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U.S. has no choice but to lead, Rice tells GOP convention

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau –

TAMPA, Fla. — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a strong defense of the interventionist policies championed by her onetime boss, President George W. Bush, as she made one of the few speeches about foreign policy at the Republican convention.

“The question of the hour,” she said, is “where does America stand?” When allies or foes ask that question, she said, “the world is likely to be a more dangerous and chaotic place.”

Republican leaders gave Rice one of the convention’s most prominent speaking slots — in prime time on the gathering’s second night — reflecting her widespread popularity. Although she is out of step with many Republicans on domestic issues, Rice has retained considerable popularity within the party and was greeted by a prolonged ovation at the outset of her speech.

But the fact that hers was one of the few speeches on foreign policy here reflects a notable political shift that has taken place in the current campaign. Foreign policy, which was an area of strength for Republicans for decades, has become an advantage for President Barack Obama.

That political turnaround has much to do with the war in Iraq, which soured many voters on Republican policies. Rice, who was closely associated with the war as Bush’s top foreign policy adviser, did not talk about the conflict in her speech, mentioning Iraq only once, in the context of the Arab Spring.

But she did address the opposition to foreign involvement that the war helped generate.

“I know that there is a weariness” with the costs of foreign intervention, she said. “I know that it feels as if we have carried these burdens long enough. But we can only know that there is no choice.”

If the United States does not lead, she warned, other nations, hostile to U.S. values, will.

“My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead,” she said, before adding one of the chief Republican critiques of Obama, “and you cannot lead from behind.”

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