Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she understands some of the questions Sen. Barack Obaam (D-Ill.) raised about the surge policy in Iraq, but says today's conditions in the war zone would be only "wishful thinking" without it.
In an interview Wednesday with Politico and Yahoo! News, Rice pointed out that the two presidential candidates’ positions on Iraq “seem to be narrowing somewhat.” And she said that is only possible because of the reduction in violence that has followed President Bush’s approval of a surge of new U.S. forces.
“If I had been sitting here a year ago telling you [that] American forces, as General [David] Petraeus has suggested, [will ]be able to continue to come down, … you would have said, ‘Oh, come now — that’s wishful thinking,’” she said.
In a lively half-hour ranging from Pakistan to the Packers, Rice said she is headed back to California in January and does not plan to serve in the next administration – as vice president, or anything else.
Asked about Obama, who opposed the surge, she acknowledged: “There were reasons to have questions about the surge. The president asked all of those tough questions himself. The advisors asked all of those tough questions.”
Critics of the administration’s Iraq policy, including Obama, have called for a much more rapid withdrawal of forces if conditions permit and have said a surge policy would have never been necessary if the Iraq invasion had been handled planned competently to begin with.
The secretary was asked if Obama would now benefit from the surge he once opposed, since the gains made from the increased troops are making withdrawals of U.S. forces more feasible, if not nearly as fast as most Democrats – and some Republicans – would like.
“Well, America has benefited from the surge,” she said. “Iraq has benefited from the surge. And the whole region has benefited from the surge.”
Rice, who has often been mentioned as a potential running mate for Arizona Sen. John McCain, demurred when asked if she might serve as second in command to Obama.
“I don’t need another job in government with anybody,” she said. “Look, I’m a Republican, all right? Senator McCain is a fine patriot and … he would be a great president. But there’s something to be said for fresh blood. And I know that there are a lot of very good people who could be his vice president.”
During the interview in a regal room at the State Department appointed with chandeliers, rich carpets and cases of porcelain, Rice was asked: “Would you feel safe with a President Obama?"
"Oh, the United States will be fine,” she responded. “I think that we are having an important debate about how we keep the country safe. I think we are having an important debate about our responsibilities, our obligations, our interests in the Middle East in the wake of the now increasing evidence of success in Iraq. Those are important judgments for the American people to make.”
Rice insisted that Iraqis are “not quite ready” for the complete withdrawal of coalition forces. But she said the current discussions about additional responsibilities that Iraqis can shoulder are “a happy day for America.”
“The negotiations that are going on now on how to sustain a presence as long as it is needed are very important negotiations,” she said. “The United States worked for the day and the coalition worked for the day when Iraqi security forces would be capable of taking on most of these roles themselves.”
“I think the Iraqis recognize that there are still things that they need the coalition to do,” she added. “There’s still training missions that need to be done. There are even still combat missions that need to be done. But the very fact that we are having discussions with the Iraqis about the turnover of these responsibilities is a happy day for America.”
Rice, one of a tiny few officials who have been in the inner circle for all eight years of the Bush administration, said that rather than write a memoir, she plans a Kissinger-style book about fundamental transformations in foreign policy during this presidency.
The secretary said she plans to write a book about “American foreign policy in this period of time,” which she said has been “fundamentally transformed - the role that we’ve played in recognizing the importance of turning weak states into democratically governed stronger states; the role that we’ve played in changing, I think forever, the way that people think about terrorism and what has to be done to defeat it; the role that we’ve played in bringing the insistence on democracy as a core value in our foreign policy, not just for the rest of the world but also for the Middle East.”
“There’s a lot to talk about in this eight years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to writing about it.”
On other subjects, Rice said:
--She hopes Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers quarterback who’s attempting to come out of retirement, has “a chance to play.”
“From all I read, if it doesn't work out with the Packers, I hope he finds a team,” she said. “We have to remember, Joe Montana actually ended his career in Kansas City. Nobody really remembers that. They remember him as a 49er. Johnny Unitas actually ended his career in San Diego, Joe Montana in – Joe Namath in Los Angeles. This could work out for everybody.” Rice has often said – and only half-jokingly – that her next career goal is to be the commissioner of the NFL.
--When asked her Hollywood crush: “Oh, I’ve got lots of them. I mean, doesn't everybody love Denzel Washington?”
--Said she thinks administration efforts will still bear fruit in several hot spots before President Bush leaves office.
“I am going to run hard till the end because we still have a lot to cement,” she said. “But we’ve been running hard since we got here, and we’ll do it right to the end.”