In defense of Bush.
Condoleezza Rice offered no surprises in her appearance Thursday before the Sept. 11 Commission. The national security adviser lived up to her reputation as a fierce and loyal protector of President Bush, denying at every turn that the White House underestimated the threat of an al-Qaeda attack and overestimated the peril of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Rice is well known for never straying from the White House line and for articulately defending the president against all detractors. She played that role to perfection in nearly three hours of often contentious testimony under oath - yielding no ground, maintaining her poise and derailing her interrogators on several occasions.
Yet Rice's command performance left an unmistakable feeling that the session had more to do with maneuvering and positioning than with providing the full and forthright accounting essential to nailing down the truth about Sept. 11.
Rice testified that there were insufficient clues - "no silver bullet," she said repeatedly - to have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. Yet the preliminary findings of the bipartisan independent Sept. 11 commission and a congressional panel that preceded it suggest the opposite. At one point during Thursday's hearing, a frustrated Republican panel member, Fred Fielding, observed the United States had suffered ``an intelligence failure,'' regardless of how Rice chose to characterize it. ``I don't think anyone will kid ourselves that we didn't suffer one,'' he said.
Rice maintained that `structural and legal impediments' kept law enforcement and intelligence agencies from gathering and pursuing information that might have helped stop the attacks. That's a deceptively partial truth - there were obstacles, but they were neither so numerous nor extensive as to prevent the government from connecting the dots.
Rice also failed to make a convincing case that Bush was fully engaged in the fight against terrorism from his first day in office. In a fierce exchange with panel member and former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, Rice said the president entered office resolved to develop a `more robust' policy for combatting al-Qaeda than the Clinton administration. ``He made clear to me that he did not want to respond to al-Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was `tired of swatting flies.' ''
Kerrey's response was pointed: ``Dr. Rice, we only swatted a fly once [referring to Clinton's 1998 missile strike against suspected al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan] ... How the hell could he [Bush] be tired?''
Finally, Rice failed to acknowledge the reality that the war against Iraq has not only drained U.S. military and financial resources needed for the fight against terror, but has transformed Iraq into a staging ground for terrorists. Even as Rice testified before the commission, violence continued to escalate in Iraq.
Rice came closest to candor when she conceded that before Sept. 11, `the terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them.'' But she hastened to note that the terrorist threat had been gathering for years and that the Bush administration was not alone in offering an `insufficient' response.
In agreeing to send his national security adviser to testify before the commission, President Bush pledged that Rice would `lay out the facts' in their entirety about what the administration did - and failed to do - before Sept. 11. Rice's testimony fell disappointingly but predictably short of that promise.
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|Title Annotation:||Editorials; Rice protects president but fails candor test|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Apr 9, 2004|
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