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Before meeting with Obama, Rice says mistakes were made in Iraq

From Phil Han and Tom Cohen, CNN
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Condoleezza Rice admits mistakes
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: American society isn't color-blind, Rice says
  • Condoleezza Rice is back in Washington on Friday
  • The former secretary of state is plugging a new book and meeting with Obama
  • She tells CNN that mistakes were made after toppling Saddam Hussein

Watch the full interview on CNN International's Connect the World on Monday October 18 at 2200 CET.

Washington (CNN) -- Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right move, but the United States made mistakes in the aftermath, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told CNN on Friday.

In an interview to be broadcast Monday on CNN International's "Connect the World" program, Rice acknowledged a failure to focus rebuilding efforts throughout the country and attributed the problem to a lack of understanding.

"I do believe I would take Saddam Hussein out of power again, but of course in the rebuilding of Iraq ... I would do things differently," Rice said. "I think we put too much emphasis on Baghdad and not enough emphasis on the provinces. Perhaps we didn't fully understand the degree to which the society would start to come apart as a result of being held in tyranny for all those years."

At the same time, Rice said it is still too early to fully judge the success or failure of that war or other foreign policy issues in the administration of George W. Bush.

Video: Would Rice take job with Obama?
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"Sometimes things that look terrific at the time look pretty bad in retrospect, and vice versa, so ultimately this is a story that will be written in history," said Rice, who served as secretary of state for the second of Bush's two four-year terms as president.

Rice had a full day in Washington planned, including several interviews, two speeches and a White House meeting with President Barack Obama. A memoir on her childhood, as well as a version for young readers, came out this week.

The invitation from a sitting president to a former Cabinet member is "not that unusual," Rice said, adding that she believes they'll discuss "a range of foreign policy issues."

"It's whatever the president wants to talk about," she said.

Obama has criticized the Bush administration for shifting focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, which he says stalled the effort to vanquish the Taliban insurgency and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for al Qaeda and other terrorists to launch attacks against the United States.

White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters Friday that with Rice scheduled to be in Washington, Obama wanted to "chat" with her. Burton said a wide range of foreign policy issues would be discussed.

Rice spoke further about Iraq when answering questions after a luncheon speech at the National Press Club, saying the purpose of the U.S. invasion was to get rid of the threat posed by Hussein. "We didn't go to war in Iraq to democratize Iraq," she said, adding that the United States didn't fight Adolf Hitler in World War II to democratize Germany.

"You go to war when there is a security threat, and Saddam Hussein was seen as a threat to our interests and our security," Rice said. While acknowledging that "we could have done many, many things much, much better," she noted that removing Hussein from power changed Iraq for the better.

"What is the conversation we're having about Iraq today?" she asked, noting it didn't involve weapons of mass destruction and other issues from the Hussein era. Instead, it's about whether Sunni and Shiite factions can form a coalition government, she said.

Rice, the second African-American in history to serve as secretary of state, also said that while race relations in America have improved enormously in her lifetime, "there is no more sensitive or more difficult issue in the United Sates than race."

"This is not a color-blind society," she said. "When somebody walks in the door, you do see color."

Asked about her possible political future, Rice made clear she has no plans to run for office any time soon. She said she keeps responding to the question by saying the time's not right, and added: "Maybe the time isn't ever going to be right."

"I got to be secretary of state," Rice said. "That's quite enough."

In her interview with CNN International, Rice also commented on domestic issues. Asked about the conservative Tea Party movement in the United States that has roiled Republican politics, Rice said there is no reason to fear such grass-roots democratic expression, even if she differs with Tea Party supporters on some issues.

"The Tea Party is, of course, a vast collection of people and there are lots of views which I would not associate with -- I am a free trader and I believe in defending immigration -- but the best way to understand the Tea Party is that it really is a grass-roots movement, and in that sense it's healthy," she said.

Rice attributed the rise of the Tea Party movement to "a sense that Washington, with big government and deficit spending, has lost touch."

On her successor at the helm of the State Department, Rice said Hillary Clinton is doing a "fine job."

"It's a tough job," she said. "You're always on an airplane. Sometimes you never quite know what country you're in, and you're always hoping you're not going to make the mistake and say you're in a country that you're not in. I did it on one occasion, but I hope no one noticed."

Rice also will be interviewed Friday on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story.

 
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