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Rice looks back at her time in office

Condoleezza Rice looks back at her time as secretary of state. "'America has not always been liked, but we've been respected," she tells NBC's David Gregory.

In her 20th appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday, outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iraq “a road harder than I would have ever thought,” but insisted that in the long run, the Iraq war and all of its sacrifices “will make the Middle East a fundamentally different place.”

Secretary Rice, an elite member of the Bush inner circle, reflected on criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy efforts in the Middle East with diplomatic but emphatic defiance. “I believe that this is one of the long stories of history,” she said. “This is the place from which the 9/11 hijackers came – the Middle East, not Iraq – where Saddam Hussein who had dragged the region into war several times, had dragged us into war, had used weapons of mass destruction, continued to seek them, who was an implacable enemy of the United States...  Now you have in Iraq [and at the end of that road], Iraq is a multiconfessional, multi-ethnic democracy that will not seek weapons of mass destruction, that will be at peace with its neighbors."

Questioned by moderator David Gregory on President Bush’s early assertion that the international community responded best to “humble” policies rather than arrogance, Rice conceded that “[America has not] always been liked. But we have been respected. We need friends... and we have friends, thanks to the forward march of democracy.” She stressed that there's humility in the belief that "no man, woman or child should live in tyranny,” and that the international influence exerted by the Bush administration “are the hallmarks of humble policy.”

“There are some places that have had real quarrels with our policies, but I think the United States is very well-respected worldwide,” she added.

Pressed by Gregory to defend the perception supported by Bob Woodward’s recent book that President Bush demanded “optimism” and was shielded from bad news by his inner circle, Secretary Rice expressed frustration. “The president never demanded nor did I give him a ban on criticism. I would go to the president frequently and say ‘Mr. President, this isn’t working,’ or ‘that isn’t working.’ I came back from Iraq in October 2006, and I told him, I said, “'Mr. President, the fabric of this society is rending.'”

Secretary Rice also claimed that at one point, while discussing polling on the unpopularity of the war, the president said, “Count me among those not satisfied in Iraq.”

“But he believed that his values were going to triumph,” Rice said. Secretary Rice cited his commitment to the surge in troops and humanitarian aid earlier in the year as a globally unpopular but ultimately successful effort that “doesn’t come from rose-colored views, but from a belief that Iraq was too important to lose.”

Rice also used the now-indelible, globally transmitted image from one week ago of the president of the United States in newly democratic Iraq, ducking to avoid a shoe thrown by a disgruntled Iraqi journalist, to stress her belief that Bush foreign policy will be vindicated by time and perspective.

“The president was standing next to the democratically-elected prime minister of Iraq, a Shia, representing a multi-ethnic, multiconfessional democracy in the heart of the Middle East that has just signed a path-breaking strategic forces agreement and Strategic Framework Agreement with the United States... [But] that someone chose to throw a shoe at the president, that’s what gets reported over and over. History always shows these things differently than today’s news.”

Of regrets, Rice said she wishes she would have been able to do more about Sudan. “We've been able to support getting some peacekeepers onto the ground... but we could’ve done so much more there.”

Of her successor, Rice says she's already had a couple of conversations with Hillary Clinton. “I know her from the time she brought her freshman daughter to Stanford for the first time, when I was provost, and she’s going to do this very well." She says a secretary of state married to a former president is "unique." "But Hillary Clinton is an extremely talented woman. She is a woman of integrity and believes in this country deeply."

Questioned by Gregory about how she voted on Nov. 4, Rice says she doesn't talk about her partisan or nonpartisan beliefs. “But I think every American was rooting for the kind of election that we had. What I’ve heard around the world is there’s great joy that an African-American’s been elected.”

After her term, Rice says she plans to go back to California. “I’m going to go back to Stanford and the Hoover Institution. I want to write a book. Obviously, I’ll write a book on foreign policy. It’s been an incredible time, and I think we’ve left a lot of places in much better shape. And I want to write about the post-9/11 end of our innocence in foreign policy.”