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Rice takes the oath.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Condoleezza Rice already has said a great deal about the Bush administration's focus on terror before and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But today marks the first time that she will do so under solemn oath before God and country.

Tens of millions of Americans will be watching closely as President Bush's national security adviser testifies before the same committee that two weeks ago heard counter-terrorism specialist Richard Clarke testify that President Bush and key aides failed to heed warnings about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda because they were obsessed with Iraq.

Like Clarke, Rice will face fierce questioning as commission members attempt to determine whether Clarke was right in characterizing Bush as having botched the war against terrorism or whether, as Rice argues, the president has focused with appropriate aggressiveness on the threat of terrorism both before and after Sept. 11.

Also like Clarke, Rice will find herself testifying in what unfortunately has become a high-stakes blame game in which the final "gotcha" could well be the upcoming presidential election.

While both Clarke and Rice, as well as the members of the commission, share blame for this toxic atmosphere, it is vital that all involved remember that the panel's ultimate mission must not merely be to identify the many failures in leadership in both the Clinton and Bush administrations that contributed to Sept. 11. In fact, the only meaningful value in identifying those lapses is to make certain they have been isolated and corrected - and that the likelihood that Americans will again suffer through such a nightmare has been significantly reduced.

Rice should keep that mission in mind as she testifies this afternoon. She should steer clear of the defensiveness and combativeness that marked her many recent TV interviews and instead choose a path of candor and truthfulness.

Rice also should resist the temptation to wage further personal attacks on Clarke, who served with distinction in four separate presidential administrations, and to merely peck away at fine details of his testimony.

Instead, Rice should plainly and forthrightly explain her claims that the administration was moving aggressively to eliminate al-Qaeda before Sept. 11, when there has been much testimony, including by administration officials, that the opposite is the case. She should explain why the president, after the successful U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, focused myopically on attacking Iraq instead finishing the job of uprooting bin Laden and al-Qaeda. And she should justify the administration's past and current focus on Iraq, which has overextended U.S. military and financial resources and created a new spawning ground for terrorists in Iraq where none previously existed.

As Rice opens her testimony, she should consider following Clarke's example by beginning with an apology to the families of the victims of Sept. 11 who will be in attendance. Rice has repeatedly made the valid point that Osama bin Laden is the ultimate villain of this piece, but it is has become glaringly clear that mistakes - terrible mistakes - were made by our own government. The sooner that these mistakes are fully acknowledged - and addressed - the sooner this nation will get back on the right track in its fight against terrorism and its all-important effort to ensure that everything possible has been done to prevent future attacks.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Bush adviser should emphasize candor, not spin
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 8, 2004
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