PARIS (AFP) -US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, under fire at home for failure to make diplomatic breakthroughs as she approaches the end of her term in office next year, strongly defended her record in the Middle East late Sunday during a visit to Paris.
Questioned during a joint press conference with new French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on her Middle East vision, one year after describing the war in Lebanon as “birth pangs of the new Middle East,” an irritated Rice leapt to her own defence.
Saying she was “not in the least surprised” to see “determined enemies who try and strangle” attempts to install democracy in the Middle East, Rice named the countries where Washington and her allies had been dealt difficulties by Syria and Iran, though she said they had still made advances.
In Lebanon, the army had deployed in the south and had fought extremist groups in the Palestinian camps for the first time in decades, she said. The Lebanese had “gained a great deal.”
In Iraq, she said: “It would be wrong to say that with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, one of the most brutal murderers of the 20th century, the Iraqi people have gained nothing.
“And it would be wrong to say that in the Palestinian Territories, despite the difficulties there, the rise of a man who believes in a proper road to peace in which the Palestinians and the Israelis can live side by side, in peace and security, means nothing to the Palestinian people,” she went on say, referring to pro-Western president Mahmud Abbas.
The secretary of state refuted the argument of her opponents that the Middle East had been more stable before the US intervention in Iraq.
“People say, well, the Middle East was stable. What stability? The stability in which Saddam Hussein put 300,000 people in mass graves? That was stability? The stability in which the Syrian forces were embedded in Lebanon? That was stability?
“The stability in which Yasser Arafat turned down an opportunity for the Palestinians to have their own state? That was stability?” she asked, referring to the 2000 Camp David peace talks held by president Bill Clinton.
“The stability that produced Al-Qaeda to, on one September day, cause 3,000 deaths? The stability in which we never spoke about democracy in the Middle East, allowing unhealthy extremist forces to be the only politically organised forces in the Middle East?”
Rice saw the propagation of democratic ideals as the best rampart against extremism.
“It is really hard,” she conceded. “But I am confident about the triumph of these values, because I have seen it happen before,” said the former expert on the Soviet Union, in a reference to its disintegration in 1991.
“And I am exceedingly aware that it is a rare circumstance in which today’s headlines are consistent with history’s judgement.”