Rice pledges to work hard to strengthen U.S. alliances


Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 12:45 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Condoleezza Rice pledged Tuesday that, as secretary of state, she would work tirelessly to strengthen American alliances around the world while following President Bush's policy of spreading freedom and democracy.
Quoting recent remarks by Bush, Rice said the United States "is guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone."
"Alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom-loving nations," she said.
"If I am confirmed, that core conviction will guide my actions," Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as her confirmation hearing began. Her promise seemed intended to reassure longtime American allies, particularly France and Germany, that the United States will not chart a go-it-alone course in President Bush's second term.
Rice, who has been Bush's national security adviser, was pressed as expected on the American-led campaign in Iraq, which began with a war that leaders in Paris and Berlin opposed and has turned into a peacekeeping operation that has been longer and bloodier than anticipated.
Under questioning from Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, the panel's ranking Democrat, the nominee insisted that President Bush "got good military advice" at the outset. But she said unforeseen events had made the mission in Iraq harder than anticipated.
One problem, she said, was that supporters of Saddam Hussein melted away before advancing American forces to become part of the shadowy, and deadly, insurgency that has spawned almost daily bloodshed even as the Jan. 30 elections draw near.
"They didn't stand and fight," Rice said.
And that, Biden said, has been a fundamental problem among the emerging Iraqi security forces. Their training, he said, has not been going as well or as rapidly as previous assessments from the administration had indicated, which is one reason they have not always been able "to shoot straight and stand their ground" in encounters with insurgents.
Rice conceded that the security forces have not always performed up to expectations, and that more training was needed. "Initial training is just that - initial training," she said. "We think there has been a leadership gap."
Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who ran against President Bush in 2004, said he was dissatisfied with Rice's comment that Saddam Hussein's forces had unexpectedly disappeared into the countryside. "That's exactly what they did in '91," Kerry said, referring to the Persian Gulf War. Kerry said the United States had gone into Iraq to rescue the Iraqi people from tyranny; now, he said, it is time for Washington to rescue itself from its own policy.
Rice replied in part that, whatever the problems and the costs, the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.
Rice's quick endorsement by the 18-member committee seemed virtually certain, with confirmation by the full Senate likely to come by Thursday, the day of President Bush's inauguration.
Despite his sharp questions, Biden greeted Rice warmly and said he would vote for her. And another prominent Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who introduced Rice to the committee, said she would make a fine secretary of state.
The committee chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., said the next secretary of state will take office at a momentous time. "American credibility in the world, progress in the war on terrorism, our relationships with our allies will be greatly affected by the secretary of state's actions."
Biden agreed with that assessment, and he signaled empathy with leaders in Europe and elsewhere who have voiced frustration about what they see as Washington's willingness to act unilaterally.
"We inspire as much envy and resentment as we do admiration and gratitude," Biden said. "Relations with many of our oldest friends are, quite frankly, scraping the bottom right now."
Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, as the United States was extricating itself from Vietnam, said he hoped Rice would be a voice for greater candor from the administration on the Iraq undertaking, in terms of how many troops will ultimately be needed, and for how long.
The Vietnam era should have taught American politicians that "no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people, informed consent," Biden said. Too many people who cautioned before the Iraq war that it would require more troops and more money "were shown the door," he said.
Rice said she would try to strengthen the vast State Department bureaucracy for the formidable challenges, and opportunities, of the 21st century. She said the United States would continue to press Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear ambitions, to work for a lasting Middle East peace, to seek friendship with Russia while prodding it to live up to ideals of freedom.
And she said she would do her best to improve the United States' image in those corners of the world where it has been undermined by "hateful propaganda" and "dangerous myths."
"And Americans should make a serious effort to understand other cultures and foreign languages," she said. "Our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue."

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