The most heated exchange in the first day of Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State came with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Boxer chastised Rice for stating Saddam Hussein was close to developing nuclear weapons in the lead-up to the Iraq war. [includes rush transcript]
In their first exchange, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) went on the offensive with Condoleezza Rice about the administration’s justification for the invasion of Iraq.
- Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) questioning Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice about the administration’s justification for the invasion of Iraq, January 18, 2005.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with excerpts of the Condoleezza Rice confirmation hearings, we go to the first exchange between California Senator, Barbara Boxer, and Condoleezza Rice.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: Now, the war was sold to the American people, as Chief of Staff to President Bush Andy Card said, like a “new product.” Those were his words. Remember, he said, “You don’t roll out a new product in the summer.” Now, you rolled out the idea and then you had to convince the people, as you made your case with the president.
And I personally believe — this is my personal view — that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth. And I don’t say it lightly, and I’m going to go into the documents that show your statements and the facts at the time.
Now, I don’t want the families of those 1,366 troops that were killed or the 10,372 that were wounded to believe for a minute that their lives and their bodies were given in vain, because when your commander-in-chief asks you to sacrifice yourself for your country, it is the most noble thing you can do to answer that call.
I am giving their families, as we all are here, all the support they want and need. But I also will not shrink from questioning a war that was not built on the truth.
Now, perhaps the most well-known statement you’ve made was the one about Saddam Hussein launching a nuclear weapon on America with the image of, quote, quoting you, “a mushroom cloud.” That image had to frighten every American into believing that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of annihilating them if he was not stopped. And I will be placing into the record a number of such statements you made which have not been consistent with the facts.
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.
So I want to show you some statements that you made regarding the nuclear threat and the ability of Saddam to attack us. Now, September 5th — let me get to the right package here. On July 30th, 2003, you were asked by PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill if you continued to stand by the claims you made about Saddam’s nuclear program in the days and months leading up to the war.
In what appears to be an effort to downplay the nuclear-weapons scare tactics you used before the war, your answer was, and I quote, “It was a case that said he was trying to reconstitute. He’s trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year.” So that’s what you said to the American people on television — “Nobody ever said it was going to be the next year.”
Well, that wasn’t true, because nine months before you said this to the American people, what had George Bush said, President Bush, at his speech at the Cincinnati Museum Center? “If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly-enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.”
So the president tells the people there could be a weapon. Nine months later you said no one ever said he could have a weapon in a year, when in fact the president said it.
And here’s the real kicker. On October 10th, '04, on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, three months ago, you were asked about CIA Director Tenet's remark that prior to the war he had, quote, “made it clear to the White House that he thought the nuclear-weapons program was much weaker than the program to develop other WMDs.” Your response was this: “The intelligence assessment was that he was reconstituting his nuclear programs; that, left unchecked, he would have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year.”
So here you are, first contradicting the president and then contradicting yourself. So it’s hard to even ask you a question about this, because you are on the record basically taking two sides of an issue. And this does not serve the American people.
If it served your purpose to downplay the threat of nuclear weapons, you said, “No one said he’s going to have it in a year.” But then later, when you thought perhaps you were on more solid ground with the American people, because at the time the war was probably popular, or more popular, you say, “We thought he was going to have a weapon within a year.”
And this is — the question is, this is a pattern here of what I see from you on this issue, on the issue of the aluminum tubes, on the issue of whether al Qaeda was actually involved in Iraq, which you’ve said many times. And in my rounds — I don’t have any questions on this round, because I’m just laying this out; I do have questions on further rounds about similar contradictions. It’s very troubling.
You know, if you were rolling out a new product like a can opener, who would care about what we said? But this product is a war, and people are dead and dying, and people are now saying they’re not going to go back because of what they experienced there. And it’s very serious.
And as much as I want to look ahead — and we will work together on a myriad of issues — it’s hard for me to let go of this war, because people are still dying. And you have not laid out an exit strategy. You’ve not set up a timetable.
And you don’t seem to be willing to, A, admit a mistake, or give any indication of what you’re going to do to forcefully involve others. As a matter of fact, you’ve said more misstatements; that the territory of the terrorists has been shrinking when your own administration says it’s now expanded to 60 countries. So I am deeply troubled. Thank you.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, may I respond?
