Condi Rice Confirmation Hearing in Progress
Senator Barbara Boxer must have really been irked to find her name left off the nominee’s opening remarks.
In them, Rice thanked only the senior California senator, Dianne Feinstein, whom she has “admired as a leader on behalf of our state and our nation.” That gesture, along with other conciliatory statements through the first part of the question-and-answer session, was an attempt to make the confirmation as easy as possible.
But Boxer had other ideas in mind. She blasted the administration’s case for war and outlined the NSA’s role in presenting it. Taken aback by various suggestions that she suspended professional judgment to advance a political agenda, Rice quickly replied that she would be more than happy to continue discussing Iraq — without the senator impugning her integrity. She then explained the administration’s position, and back-and-forth banter ensued.
I’ll post the transcript when it’s available. From what I saw, Rice did as good a job as any in defending the war. And her character-assassination response — whether accurate or not — was a strong move, casting Boxer as overly aggressive while demonstrating both composure and toughness under fire. The latter point likely helped her show the American public that she’s cut out for diplomacy. In that regard, Boxer may want to think about whether she miscalculated.
Update: The Los Angeles Times provides an excerpt of the exchange. Upon closer examination, I think that Boxer raises legitimate questions about accountability, as the following statement notes:
As the nominee for secretary of State, you must answer to the American people, and you are doing that now through this confirmation process. And I continue to stand in awe of our founders, who understood that ultimately those of us in the highest positions of our government must be held accountable to the people we serve.
To her credit, Rice addresses Boxer’s concerns:
The fact is that we did face a very difficult intelligence challenge in trying to understand what Saddam Hussein had in terms of weapons of mass destruction. We knew something about him. We knew that he had — we had gone to war with him twice in the past, in 1991 and in 1998.
We knew that he continued to shoot at American aircraft in the no-fly zone as we tried to enforce the resolutions of U.N. Security — that the U.N. Security Council had passed. We knew that he continued to threaten his neighbors. We knew that he was an implacable enemy of the United States who did cavort with terrorists.
We knew that he was the world’s most dangerous man in the world’s most dangerous region. And we knew that in terms of weapons of mass destruction, he had sought them before, tried to build them before, that he had an undetected biological weapons program that we didn’t learn of until 1995, that he was closer to a nuclear weapon in 1991 than anybody thought. And we knew, most importantly, that he had used weapons of mass destruction.
That was the context that frankly made us awfully suspicious when he refused to account for his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs despite repeated Security Council resolutions and despite the fact that he was given one last chance to comply with Resolution 1441.
Now, there were lots of data points about his weapons-of-mass- destruction programs. Some were right and some were not. But what
was right was that there was an unbreakable link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. That is something that Charlie Duelfer, in his report of the Iraq survey group, has made very clear, that Saddam Hussein intended to continue his weapons-of-mass- destruction activities, that he had laboratories that were run by his security services. I could go on and on.
But Senator Boxer, we went to war not because of aluminum tubes. We went to war because this was the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a man against whom we had gone to war before, who threatened his neighbors, who threatened our interests, who was one of the world’s most brutal dictators. And it was high time to get rid of him, and I’m glad that we’re rid of him.
You may disagree with this account, but you’d be hard-pressed to say that she was evasive.
But, while Boxer asks some legitimate questions, it’s pretty clear that she does some grandstanding. On the one hand, she tells Rice that “you no doubt will be confirmed — that’s at least what we think,” which is more or less an extension of an olive branch. On the other hand, she rips right into the administration and attempts to place blame on the NSA. Rice pushes right back. She tries to wobble Boxer’s posture by pulling the integrity card. Given the high political stakes, it’s warranted.