BLACKBURN, England – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conceded Friday that the United States probably has made thousands of "tactical errors" in Iraq and elsewhere, but said it will be judged by its larger aims of peace and democracy in the Middle East.
The U.S. diplomat met loud anti-war protests in the streets and skeptical questions about U.S. involvement in Iraq at a foreign policy salon Friday, including one about whether Washington had learned from its "mistakes over the past three years."
Rice replied that leaders would be "brain-dead" if they did not absorb the lessons of their times.
"I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure," Rice told an audience gathered by the British foreign policy think tank Chatham House. "But when you look back in history, what will be judged will be, did you make the right strategic decisions."
She said she remains firmly convinced that it was the right strategic decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq three years ago, and that it required an invasion to do it.
Saddam "wasn't going anywhere without military intervention," she said.
Demonstrators organized marches to call America's top diplomat a war criminal and human rights abuser as she joined British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on a tour of his adopted northern England working-class home.
Rice said she was not surprised by the depth of opposition in Britain, President Bush's strongest ally in Iraq, to the war and other American policies.
"I've seen it in every city I've visited in the United States," Rice said earlier Friday. "People have strong views."
"People have the right to protest, that's what democracy is all about," Rice told reporters at a British aerospace plant. "I would say to those who wish to protest, by all means."
Rice also said the United States was ready to send humanitarian assistance to Iran following deadly earthquakes there on Friday, but she made it clear there would be no accompanying U.S. diplomatic overture to Tehran.
Straw, Rice's host for her two-day visit, said Britain would send a condolence letter to the Tehran government.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran.
At a high school visited by Rice and Straw, about 200 protesters stood across the street with banners and signs, chanting "Condoleezza Rice, Go Home!" One demonstrator held a yellow hand-lettered sign that read "How Many Lives Per Gallon?"
Rice toured a high school math class and visited Ewood Park, the home stadium of Straw's favored soccer team, Blackburn Rovers.
About 50 of Pleckgate School's students "skived off" their classes Friday to protest Rice's visit, said student Jabbar Khan, 16, who shook Rice's hand as she entered.
The protests awaiting Rice on Friday were the reverse of the warm reception she received last fall when Straw accompanied her on a down-home tour of her native Alabama. Then, elderly white women lined up to shake the hand of a black native daughter made good, football fans cheered and the tantalizing possibility of a run for president — something she discounts — surrounded Rice.
"It's one thing to say this is a cultural visit, but others see it as a council of war," said Carmel Brown, an anti-war protester in Liverpool.
Rice's planned visit to a mosque in Blackburn was canceled Thursday after anti-war protesters planned to heckle her during prayer time, a mosque leader said. A prominent poet and actress pulled out of planned appearances at a Liverpool Philharmonic concert Rice was attending Friday in protest of U.S. policies.
Straw's Blackburn district has the country's third highest Muslim population. Rice also is to meet Muslim leaders and the town's mayor, Ugandan immigrant Yusuf Jan-Virmani, on Saturday.
Straw's visit to Alabama was intended to show a different side of America to a visiting foreign leader and friend. Many people he met in Alabama, and a few who introduced him at events, had never heard of the British diplomat.
Rice is far better known, as the two days of protests planned over U.S. policies in Iraq, Iran and the war on terrorism attest.
Opponents of the Iraq war set up a Web site, condiwatch.co.uk, that listed times and locations for marches and gatherings. Protesters planned to distribute T-shirts that read, "Fab Four, Not War," in reference to Liverpool's most famous export, The Beatles.