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: Yes. Let me just say that I appreciate the importance of Senator Boxer’s statement. That’s why we allowed the statement to continue for several more minutes of time.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: I’m sorry. I lost track of time.
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: But clearly you ought to have the right to respond. Then, at that point, we’re going to have a recess. But will you please give your response?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes. Senator, I am more than aware of the stakes that we face in Iraq, and I was more than aware of the stakes of going to war in Iraq. I mourn and honor — I mourn the dead and honor their service, because we have asked American men and women in uniform to do the hardest thing, which is to go and defend freedom and give others an opportunity to build a free society, which will make us safer.
Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said without impugning my credibility or my integrity.
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 Council — 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.
Now, as to the statement about territory and the terrorist groups, I was referring to the fact that the al Qaeda organization of Osama bin Laden, which once trained openly in Afghanistan, which once ran with impunity in places like Pakistan, can no longer count on hospitable territory from which to carry out their activities.
In the places where they are, they’re being sought and run down and arrested and pursued in ways that they never were before. So we can have a semantic discussion about what it means to take or lose territory, but I don’t think it’s a matter of misstatement to say that the loss of Afghanistan, the loss of the northwest frontier of Pakistan, the loss of running with impunity in places like Saudi Arabia, the fact that now intelligence networks and law enforcement networks pursue them worldwide, means that they have lost territory where they can operate with impunity.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: Mr. Chairman, I’m going to take 30 seconds, with your permission. First of all, Charles Duelfer said, and I quote —- here it is; I ask unanimous consent to place in the record Charlie Duelfer’s report -—
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR: It will be placed in the record.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: — in which he says, “Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to ’91, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years.”
Here’s the point. You and I could sit here and go back and forth and present our arguments, and maybe somebody watching a debate would pick one or the other, depending on their own views. But I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in the facts. So when I ask you these questions, I’m going to show you your words, not my words.
And, if I might say, again you said you’re aware of the stakes in Iraq; we sent our beautiful people — and thank you, thank you so much for your comments about them — to defend freedom. You sent them in there because of weapons of mass destruction. Later, the mission changed when there were none. I have your quotes on it. I have the president’s quotes on it.
And everybody admits it but you that that was the reason for the war. And then, once we’re in there, now it moved to a different mission, which is great. We all want to give democracy and freedom everywhere we can possibly do it. But let’s not rewrite history. It’s too soon to do that.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator Boxer, I would refer you to the president’s speech before the American Enterprise Institute in February, prior to the war, in which he talked about the fact that, yes, there was the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but he also talked to the strategic threat that Saddam Hussein was to the region.
Saddam Hussein was a threat, yes, because he was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And, yes, we thought that he had stockpiles which he did not have. We had problems with the intelligence. We are all, as a collective polity of the United States, trying to deal with ways to get better intelligence.
But it wasn’t just weapons of mass destruction. He was also a place — his territory was a place where terrorists were welcomed, where he paid suicide bombers to bomb Israel, where he had used Scuds against Israel in the past.
And so we knew what his intentions were in the region; where he had attacked his neighbors before and, in fact, tried to annex Kuwait; where we had gone to war against him twice in the past. It was the total picture, Senator, not just weapons of mass destruction, that caused us to decide that, post-September 11th, it was finally time to deal with the threat of Saddam Hussein.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: Well, you should read what we voted on when we voted to support the war, which I did not, but most of my colleagues did. It was WMD, period. That was the reason and the causation for that, you know, particular vote. But, again, I just feel you quote President Bush when it suits you but you contradicted him when he said, “Yes, Saddam could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year.” You go on television nine months later and said, “Nobody ever said it was” —
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, that was just a question of pointing out to people that there was an uncertainty, that no one was saying that he would have to have a weapon within a year for it to be worth it to go to war.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: Sorry. Well, if you can’t admit to this mistake, I hope that you’ll —
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, we can have this discussion in any way that you would like. But I really hope that you will refrain from impugning my integrity. Thank you very much.
SENATOR BARBARA BOXER: I’m not. I’m just quoting what you said. You contradicted the president and you contradicted yourself.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Senator, I’m happy to continue the discussion, but I really hope that you will not imply that I take the truth lightly.
AMY GOODMAN: Condoleezza Rice being questioned by Senator Barbara Boxer of California.