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Being Condoleezza Rice Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry
July 29, 2003
By Joy-Ann Reid

George W. Bush's vaunted National Security Advisor was his tutor during his "sobering up for politics years," readying her charge for the White House by teaching him to pronounce the names of countries he'd never been to, and to sound like he knew the history of this one well enough not to repeat the bad parts. She's the most powerful woman in the administration (since Karen Hughes fled for Texas). She's even got an oil tanker named after her.

These days, Rice has gone from head teacher to chief spinmeister. She's dispatched to the Sunday chat shows whenever there's a credibility dust-up. And when the going gets really tough, it's her job to find a way to blame Bill Clinton.

Lately, Rice has been displaying another quality: dispatch. She ruthlessly heaved CIA director George Tenet over the bow, apparently for not throwing his body between George W. Bush and those 16 words somebody put into his State of the Union address. Never mind that it was Tenet's CIA that the "Unknowable" Donald Rumsfeld cast aside for not being bullish enough on invading Iraq. Or that it was Tenet who insisted the Nigerian yellowcake references be deleted from an October speech given by the president (who apparently just reads whatever's in front of him.) Or that those 16 words included one - "nuclear" - that ratcheted up the supposed threat posed by Saddam Hussein about 100 notches in the psyches of many Americans.

Rice would have us believe the inclusion of the Africa line was a wee mistake, like pronouncing "nuclear" as "nucular" (maybe that's Bush's out ... he didn't say "nuclear" at all!) But it was deliberately added to a speech meant to sober Americans up for the urgent necessity of war. It was no throwaway line. Still, Rice is doing her best to make Tenet take the fall (or the British, or if that doesn't work, cue Bill Clinton). Now, she and Georgious Caesar have imperiously declared the matter "closed."

But if Rice is good at spinning for her former tutee, she isn't so hot at covering her own mistakes.

It was Rice, who declared after 9/11, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile." Turns out she had been briefed by her predecessor about precisely that threat from al-Qaida against key sites in the United States, and against the G8 summit in Genoa - which Bush attended, sleeping aboard a Navy carrier instead of a comfy Italian hotel - in July 2001. And a 1999 report by the National Intelligence Council warned that al-Qaida terrorists could crash an airplane full of explosives into the Pentagon.

Then there's the January, 2001 report by a national security commission chaired by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman. (It was the Hart-Rudman commission, tasked by Bill Clinton to come up with a 21st century security strategy for the U.S. - and not George W. Bush - that originally proposed creating a Department of Homeland Security. The Bush team shelved its recommendations before 9/11.) Hart pleaded with the Bush administration to take the al-Qaida threat seriously throughout the spring and summer of 2001, with Hart even meeting personally with Rice just one week before the Twin Towers were attacked.

It was Rice who, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, assured Americans that Bush hadn't gone into hiding in the early hours after 9/11, when then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani effectively became the nation's Commander-in-Chief. Condi claimed the president was routed away from Washington because of credible threats to Air Force One. That turned out to be a whopper.

It was Rice who responded to the attempted coup against duly elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by warning Chavez to learn from the lesson in Democracy. "The world is watching," Rice scolded the newly-restored leader, after which she was promptly scolded by news outlets the world over, for apparently not understanding how the democratic process works.

It was also Rice who last October contacted NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and CNN to "suggest" that they edit any audio or videotapes attributed to Osama bin Laden, apparently tossing freedom of the press to the same four winds reserved for Tenet and the CIA.

The job of the national security advisor is to synthesize all the intelligence data from the competing agencies and advise the president on security and foreign affairs. It was her job to police that State of the Union speech, not George Tenet's, and certainly not some low-level functionary in the vice president's office (who Rice would have us believe also sends ex-ambassadors on fact-finding junkets to Niger).

Something tells me the wrong bureaucrat is being tossed over the side.


Joy-Ann Reid's column appears in the Miami Herald. She can be reached at joyannreid@hotmail.com.

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