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Even some of Rice's supporters wonder whether her commitment to the Bush doctrine is impairing her judgment--not just about the scale of the U.S.'s problems in Iraq, but also about the wisdom of pinning so much hope on the idea that bringing democracy to societies that have never known it is the best strategy for making Americans safer. Rice has never been patient: as an aide to Brent Scowcroft in the first Bush Administration, she chafed at Scowcroft's cautious steps to encourage democratization in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But the East European model can't easily be replicated in the Islamic world. From the Palestinian territories to Pakistan--and even in Iraq--holding free elections now would probably produce governments that are even less amenable to the U.S.'s overriding goal of stamping out Islamic radicalism. "The biggest problem I have with Condi and the Middle East," says the Republican elder statesman, "is that she really has drunk the democratic-transformation Kool-Aid."
Rice's most appealing qualities are her optimism and belief in the power of American ideals, a faith she believes has been validated by her rise from segregated Alabama to the top Cabinet post in the U.S. government. Whether she ascends even further--some G.O.P. insiders are already touting her as the running mate for the Republican presidential nominee in 2008--will depend largely on whether she can find a way for the U.S. to declare victory in Iraq before support for the Bush doctrine, at home and abroad, runs out. Toward the end of her interview with TIME, she made clear that she's prepared to take her chances. "I've lived in a place where difference was not tolerated and difference was a license to kill," she says. "I lived in a place that was not living up to the democratic principles of the United States but where, because the institutions were what they were, people were able to petition from within those institutions, not without ... People kept struggling toward those institutions and values and principles and, over time, we've gotten closer to the ideal.
"And so when I see Iraqis struggling with really hard issues or Afghans struggling with really hard issues, I'm probably less willing to say, 'Oh, they can't do it.' I look at [our history], and I say what seemed impossible on one day now seems inevitable. Well, that's the way great historical changes are. And it's why I have enormous conviction that these people are going to make it." --With reporting by Christopher Allbritton/Baghdad, Massimo Calabresi, James Carney and Elaine Shannon/Washington, James Graff/Paris, Scott Macleod/Cairo and Matt Rees/Jerusalem