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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2005

Rice doesn't need any 'wiggle room'


IT'S a mistake to question National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's qualifications for U.S. Secretary of State. She is prepared for the job.

There's no reason to deliberate her loyalty to her racial heritage, either. Ms. Rice does her best, which is all that's expected, no matter how much anyone may disagree with her. Many do, even though Ms. Rice, 50, is poised to become the first black woman secretary of state, a monumental achievement.

She epitomizes the freedom minorities have to support a person or principle to which others object. In her case, that person is George Bush and the principles that shaped his first administration and that could be further cemented now.

Civil rights battles were not waged for minorities to mimic each other's views. Part of the reason this country is still great is because a Colin Powell, a Condoleezza Rice, a Rod Paige, a Ken Blackwell, and an Yvonne Brown can serve a president whose policies many believe are ruinous.

It has appeared easy for Ms. Rice to work in the Bush Administration. But that didn't always seem to be the case for Secretary of State Powell, who has resigned, not surprisingly.

Then last month, the administation stopped looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It's unclear whether Ms. Rice was hinting in the hearings that the administration erred about WMDs when she said every decision has not been good.

"We have made a lot of decisions in this period of time. Some of them have been good, some of them have not been good, some of them have been bad decisions, I am sure," she said. She's certainly correct.

Ms. Rice also emphasized the administration's inability to estimate what it would take to rebuild Iraq. "We didn't have the right skills, the right capacity, to deal with a reconstruction effort of this kind."

Although Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden voted for her nomination, kudos to him for focusing on her refusal to admit mistakes, to convince Republicans and Democrats that it's time to consider what lies ahead, and to be certain about the number of trained Iraqi troops. He said 4,000 Iraqi have been trained; she said 120,000.

If there are 120,000 trained Iraqis, his constituents want to know why U.S. troops are still in Iraq. Good question.

California Sen. Barbara Boxer - who with former Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry were the only members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to oppose Ms. Rice's nomination - so intensely grilled Ms. Rice that she asked the senator to refrain from "impugning my integrity."

Senator Boxer wasn't doing anything of the sort. With 25 percent of the dead troops from California, Senator Boxer, like the rest of us, needs answers to hard questions.

In that case, nobody of Ms. Rice's caliber needs "wiggle room," which Illinois Sen. Barack Obama said she was looking for to keep from binding the administration.

Maybe she doesn't want to bind the Bush White House. Fine. Then when she's secretary of state, she can influence other Bush authorities to apply that same principle to the troops, letting them choose whether to remain in Iraq.

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