Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, in a rare acknowledgment of mistakes, said on Wednesday the Bush administration had made some bad decisions in Iraq and was unprepared for stabilizing the country.
The admission came during her confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee where she was approved by a 16-to-2 vote as the first black woman to become the top U.S. diplomat despite Democrats’ criticism over the Iraq war.
Republicans had hoped to have swift confirmation of Rice in the full Senate with little or no discussion shortly after President Bush is sworn in for a second four-year term on Thursday.
But Democrats balked, saying they hoped to have nine hours of debate on the Senate floor that is likely to include sharp criticism of the administration on Iraq. This debate will push the vote into next week.
Democrats on the committee complained the Bush administration was unwilling to learn from its mistakes to change policies in Iraq, be candid about the cost of continued deployment and develop a better exit strategy.
“We have made a lot of decisions in this period of time. Some of them have been good, some of them have not been good, some of them have been bad decisions, I am sure,” Rice told the committee.
The 50-year-old former Stanford University provost did not specify what the bad decisions were but said in at least one case, “We didn’t have the right skills, the right capacity, to deal with a reconstruction effort of this kind.”
Bush’s national security adviser for the last four years, Rice also acknowledged the State Department’s intelligence arm dissented before the war over some information about Iraq’s weapons capability and needed to be listened to more.
The administration argued Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction to make the case for war, but none have been found.
Bush chose one of his closest confidantes to replace Colin Powell, who was popular at home and abroad but often appeared out-of-step with Bush by stressing diplomatic solutions to a White House criticized for a go-it-alone approach to crises.
A spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, said he and others believe “the Senate’s advice and consent Constitutional responsibilities are not a rubber-stamp” and wanted time to consider Rice’s testimony before voting.
Rice’s acknowledgment of mistakes followed complaints her testimony belied the reality on the ground, where an insurgency rages and where U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces to take over from U.S. troops have been beset by delays.
The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, lambasted her for citing administration figures that 120,000 Iraqi security forces have been trained as part of an exit strategy for eventually replacing the 150,000 U.S. troops.
Anthony Cordesman, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said the vast majority of Iraqis the Bush administration has trained are incapable of fighting effectively and Bush and Rice have acknowledged problems of desertion and absenteeism among them.
“You all don’t do anything except parrot ‘We’ve trained 120,000 forces,”‘ Biden said. “So I go home and people ask me … ‘Why are we still there? — 120,000 trained Iraqis? — Why are we still there?”‘
“… For God’s sake, don’t listen to (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld. He doesn’t know what in the hell he’s talking about on this.”
California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer joined Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the former Democratic presidential nominee who failed to unseat Bush last year, in voting against Rice and urged her to change policy where necessary.
“It seems to me there is a rigidness here, a lack of flexibility,” Boxer said.