Time Is Up On Rice’s ‘Two To Three Month’ Window For Escalation

On Jan. 11, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush administration would not “stay married” to its Baghdad security plan if the Iraqis do “not [live] up to their part of the obligation.” She said that “the most important thing that the Iraqi government has to do right now is to reestablish the confidence of its population that it’s going to be even-handed in defending it,” otherwise “this plan is not going to work.” Watch it:


Those two to three months are up, and recent troubling reports indicate that Maliki’s office has not been “even-handed” in defending the Iraqi population and has actually increased sectarian tensions:

— “A department of the Iraqi prime minister’s office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias.”

— According to a recent poll, Maliki inspires confidence in 72 percent of Shiites, but just eight percent of Sunnis.

— “The UN has sharply criticised the Iraqi government’s human rights record, in the two months since a security plan was launched in the capital, Baghdad. The UN mission for Iraq said Iraqi authorities had failed to guarantee the basic rights of about 3,000 people they had detained in the operations.”

— In its April 26 Iraq Index, the Brookings Institution found “no progress thus far” on four of Rice’s benchmarks: establishing new election laws, scheduling provincial elections, disbanding militias, or putting together a plan for national reconciliation.

Even though the Iraqi government has been largely unsuccessful in meeting its political benchmarks, the Bush administration refuses to change its plan in Iraq. Yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice said that the administration opposes imposing any “so-called consequences” on Maliki’s government “for missing the benchmarks,” and plans to veto any bill that does so.

UPDATE: Video of the hearing has been added.

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Full transcript:

SEC. RICE: Senator, the leverage is that we’re not going to stay married to a plan that’s not working in Baghdad if the Iraqis are not living up to their part of the obligation, because it won’t work. Unless they’re prepared to make the tough political decisions — and frankly, we know why the sectarian violence didn’t come down that’s — all had hoped would. It didn’t come down because there weren’t enough forces when these areas were cleared to actually hold them, because there were not enough reliable Iraqi forces, and we know that there was too much political interference in what was going on.

That’s been changed in this plan, both by the augmentation of the forces with our own forces and by bringing forces in from other parts of Iraq.

So we’re not going to stay married to a plan that isn’t working because the Iraqis aren’t living up to their end of the bargain.

SEN. OBAMA: Madame Secretary, because I think the chairman appropriately is trying to keep our time restricted, I want to just follow up on this and be very clear. Are you telling me that if in six months or whatever time frame you are suggesting that in fact the Maliki government has not performed these benchmarks — which, by the way, remain not sufficiently explicit, I think, for a lot of us to make decisions on, but let’s assume that that surfaces over the next several weeks that this is being debated — that at that point, you are going to suggest to the Maliki government that we are going to start phasing down our troop levels in Iraq?

SEC. RICE: Senator, I want to be not explicit about what we might do because I don’t want to speculate. But I will tell you this, the benchmark that I’m looking at — the oil law is important, the political process is extraordinary important — that the most important thing that the Iraqi government has to do right now is to reestablish the confidence of its population that it’s going to be even-handed in defending it. That’s what we need to see over the next two or three months, and I think that over the next several months they’re going to have to show that.

SEN. OBAMA: Or else what? Mr. Chairman —

SEC. RICE: Or this plan — or this plan is not — this plan is not going to work.

SEN. OBAMA: The question is not whether the plan is going to work or not. The question is: What are the consequences if the Iraqi government — I’m out of time, but I have to ask this question.

Are there any circumstances that the president or you are willing to share in which we would say to the Iraqis we are no longer maintaining combat troops, American combat troops in Iraq? Are there any circumstances that you can articulate in which we would say to the Maliki government that enough is enough, and we are no longer committing our troops?

SEC. RICE: I’m not going to speculate, but I do tell you that the president made very clear that of course there are circumstances. That’s what it means when he says our patience is not limited.