Rice says Iraq war was right thing to do
By Susan Cornwell
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended on Thursday the Bush administration's record in Iraq after sharp criticism of the war in a new book by a former White House spokesman.
"We did some things well, some things not so well," said Rice, who was national security adviser when the Iraq war began in 2003. "The one thing that I am certain was not a mistake was to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein."
Speaking at a news conference ahead of an international conference on Iraq, Rice said she had not read the book by former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, but added that removing Saddam was "the right thing to do."
In his book, McClellan accuses President George W. Bush of using propaganda to sell the Iraq war -- a dramatic break from the close-knit Bush inner circle.
When a reporter at the news conference brought up the book, Rice said at first she would not comment on something she had not read, but then gave a lengthy defense of the decision to go to war.
Rice said people often did not understand the full implications of events until long after they had happened.
She said liberating Iraqis from "the monster that was Saddam Hussein" was neither unilateral nor a mistake.
"It was not the United States of America alone that believed that he had weapons of mass destruction that he was hiding," Rice said.
The Iraq war was fought over charges that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction based on intelligence that later proved to be faulty.
"So the story is there for everyone to see. You can't now transplant yourself into the present and say we should have known things that we in fact did not know in 2001, 2002, 2003. The record on weapons of mass destruction was one that appeared to be very clear," Rice said.
She added: "If the world did not believe that at the time, then I would ask why was Iraq under some of the most severe sanctions that the international community has ever imposed?"
Rice said the international concerns about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had been the "fundamental reason" behind dozens of resolutions in the United Nations Security Council going back to the 1990s.
The U.N. resolutions showed that the world knew Saddam was a threat, she said. "Why in the world would you allow the Iraqi people to suffer?"
Rice, a former professor at Stanford University, said she would be happy to return to academic life and analyze the administration's actions from the standpoint of history, joking that she would probably oversee dissertations about it.
(Editing by Matthew Jones)