The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, July 27, 2003  

Tough Questions for Condoleezza Rice

It’s good to see the Washington Post is still working on the Yellowcake-gate story, turf on which the new and supposedly improved editors of the New York Times obviously fear to tread.

Today Post reporters Dana Milbank and Mike Allen raise difficult questions for the Bush administration official I think has been given an altogether too easy ride: White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (“Iraq Flap Shakes Rice’s Image,” July 27, p. A1).

Milbank and Allen write:

Just weeks ago, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, made a trip to the Middle East that was widely seen as advancing the peace process. There was speculation that she would be a likely choice for secretary of state, and hopes among Republicans that she could become governor of California and even, someday, president.

But she has since become enmeshed in the controversy over the administration’s use of intelligence about Iraq’s weapons in the run-up to war. She has been made to appear out of the loop by colleagues’ claims that she did not read or recall vital pieces of intelligence. And she has made statements about U.S. intelligence on Iraq that have been contradicted by facts that later emerged.

The remarks by Rice and her associates raise two uncomfortable possibilities for the national security adviser. Either she missed or overlooked numerous warnings from intelligence agencies seeking to put caveats on claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, or she made public claims that she knew to be false. [Emphasis added.]

So is she incompetent or a liar?

Brookings Institution scholar Michael E. O’Hanlon, quoted in the article, doesn’t use either term, but he makes a valid point that at least hints toward incompetence: “If Condi didn’t know the exact state of [intelligence] on Saddam’s nuclear programs . . . she wasn’t doing her job. This was foreign policy priority number one for the administration last summer, so the claim that someone else should have done her homework for her is unconvincing.”

Worse, it appears that, contrary to earlier reports of Rice reading, but not completing, the infamous National Intelligence Act -- Rice, we were told, has people who read footnotes for her -- she may not have read it at all. Milbank and Allen report:

In the White House briefing room on July 18, a senior administration official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Rice did not read October’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, the definitive prewar assessment of Iraq’s weapons programs by U.S. intelligence agencies. “We have experts who work for the national security adviser who would know this information,” the official said when asked if Rice had read the NIE.

On the apparently spotty thoroughness of Rice’s work, the reporters also quote Rice’s deputy, and up to now at least, designated fall guy, Stephen Hadley: “I can’t tell you she read it. I can’t tell you she received it.” But, they add, catching yet another deception, “Rice herself used the allegation in a January op-ed article,” so she must have seen something about it somewhere. Or perhaps she has people who write op-eds for her, probably the more plausible explanation and one we could hear any moment now.

Rep Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who has performed a valuable role in raising the questions the Bush administration doesn’t want to hear, is going with incompetent: “If the national security adviser didn’t understand the repeated State Department and CIA warnings about the uranium allegation, that’s a frightening level of incompetence. . . . It’s even more serious if she knew and ignored the intelligence warnings and has deliberately misled our nation. . . . In any case it’s hard to see why the president or the public will have confidence in her office.”

Meanwhile, the blame game continues. Milbank and Allen write:

When the controversy intensified earlier this month with a White House admission of error, Rice was the first administration official to place responsibility on CIA Director Tenet for the inclusion in Bush’s State of the Union address of the Africa uranium charge. The White House now concedes that pinning responsibility on Tenet was a costly mistake.

A costly mistake and a dishonest one. After all, George Tenet is starting to look like the only honest person in this whole mess.

The Post also makes clear Rice was either lying or completely clueless when she claimed the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) did not object to competing assessments of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The NIE, the one she may or may not have read in its entirety, or at all, spelled that out in no uncertain terms.

And the reporters catch her in a lie, or at the very least in a mistake, offered while trying to cover herself after the fact: Rice at one point confusing, or trying to obfuscate, or just plain ignoring, a crucial difference between the State of the Union address and the President’s October speech in Cincinnati.

There’s a least a hint in the Post that Rice’s standing in the eyes of President George W. Bush has diminished: “[A] person close to Rice said that she has been dismayed by the effect on Bush. ‘She knows she did badly by him, and he knows that she knows it,’ this person said.” (Translation: His revenge is in watching her squirm.)

But the Post article adds cover on this point: “Bush aides have made clear that Rice’s stature is undiminished in the president’s eyes. The fault is one of a process in which speech vetting was not systematic enough, they said.”

So the White House is going with the “collective incompetence” route. That sounds about right.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |