Rice Stays on Message

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told senators Wednesday that Iraq must become a unified democracy because, if Israel also makes peace with the Palestinians, then democracy and prosperity can spread throughout the Middle East.

“If we tire and decide we’re going to withdraw and leave the people to despair, Americans will live in insecurity and fear for many, many decades to come,” she said.

Judy Farris Mason of Henderson, Ky., mother of a soldier who spent a year in Iraq, isn’t buying it. She thinks we should pull out now.

Mason’s voice broke as she said her son, Sgt. Nicholas Farris, doesn’t want to go back to Iraq, where he was a military policeman. Her son’s first child was born while he was in Iraq.

“He doesn’t want to not be able to raise his daughter,” she said.

He will be held beyond the end of his enlistment for a year-long deployment next November.

While he doesn’t want to go back, her son agrees with President Bush that we must stay the course.

“He thinks we need to be there. He thinks we’re doing a good thing. He thinks there are good people in Iraq, they’re in a horrible situation,” Mason said.

Senators from both parties questioned Rice aggressively during the Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., pressed her on whether the administration was planning for an invasion of Syria or Iran. She said the administration is using diplomacy with those countries, but that the president doesn’t rule out military action. He asked if the president would have to come to Congress for a vote before an invasion. She wouldn’t say.

Following that question, a middle-aged woman in the audience started shouting: “Stop the killing in Iraq! Congress has to be responsible this time! No Syria,” before being escorted from the hearing.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., explained to Rice that the reason his colleagues were upset with the war’s changing mission was “because it requires a leap of faith that a mission of that breadth can be accomplished in a reasonable time frame, in your words.”

Rice told Obama that the military’s role is to get Iraqi troops to where they’re able to hold territory against the insurgents without American help. The Iraqi politicians will do the rest, she said.

“What if the political process collapses under its own weight? Are we committed to holding Iraq together in perpetuity?” Obama asked.

She said the evidence does not show a country heading toward civil war.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., said he knows the administration feels it can’t set a timeline because that would help the insurgents. But he said Americans need to understand what needs to happen in Iraq before troops can begin to come home.

“We should recognize that most Americans are focused on an exit strategy in Iraq,” Lugar said.

The lack of a timeline was a sore point for many of the Democrats who questioned Rice.

Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., asked, “Do you think five years from now, some American forces will come out?”

Rice said, “I don’t want to speculate.”

“What about 10 years from now?”

She said it was not appropriate for her to answer that.

(E-mail leem(at)shns.com or visit www.shns.com.)