TAMPA, Fla. — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was twice interrupted on Wednesday by hecklers who were protesting her role in the Bush administration that began the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The interruptions, which came hours before Rice’s scheduled prime-time address to the Republican National Convention, highlight the calculated risk by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign to cast the high-profile Bush figure in a convention starring role.
Yet Rice brings both gravitas and attention to Romney, something noted Wednesday by one of her former Bush White House colleagues. Former Bush White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten called Rice “a celebrity at this convention.”
Rice’s appearance might also aid the Republican Party’s efforts to portray itself as diverse and female-friendly. Colin Powell and Rice were the first two African-Americans to serve as secretary of State, and both were appointed by Bush. Rice was the first black woman in the position.
Rice’s speech will come after the first full-blown night of convention events, during which — as the veteran NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw noted — mentions of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan were conspicuous for their absence.
In an event sponsored by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Rice was interrupted as she began speaking about how, in early discussions with then-presidential candidate George W. Bush, they had been pondering “what could be done to show that America was compassionate about the poorest people.”
A white-haired woman on the edge of the crowd in a Tampa theater stood up and shouted, “You cannot be compassionate and kill people.”
In further loud comments, the woman made clear she was referring to the wars that had started during Bush’s time in office, when Rice was often at his side.
“These wars of choice that both Republicans and Democrats have had are terrible for our national security!” the woman said, before being escorted out without resistance.
Rice appeared unfazed by the interruption, smiling and saying that “one of the great things about democracy is that people do get to say their piece.”
No sooner had Rice gotten back on track, however, than she was knocked off again by another, younger female protester.
“The blood of American children is on your hands!” the woman shouted, adding that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were “an excuse” to begin the war in Iraq.
The second protester was also led out.
Code Pink claimed responsibility for the disruptions in a message on Twitter.
Later, after order had been restored, Bolten asked Rice how she would persuade a Republican Party about the importance of foreign aid, given that he characterized the party as a whole as “skeptical” on the issue.
She said that she would do so in part by casting the argument in terms more often used in domestic politics.
“We talk in the United States about welfare not being a permanent status in life. We would like international foreign assistance not to be a permanent status, either, for countries,” she said.
A judicious approach to international aid, she added, could help embattled nations become “net contributors to the international community, not permanently on the dole.”
The discussion also addressed the now-infrequent use of the Bush-era phrase “compassionate conservatism.”
“I consider myself a conservative,” Rice said. “But if people want to use a different phrase, I am perfectly happy with that.”