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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 January 2005, 01:46 GMT
Rice's smooth Senate performance

By Jill McGivering
BBC News, state department correspondent

President Bush and Condoleezza Rice
Rice showed she is right in step with President Bush in the hearings
Many had predicted a grilling for Condoleezza Rice as she appeared before the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee to answer questions about the administration's controversial first term actions.

And Washington and the world watched closely to see what insight she would give into the Bush administration's foreign policy plans for the four years to come.

In fact she was composed and confident

almost throughout, meticulously well prepared and showing the quality of her much-heralded brilliant mind - and memory.

She turned easily from one part of the world to the next, from politics and military strategy to trade without consulting notes and with barely a stumble.

For eight hours of question and answer, her performance was nothing if not impressive.

Unrepentant on Iraq

Of course, it is largely a formality.

Ms Rice's eventual confirmation by the Senate as secretary of state is not in doubt.

But the hearings offered an opportunity for frustrated Democrats to put a member of the president's innermost circle on the spot in public, and some of them were determined to take it.

It was perhaps no surprise that the US-led action in Iraq was a constant refrain and the most sensitive topic.

Ms Rice was repeatedly called on to re-evaluate and defend the administration's decisions.

And defend them she did. Her message was clear and unrepentant - the US had done the right thing in toppling Saddam Hussein and had done it in the right way.

As for the current instability, well, no-one said it was going to be easy.

She was asked whether, with the benefit of hindsight, the military planning might have been better and whether, for example, troops and military police should have been deployed in greater numbers to forestall instability.

Her reply was a robust defence of the military planning: even viewed in retrospect, there was nothing wrong with it.

The insurgency now should be dealt with by the political rehabilitation of the Iraqi people, she said, a process in which the forthcoming elections were key as well as rebuilding the Iraqi economy.

Democrats take issue

Some Senators took issue with her relentlessly upbeat assessment.

Former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry
Democrats including John Kerry had tough questions for Dr Rice on Iraq
Surely it was time, said Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the committee, for the administration to level with the American people.

The tension came to a head in a strident exchange with Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Senator Boxer first attacked Ms Rice for describing the Asian tsunami as a "wonderful opportunity" - a reference to the chance for the US government and public to show their kind hearts and improve their image.

Clearly Senator Boxer felt the use of the phrase to describe one of the worst tragedies of our lifetimes was a touch insensitive. "I think you blew the opportunity," she said.

But that was just her warm-up.

On Iraq, she questioned Ms Rice's public statements about the run-up to the war in Iraq.

It was one of the few moments when Ms Rice's generally sleek feathers seemed even slightly ruffled.

"I hope you will not imply", she said a little stiffly, "I take truth lightly."

The next four years

That was the review of the past.

In looking to the next four years, Ms Rice used her introductory remarks to set out her new stall as secretary of state.

The time for diplomacy is now
Condoleezza Rice

The main thrust has become all too familiar since the last election: The pursuit of the grand Bush vision of spreading freedom and democracy, particularly in the Middle East, with a touch more diplomacy thrown in, not in the form of compromise nor improved listening skills but better international public relations.

She spoke of the need for the "community of democracies" to unite and strengthen their relationships to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world.

This, she said, was "the great mission of American diplomacy".

And she spoke repeatedly of the need to rebuild multinational alliances and friendships. "The time for diplomacy," she said, "is now."

  • Iran and North Korea must abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.
  • On North Korea, the six party talks process was an "important innovation" that still represented the way forward.
  • The great opportunity to make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be missed.
  • Asian alliances - including India and Pakistan, China and Japan - "have never been stronger."

All of these remarks represent a solid re-statement of the administration's current policy, the standard fare of daily State Department briefings.

None of it is new, distinctive or innovative.

The implication is that the thinking for the second term of the Bush administration will be a seamless continuation of the first, emboldened perhaps by the success of an election victory but not revised.

Ms Rice, widely seen as an architect of first term thinking, knows the script backwards and at these hearings she never departed from it.

So what does that tell us about the future?

More of the same, perhaps - only this time with a secretary of state absolutely in step with the White House, right down to the rhetoric.

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