By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 13, 2007 5:08 PM
JERUSALEM, Jan. 13--Even overseas, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cannot escape the political squabbles back home.
Ever since Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) noted that Rice was childless during hearings Thursday on Bush's new Iraq plan, a controversy has erupted across the blogosphere about whether Boxer's comment was appropriate.
Some conservative analysts interpreted Boxer as meaning that Rice wasn't capable of making decisions on war because she did not have children. (Boxer said she was not knocking Rice for being childless, but was making the point that she could not lose a loved one to war.)
Before leaving Washington, Rice was asked in two separate interviews about Boxer's comment, and she archly responded that she "thought it was okay to be single." But the issue came up again here in Israel.
On Saturday night, Israeli and U.S. reporters were crammed in a tiny room, awaiting a brief appearance by Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Each side had permission to ask a question, but when the news conference was over, NBC's Andrea Mitchell couldn't resist asking another one before the two women left the room.
"As two single women, neither with children, do you believe," Mitchell began. Rice and Livni burst out laughing, as did many of the Israeli reporters who knew Livni has two children. "She's got children," Rice jabbed. "So obviously she can make the decision."
Mitchell was not deterred: "Do you think that being without children in any way hinders your ability to understand the sacrifices of American families losing their children in war?"
"No," Rice answered sharply, after letting out a heavy sigh. "And I also think that being a single woman does not in any way make me incapable of understanding not just those sacrifices, but that nothing of value is ever won without sacrifice."
She added that she has visited soldiers who have been injured, though Rice's quiet visits to Walter Reed have previously been unpublicized.
Rice, who is often uncomfortable talking about herself, then turned the subject back to foreign policy--and the Sept. 11 attacks. "We also know that we have an obligation to children, whosever children, to try and leave a world that is more stable, a world that is more democratic and one in which they do not face the threat of terrorism that we have seen explode literally as the United States was attacked on September 11th," she said.
Rice started to walk out but Livni, who aides say has become personally close to Rice, held her back.
Livni, the most popular politician in Israel and a potential prime minister, wanted to stick up for Rice, offering a personal endorsement that is unusual in diplomatic settings.
"Can I add something on a personal basis?" Livni said. "Because in our not formal conversation we discussed also the situation in Iraq and you cannot imagine the feelings that the Secretary Rice showed on a personal basis during these conversations. And I believe that this is something that also the American public should know."
The two women then swept out of the room.