Rice Was Against Iraq Group Before She Was For It

Last week, Salon ran a glowing piece about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s role in creating the Iraq Study Group, an independent panel meant to advise the administration on Iraq policy. The article credited Rice with taking Rep. Frank Wolf’s (R-VA) idea to create the panel and personally pitching it to President Bush:

“It was remarkable that Condi Rice took the lead,” said David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency in Washington, and one of four people in the November meeting, including Rice. The Iraq Study Group, he said, “happened with her going to the president.” […]

Asked to comment on this article, a State Department spokesman would say only that Rice supported the idea of the Iraq Study Group from early on. “The department and the administration have embraced this effort from the beginning as a way to show and maintain public support for advancing our goals in Iraq,” said spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.

But when a similar panel was suggested in 2002 — when a postwar plan would have been most helpful — Rice played a key role in blocking it. From New Yorker reporter George Packer’s book Assassins’ Gate (pp. 110–112):


In October 2002, Leslie Gelb, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, had approached Rice and Hadley with an offer of help. The council and two other think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, would form a consortium that would gather a panel of experts to provide facts and options for the postwar… “This is just what we need,” Rice said… But she didn’t want the involvement of Heritage, which had been critical of the idea of an Irag war. “Do AEI.”

Chris DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, where the administration’s neoconservatives drew their support and many of their personnel, neither consented nor refused when Gelb broached the possibility. On November 15, the representatives of the think tanks met with Rice and Hadley in Rice’s office at the White House. John Hamre of CSIS went in expecting to pitch the idea to Rice, but the meeting was odd from the start: Rice seemed attentive only to DeMuth, and it was as if the White House was trying to sell something to the American Enterprise Institute rather than the other way around. When Gelb, on the speakerphone from New York, began to describe his concept, DeMuth cut him off. “Wait a minute. What’s all this planning and thnking about postwar Iraq?” He turned to Rice. “This is nation building, and you said you were against that. In the campaign you said it, the president has said it. Does he know you’re doing this? Does Karl Rove know?”

Two weeks later, Hadley called Gelb to tell him what Gelb already knew: “We’re not going to go ahead with it.”

It’s too bad Rice wasn’t interested in outside help four years ago.