Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she understands some of the questions Sen. Barack Obama (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.
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.”
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.”