U.S. Wars in the Middle East Were Not Supposed to Bring Democracy, Condoleezza Rice Says

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that U.S.-led interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia were not about spreading democracy, but about addressing regional security issues.

Rice, who served in former President George W. Bush's administration as national security advisor from 2001 through 2005 and as secretary of state from 2005 to 2009, made the revelation during an interview at the Brooking Institute. Rice played a key role in the Bush cabinet during the post-9/11 years that saw the U.S. launch two large-scale invasions against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. In addition to the regional threat of the Al-Qaeda-allied Taliban government in Afghanistan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, later disproved, the White House defended its military action by touting a U.S.-led campaign to spread democracy to the region. In remarks referencing her latest book, however, Rice said otherwise.

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"We didn't go to Iraq to bring democracy to Iraq, we went to Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who we thought was reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction and who we knew had been a threat in the region. It was a security problem," Rice said. "We didn't overthrow the Taliban to bring democracy to Afghanistan, we overthrew them because they were harboring Al-Qaeda in a safe haven after 9/11."

RTRS0M7 Then President George W. Bush delivers a speech celebrating what he deemed a victory in the Iraq War to crew aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California on May 1, 2003. Bush's former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has since said U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were about tackling security problems, not defending or spreading democracy. Larry Downing/Reuters

She compared the U.S.'s motives to that of World War Two when the nation intervened to defend European and Asian allies from the spread of Axis powers Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. She also said she regretted the notion that the U.S.'s first major military engagements of the 21st century were mixed up with the "freedom agenda" and emphasized that U.S.'s missions in Afghanistan, codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, and in Iraq, codenamed Operation Iraqi Freedom, were strictly concerned with taking out U.S. foes. She claimed she would never have asked Bush to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan by military force, which she said was a "dramatic" example of democracy promotion.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered from ongoing conflicts since the U.S.'s intervention. In Iraq, the toppling of Hussein, a member of the country's Sunni Muslim minority, exacerbated long-standing sectarian tensions between Sunni Muslims and the Shiite Muslim majority. Ultraconservative Sunni Muslim groups, some of which were former members of Hussein's government and military, formed Al-Qaeda's franchise in Iraq, which took advantage of the post-war chaos to target U.S. soldiers and Shiite Muslims, further threatening the stability of the U.S.-installed government. Al-Qaeda in Iraq united with other jihadist groups to form the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, which ultimately rebranded itself into the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). After mostly withdrawing from Iraq in 2011, the U.S. was forced to return in 2014, albeit in smaller numbers, to assist an Iraqi-led campaign against ISIS.

RTS15NV2 A member of the Army writes a note at a military base southwest of Mosul, Iraq, April 28, 2017. This year marked 14th consecutive year of U.S. military presence in Iraq. Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Since toppling the Taliban's government in Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to battle the insurgents, which have recently begun a new offensive after taking new swathes of territory across the nation. Most U.S. troops had left by 2016, but advisers of President Donald Trump have suggested another increase in U.S. forces on the ground after the Taliban's resurgence and the rise of an ISIS syndicate attempting to rival the Taliban's hold on the nation. Last month, the Taliban conducted its deadliest attack of the conflict yet when the group killed as many as 140 Afghan soldiers after infiltrating a military base.

Rice's comments on democracy and war echoed claims she made her in most recent book, Democracy: The Long Road to Freedom. In the book, which was released last week, Rice reflects on democracy movements and the transition to democracy in nations around the world, from the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. to post-war Iraq and Afghanistan. Since leaving the State Department at the end of Bush's last term, Rice returned to academia and joined the Council of Foreign Relations.

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