Senate Democrats opposing the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as U.S. secretary of state on Tuesday said she deceived Congress and called her an architect of blunders in the Iraq war.
But Republicans, jumping to Rice’s defense, said Democrats were grandstanding since Rice was certain to be confirmed in the post by a full Senate vote on Wednesday.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy called Rice “a key member of the national security team that developed and justified the rationale for war, and it’s been a catastrophic failure, a continuing quagmire.”
Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota said Rice “misled the people of Minnesota and Americans everywhere about the situation in Iraq, before and after that war began.” He added: “I really don’t like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally.”
Republicans rose to defend Rice, who for four years has been Bush’s national security adviser and appears set to become the first black woman to head U.S. foreign policy.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas accused Democrats of “inappropriate partisan attacks against a nominee who deserves our respect,” and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska proclaimed it “a nomination all of America can be proud of.”
While most lawmakers who opposed Rice were long-standing critics of the war, Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, who backed the invasion, also said he would vote against her.
“We have been the authors of much of our own misery and as a result of that I cannot find it in my heart or in my mind to vote for a promotion of Dr. Rice,” Bayh said.
In a contentious debate that contrasted with the bipartisan embrace extended to Secretary of State Colin Powell at his confirmation four years ago, Democrats said Rice helped create a situation that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for years.
Some 150,000 U.S. forces are in Iraq and the Army said on Monday at least 120,000 troops would stay for the next two years to train and fight with Iraqi forces against insurgents.
Democrats accused Rice of ignoring warnings that a fierce insurgency would develop after the American invasion.
Robert Byrd of West Virginia said her confirmation would be viewed “as another endorsement of the administration’s unconstitutional doctrine of pre-emptive war, its bullying policies of unilateralism, and its callous rejection of our long-standing allies.”
Republicans pointed to the sparkling resume of the 50-year-old Rice who grew up in the segregated South, the daughter of a preacher. She became provost at Stanford University and later served in the top echelon of the Bush White House as one of his closest advisers.
The deepening violence in Iraq is prompting increasing debate of how the U.S. involvement will end.
In a discussion at the Brookings Institution think tank, Martin Meehan, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, called for a phased withdrawal in which most forces would depart by the end of 2005, leaving a “small and mobile force” until mid-2006.
The Massachusetts Democrat said the first step in achieving stability in Iraq was “recognizing that the U.S. presence has become inherently destabilizing.” A prolonged occupation would “only bring more casualties and more hatred toward America.”
Meehan, just back from a visit to Iraq, said he did not expect the Jan. 30 election would end the violence since after previous milestones — like Saddam’s capture — insurgents came back “stronger and more deadly.”
In response Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, an intellectual force behind the Iraq war, opposed announcing a withdrawal or talking about an “exit strategy” when Iraq was just trying to get its democratic processes established.
“Announcing a date simply tells the terrorists and insurgents they just have to hang on until this date and they have a chance to wreak more havoc,” he said.