U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Friday warned of severe consequences if the United States was to abandon its mission in Iraq. In an address Friday at Princeton University in New Jersey, she condemned Iraqi insurgents as merciless killers.
Ms. Rice chose the university setting, where opposition to the war in Iraq has been running high, for her most strongly worded defense of U.S. policy in Iraq to date.
The secretary of state said the Iraqi insurgency is not some grass-roots national resistance coalition, but rather merciless killers who want to provoke civil war among Muslims throughout the Middle East.
Ms. Rice said if they prevail and are allowed to build what she termed "an empire of terror and oppression," the consequences for U.S. interests will be dire: "The choice we face in Iraq is thus stark. If we quit now we will abandon Iraq's democrats at their time of greatest need. We will embolden every enemy of liberty and democracy across the Middle East. We will destroy any chance that the people of this region have of building a future of hope and opportunity, and we will make America more vulnerable."
Ms. Rice said if America abandons future generations of the Middle East to despair and terror, it will also condemn future generations in the United States to insecurity and fear.
Ms. Rice spoke at an event marking the 75th anniversary of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, which is a major training-ground for U.S. diplomats and has a liberal political tradition.
She said the Bush administration's focus on spreading democracy in the Middle East is both a moral obligation and a response to global terrorism, and said the United States cannot foreswear the use of military power if that proves necessary:
Ms. Rice siad, "In a world where evil is still very real, democratic principles must also be backed with power in all its forms, political and economic, cultural and moral, and yes, sometimes military. Any champion of democracy who promotes principle without power can make no real difference in the lives of oppressed people."
Ms. Rice challenged the notion that bringing freedom of choice to the Middle East would only empower extremists, saying the opposite is true. She also rejected the idea that supporting a democratic opening in the region means imposing U.S. values: "These critics say that we are arrogantly imposing our principles on an unwilling people. But it is the very height of arrogance to believe that political liberty and democratic aspirations, and freedom of speech, and rights for women, somehow belong only to us. All people deserve these rights."
Ms. Rice said the efforts of the Bush administration and global allies have put an end to the tyranny of the Taleban in Afghanistan, ended the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and sparked moves toward political reform in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
She also credited the Bush administration's refusal to deal with the corrupt administration of Yasser Arafat with opening the way to an electoral process among Palestinians, and creating what she termed a "true opportunity" for lasting peace between them and the Israelis.