Admiration for Condoleezza Rice

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(Host) Commentator Libby Sternberg thought that Condoleezza Rice’s testimony before the September 11th Commission was both impressive and authoritative.

(Sternberg) In his book Against All Enemies, counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke writes, “As I briefed (National Security Adviser Condoleezza) Rice on Al Quaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before.”

When I mentioned the Clarke comment to a powerful woman I know who has years of experience in foreign policy issues, her reaction was precisely the same as mine. What arrogance, and yes, possibly
chauvinism, to assume – based on a woman’s facial expression – that she is clueless. And “clueless” is one word I’d never use to describe Condoleezza Rice.

When she went before the September 11 Commission, you could say that Rice’s facial expressions were for the most part composed, but her testimony revealed a deep well of knowledge.

For three hours, she withstood sometimes hostile questioning, presenting a clear vision of her approach, and that of the Bush administration to the tangled problems presented by terrorists and the states that harbor them. Unlike Clarke, she didn’t play to the gallery with melodramatic apologies for things she couldn’t control. And she resisted the urge to point the finger of blame at the Clinton Administration who, after all, commanded the ship of state for eight years before the horror of 9/11 – instead of the eight months that she and Team Bush were in charge. In fact, when she mentioned Clinton Administration briefings that focused on “other priorities” – such as North Korea, the Middle East, and the Balkans – she also pointed out how this was only natural because one “doesn’t have the luxury of dealing only with one problem at a time.”

She also offered a thoughtful explanation of why communication wasn’t better between the CIA and FBI. She said, “…the unfortunate…fact is that sometimes until there is a catastrophic event that forces people to think differently, that forces people to overcome old customs and old cultures and old fears…you don’t get the kind of change” that would have stopped a 9/11.

I’d say, given the uproar over The Patriot Act and other Homeland Security issues, that we are still struggling with that kind of change.

Her explanations and answers didn’t satisfy everyone, of course. But that’s to be expected, even if this weren’t an election year when Bush opponents are eager at least to insinuate that he could have prevented the attacks of 9/11.

In fact, was quick to use Clarke’s words in an ad playing widely on television as the commission’s work progressed.

Politics aside, Condoleezza Rice certainly demonstrated her considerable depth, which is probably why a Gallup poll taken the evening after her testimony showed that 43 percent of respondents were more likely to believe her – as compared to 36 percent who thought Richard Clarke was the more credible.

This is Libby Sternberg in Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is an author and freelance writer who’s active in education issues. She spoke from our studio in Manchester.

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