11 tragedy.
Meanwhile, a recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 58 percent of Americans now disapprove of the president's handling of the situation in Iraq to 40 percent who approve. And only 44 percent now feel the war is worth fighting.
This administration, by its own admission, must recapture the global credibility lost as the result of its Iraq policy. It is the secretary of state who will be largely responsible for that monumental task.
As Biden stated to Rice at her confirmation hearing, "This isn't about revisiting the past. It's about how you will meet the challenges of the future."
Byron Williams writes a weekly political/social commentary at Byronspeaks.com. Byron serves as pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, California.
© 2005 Working Assets