The Cable

Condoleezza Rice: "Leading from behind" is an oxymoron

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sat down for an extensive interview with Foreign Policy as part of the rollout of her new book, No Higher Honor. Rice criticized the notion of "leading from behind"; called for a return to a focus on human rights in foreign policy; lamented the downfall of democracy in Russia, calling Putin's likely return to power a "terrible turn of events"; and contended that George W. Bush's administration, despite avowals by the current White House to the contrary, had always intended to negotiate an extension to the agreement that required all U.S. troops to exit Iraq by the end of this year.

On the contentious subject of Middle East peace, Rice fully endorsed the U.S. decision to withdraw from any U.N. organization that grants full membership to the Palestinians, as UNESCO did this week. "If the U.N. wants to go down this road, let them see how well they do without U.S. support," she said. Rice also said that by initially pressuring the Israeli government to accept a settlement freeze, Barack Obama's administration had "put the Palestinians in a position of having to be less Palestinian than the United States," forcing them to adopt more extensive demands.

Here's an excerpt:

Foreign Policy: The terminology that many people use to describe the Obama administration's foreign policy is this phrase, "leading from behind," which is now confirmed to have come from a White House official. Does that accurately portray the Obama administration's foreign policy?

Condoleezza Rice: I sincerely hope not, because it's an oxymoron. I never understood the notion of "leading from behind." If you mean leading in concert with others, that's one thing, and America has a long history of having allies. But without having American leadership, it's very rare that difficult things get done. I fully understand the pressures, and indeed the attractiveness, of dealing with our internal issues -- whether it's the budget deficit, entitlements, or K-12 education, or immigration. And I understand why Americans are feeling a bit weary of the world. And I'm a big believer that until we do that internal repair, it's actually going to be difficult for us to lead.

But we don't actually have an option to sit on the sidelines. That will either provoke chaos, or maybe somebody else will try to lead who doesn't share our commitment to the balance of power that favors freedom, and that would be bad for our interests, not to mention our values

Read the rest of the interview here:

Getty Images

The Cable

Condoleezza Rice: We never expected to leave Iraq in 2011

Former President George W. Bush's administration signed an agreement in 2008 to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but policymakers in that administration always expected that agreement to be renegotiated to allow for an extension beyond that deadline, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Cable.

When President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, his top advisors contended that since the Bush administration had signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), both administrations believed that all troops should be withdrawn by the end of the year. This was part of the Obama administration's drive to de-emphasize their failed negotiations to renegotiate that agreement and frame the withdrawal as the fulfillment of a campaign promise to end the Iraq war.

"The security agreements negotiated and signed in 2008 by the Bush administration stipulated this date of December 31, 2008, as the end of the military presence. So that has been in law now or been in force now for several years," Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough told reporters on Oct. 21. "So it's difficult to rebut the proposition that this was a known date."

Rice, speaking with The Cable to promote her new book No Higher Honor, said today that when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline -- a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.

"There was an expectation that we would negotiate something that looked like a residual force for our training with the Iraqis," Rice said. "Everybody believed it would be better if there was some kind of residual force."

Rice said the Iraqi government, despite SOFA's Jan. 2012 end date, was not only open to a new agreement that would include an extension for U.S. troops, but expected that a new agreement would eventually be signed.

"We certainly understood that the Iraqis preserved that option and everybody believed that option was going to be exercised," Rice said.

It's been widely reported that the negotiations between the Obama administration and the Iraqi government this year broke down over the issue of immunity for U.S. troops in post-2011 Iraq. The Obama administration had demanded that immunity be granted by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, the country's primary legislative body, which was unwilling to do so for political reasons.

Rice said that she didn't understand why the Obama administration was unable to reach an agreement on immunity with the Iraqis, considering that the previous SOFA granted immunity to U.S. soldiers and was passed overwhelmingly by the Iraqi parliament at the time.

"We did manage to negotiate an immunity clause that was acceptable to the Iraqis and acceptable to the Pentagon. I don't know what happened in these negotiations," Rice said.

Overall, Rice said that while the Iraqi Army is making progress, it still has flaws that U.S. forces could help remedy, and the wholesale withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq sends the wrong signal to the region.

"They continue to need help on the counterterrorism side and it would have been a good message to Iran [to keep some U.S. forces there]," Rice said. "That would have been a preferable option."

AFP/Getty Images