Senate Democrats on Tuesday denounced Condoleezza Rice as the architect of a failed and misleading Iraq policy, turning a daylong debate on her nomination as secretary of state into a prolonged discussion of the conduct of the war.
Even as they acknowledged that her confirmation was a foregone conclusion, Democrats assailed Rice -- and, by extension, President George W. Bush -- accusing her of having exaggerated the threat of unconventional weapons before the war and failing to offer a realistic portrait of the continuing difficulties facing US forces in Iraq.
The debate came on a rare day in the Senate devoted exclusively to foreign policy, and even a few Republicans used it to acknowledge the challenges in Iraq as it approaches elections in a few days.
"Hopefully Iraq will someday be a democratic example for the Middle East," said Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican.
"But Iraq could also become a failed state. We must not let that happen," Hagel said.
He said Iraq's own forces were not yet ready to take control and let US troops withdraw.
Another Republican, Senator Lamar Alexander, offered an uncharacteristically dour view of the region.
"I don't believe we need an exit strategy in Iraq," he said. "I think we need a success strategy. But such a strategy may mean taking a little more realistic view of what we mean by success."
Senator Edward Kennedy, one of more than half a dozen Democrats who said they would vote against confirmation yesterday, called the war "a catastrophic failure, a quagmire."
The debate came as the administration said it would request an additional US$80 billion in spending to cover the continuing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq through September -- a request that is likely to receive intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill.
"I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity but I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally," said Senator Mark Dayton, a Democrat. "It's wrong. It's undemocratic, it's un-American, and it's very dangerous. It is very, very dangerous. And it is occurring far too frequently in this administration."
The remark brought a sharp rebuke from Republicans, including Senator John McCain.
"You disagree with our policy in Iraq," he said in an interview. "I understand why people do it, but to challenge Condoleezza Rice's integrity I think is out of bounds."
The leader of the Republicans, Senator Bill Frist, called Rice well qualified and the mission well justified: "Outlaw regimes must be confronted. Dangerous weapons proliferation must be stopped. Terrorist organizations must be destroyed."
Republicans complained that Democrats were using partisan politics in an effort to delay the confirmation of the first black woman to be secretary of state. But Democrats said they were appropriately exercising their role, to advise and consent.