News & Politics

Don't Write Condoleezza's Epitaph Yet

Rice isn't likely to be the sacrificial lamb for the administration's alleged 9/11 failures, at least not yet.
When former Bush counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke publicly swore before a national television audience that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was practically to blame for the lack of preparedness before the Sept. 11 terror attack, some pundits predicted Rice will exit the White House after, or perhaps even before, the start of a potential Bush second term.

But no one should write Rice's epitaph just yet.

Rice deserves to be on the hot seat, if, as Clarke claims, she ignored intelligence warnings of a possible terrorist attack. Her excuse that publicly testifying before the 9/11 commission violates executive privilege is flimsy; national security advisors have on several occasions in the past testified before congressional commissions.

Some see Condi, as Bush affectionately calls her, as the weak link in Bush's chain of command. Her expertise is on the Soviet Union and its military relations with East European satellite countries, not on how to assess and fight terrorism. By the time she took the reins as Bush's security advisor, the Soviet Union was out of business, and many Eastern European countries either had been reconfigured or had become U.S. allies. There were long stretches during the intense debates over Bush's Iraq war policy, the terrorism war, foreign policy and security matters, when Rice sunk from public view. During those times, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and even Vice President Dick Cheney became familiar fixtures on talk shows explaining Bush policy. This led some Bush watchers to ask, "Where's Condi?"

The answer is, still on the Bush team. Rice isn't likely to be the sacrificial lamb for the administration's alleged 9/11 failures, at least not yet. Clark's book aside, what is gleaned most from the spate of recent tell-all accounts of the inner workings of the Bush White House is that Rice's role is not to make policy but to follow Bush policy directives. As a close personal family friend and political ally of Bush Sr. and now Bush, she has always been the consummate team player. She takes orders, follows directions and does not stray one inch from the Bush administration script.

Bush officials, in fact, have quickly circled the wagons around her. In a furious counter-attack, they branded Clarke a book-peddling opportunist and barely mentioned Rice at all. Republican congressional leaders also gently let Rice off the hook by attacking Clarke solely.

Rice has dual political value for Bush. Her appointment as security advisor, a first for a black and a woman, appears to confirm Bush's oft-repeated boast made during the 2000 presidential campaign, and largely dropped since, that diversity would be the new watchword in the Republican Party. Though polls taken after Bush gave her and Colin Powell cabinet appointments found that black hostility to Bush remained intense, many blacks, Jesse Jackson included, still publicly expressed admiration for both Rice and Powell. When Clarke attacked Rice, many blacks privately grumbled that Rice might become the scapegoat for alleged Bush intelligence failings.

But Rice's conservative views on social and domestic issues are generally in line with Bush's, and that plays well with conservative voters that Bush needs to beat presumed Democratic presidential rival John Kerry. That was glaringly evident on the hot button issues of reparations and affirmative action. When Bush refused too allow the United States to participate in the U.N. World Racism Conference in Durban in 2001, ostensibly because of its anti-Israel tilt and backing of reparations for slavery, Rice denounced reparations and claimed the conference had been "hijacked."

When Bush backed the white students in their lawsuit against the University of Michigan's affirmative action program last year, Powell openly criticized Bush, but Rice praised him. During Rice's tenure as provost at Stanford University during the 1990s, student groups claimed that she attempted to gut affirmative action and women's programs and oppose increased minority hiring at the school. Rice denied that charge, but her reflexive backing of Bush in the University of Michigan case indicated that in a heated battle on a contentious racial issue, she is loathe to break ranks with her boss.

During her long association with Bush as a family friend and political confidant, Rice has loyally and aggressively defended Bush against all enemies. Her refusal to publicly testify before the 9/11 commission is the latest proof of that abiding loyalty. Don't write her off just yet.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson (ehutchi344@aol.com) is a political analyst and author of "The Crisis in Black and Black."