The day after the House voted 223-201 for a Democratic proposal to force a U.S. troop withdrawal by next spring, Rice acknowledged in a round of television interviews that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government has not achieved "as much progress as we would like."
"I don't agree you would give it a failing grade," she told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "You would say it's a work in progress. You would say they have made not inconsequential movement forward on some of the important benchmarks, particularly those concerning security."
Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters via a video linkup from Iraq that "there will be consequences" if U.S. troops are withdrawn too soon.
"With the support of the American people, I'm convinced that we can continue to make progress," he said.
"What troubles me about this debate — and it is important and it needs to be debated, for sure — is it seems to me that we should first decide what we want the end state to be in Iraq, and how is that end state important to the United States of America, to this region and to the world — and then determine how we can reach that end state and how much time it will take," added Mixon, who commands troops in northern Iraq, including the violent Diyala province.
Mixon's operational briefing on what troops have been doing in recent weeks in some ways mirrored the mixed report released by the White House Thursday regarding progress in Iraq.
He enumerated military successes — the number of militants captured, weapons caches seized, terrain retaken and so on. But he also acknowledged that much work remains, noting for instance, as the Washington report did, that the Iraqi government is no where near mastering logistics and other issues needed to make its security forces capable of taking over responsibility from U.S. forces.
For her part, Rice argued that Baghdad has made headway in lowering the level of sectarian violence, pointing to "something that isn't even on that benchmark list — the tremendous change in al Anbar province, where you have the sheiks, the local people, taking back their streets from al Qaeda."
"I understand people's concern. I understand people's impatience," she said. But Rice said "we ought to stick" to the troop build up strategy that President Bush announced in January, and wait until September when commanding Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to deliver a new assessment of conditions there.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said Friday, "The president himself has indicated some movement in the fall and we're all anxious to hear what he has to say."
"I don't think there's much debate in the Senate about disappointment with the Iraqi government. It's pretty uniform," the senator said. But McConnell added that "the vast majority of members in the (GOP) conference here in the Senate are willing to wait for that report to come out."
"Were sorry that the effort in Iraq has been as difficult as it has been," he said, "but giving up and letting the terrorists come into this country isn't a good plan."
The White House said Friday that the vote in the House shows, "we have at least a cohesive position on our side for now," according to deputy press secretary Dana Perino.
"We are under no allusion and we're very clear-eyed about the fact that we have a lot of work to do to talk to members of Congress, hear what they have to say, but just as important, to provide (Gen.) David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker enough time for them to get their plan under way and implemented so that we can move those unsatisfactory marks into the satisfactory column," she said.
Asked whether she thought that Bush could still to resist a mandated troop withdrawal timeline after September, Perino replied, "Absolutely, yes."
Said Rice: "I don't agree that you would give it (the al-Maliki government) a failing grade. You would say that it's a work in progress. You would say that they have not made inconsequential movement forward on some of the important benchmarks, particularly those involving security."