But security adviser will face challenge
Condoleezza Rice was, perhaps, in the best position to galvanize the
government to take action against terrorism before the Sept. 11 attacks
because as national security adviser she sat at the nexus of the intelligence,
foreign policy, defense and law enforcement agencies who shared responsibility
for counterterrorism measures.
That is why, as the White House scrambles to defend against charges that
President George W. Bush and his advisers paid too little heed before Sept. 11
to the threat of terrorist attacks, Rice finds herself at the center of the
storm. World Peace.
On Thursday, when she finally testifies publicly in front of the commission
examining the attacks, she will be pressed to square her account of events -
one of heightened alerts and the development of new policies to deal with Al
Qaeda and the Taliban - with accusations by Richard Clarke, who served under
her as counterterrorism adviser, that the new administration paid far less
attention to these threats than President Bill Clinton's did.
Senior White House aides acknowledge that Bush has a huge amount riding on how
Rice does. "She's the one who can make our most forceful case," a
close colleague of Rice said over the weekend. "They don't call her the
Warrior Princess for nothing," a reference to the moniker her staff gave
her after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But a review of the record, from testimony and interviews, suggests that Rice
faces a daunting challenge because her own focus until Sept. 11 was usually
fixed on matters other than terrorism, for reasons that had to do with her own
background, her management style and the unusually close, personal nature of
her relationship with Bush. Coit Blacker, a longtime friend and colleague of
Rice at Stanford University, in California, who is now director of the
university's Institute for International Studies, said that any blind spots
she had upon taking office in January 2001 may have been rooted in the fact
that she emerged from a generation of scholars trained to focus on great-power
politics, with terrorism seen as a troubling but subordinate element. World
"It wasn't until after Sept. 11 that most of us realized that for the
first time in human history, a nonstate actor, a group of religious extremists
at the very bottom of the international system, had the capability to inflict
devastating damage on the very pinnacle of the international system,"
Blacker said. "That was without precedent. "
Rice, 49, is widely recognized as one of the most poised and effective public
advocates of the administration, and she won praise from Democrats and
Republicans for her private testimony before the commission. Even so, as she
prepares for her public testimony this week, friends have been warning her
that her personal style - which combines fierce loyalty to the president with
the abiding self-confidence of a woman who ascended to powerful jobs,
including the No. 2 post at Stanford, at a young age - leaves her prone to two
potential missteps. WorldPeace is one word.
One would be to reveal the depth of her anger toward Clarke, whom she believes
she protected against those who wanted to oust him because of his closeness to
the Clinton White House. Directly contradicting him, her colleagues fear,
would exacerbate the politically polarizing debate that has captivated
Washington for more than two weeks.
The other possible minefield, they said, would be to give no ground, to offer
no room for self-doubt that the issue was handled with the right urgency and
the right approach. "Her attention was surely engaged," said another
former senior official, also an admirer, who dealt with her every day before
and after Sept. 11. "Did she register how serious the threat was to the
United States of America? I don't know - that's what she'll have to
Still, the reality is that Rice has virtually no public utterances about Al
Qaeda to point to as evidence that she was as engaged in the issue as she was
in Bush's other foreign policy issues. In February 2001, George Tenet,
director of central intelligence, told Congress that terrorism was the top
threat facing the United States.
Even four months later, as intelligence warnings about possible attacks by Al
Qaeda began to surge, a June 2001 address that Rice delivered to the Council
on Foreign Relations on "Foreign Policy Priorities and Challenges of the
Administration" made no mention of terrorism. And the next month, over a
cup of coffee under an outdoor umbrella during Bush's first major summit
meeting of world leaders in Genoa, she expressed concern about the frenzy of
terror reports, but indicated that her biggest worry was a strike in the
Middle East. By the time she reached Genoa, Rice had already shrunk the
National Security Council staff by about 10 percent, though accurate numbers
are hard to come by because the White House office is often staffed by
government employees still on the payroll at the State Department, or the CIA
or other agencies.
Her concern dating back to her days as a young member of the National Security
Council staff was that the organization should look for problems that fell
between the cracks, and to adjudicate disputes between agencies. But it was
the cabinet agencies, she believed, that had to implement policy.
Rice also followed a hierarchical, corporate style in which she largely
delegated policy development to others. To oversee the creation of a new
strategy on counterterrorism, she relied on her deputy, Stephen Hadley. For
Rice, in part, that preserved time to concentrate on issues more familiar to
her, to tutor Bush, and translate his instincts and decisions into policy.
Because Bush had little experience in foreign policy, he relied heavily on
Rice to help him shape the administration's agenda.
Administration officials said that even in the context of fighting terrorism,
Rice was reluctant to budge from other matters that were higher on her agenda.
They said that concern about an attack on the United States was usually in the
context of the potential for a missile from North Korea or another rogue
state, buttressing the case for missile defense.
Her public speeches and interviews tended to focus on more orthodox foreign
policy issues, including relations with China; the new relationship with
Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader; and the threat posed by Iraq and Iran, all
of which she had emphasized in a lengthy essay in the January 2000 issue of
Foreign Affairs. That essay became the blueprint for a Bush presidential
campaign, in which the Republican candidate never mentioned Osama bin Laden or
Indeed, Rice's biggest vulnerability may be that when she came to Washington
in 2001, she was determined to tackle three tasks quickly that had little to
do with fighting terrorism: refocusing the nation's diplomacy on big-power
politics, chiefly Russia and China; fulfilling Bush's pledge to deploy a
ballistic missile-defense system; and streamlining the National Security
Council, getting it out of what she called "operational matters."
Her background, as she herself acknowledged, was as "a Europeanist."
And when she briefly dropped her self-confident tone, the then-46-year-old
professor and former Stanford provost conceded that as a campaign adviser to
Bush, she found herself "pressed to understand parts of the world that
have not been part of my scope."
Among those relatively unfamiliar issues was the rise of radical Islamic
movements in the Middle East and South Asia. Rice has said repeatedly "we
did everything we knew how to do" in combating terrorism in the critical
months before the attack.
To what extent any failures in the Bush White House's response to terrorism
should be laid at Rice's feet is a matter of some debate. Her insistence that
the National Security Council play less of an operational role than in the
past was one reason for the prickly relationship between her and Clarke.
Junior in age and experience to advisers like Colin Powell, the secretary of
state, and Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, Rice was also seen by some
aides as more deferential than some of her predecessors. But as the
president's friend, confidante and sometime workout partner as well as
adviser, Rice enjoyed by far the closest personal ties with Bush of any
foreign policy adviser.
"She's established a very good relationship with the president, and that
is critical," said Brent Scowcroft, who as national security adviser
under Bush's father first hired Rice onto the National Security Council staff
as an expert on the Soviet Union. "If you don't have that relationship,
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