Cold Warrior Encased in Amber
Condoleeza Rice has been particularly adamant on how everything Richard Clarke says is wrong. The Bush administration was too focused on terrorism. They did everything the Clinton administration did on terrorism. And as I heard Karen Hughes tell Terri Gross last night, Bush even wanted to go further than Clinton and asked his people to "stop swatting flies" and come up with a real solution. With so much historical revisionism, it's sometimes hard to keep up with the story.
But there are a couple of articles grounded in the days before Clarke's revelations that indicate Condi Rice was truly blind to the international terrorist threat. As a true believer in the hardline cold warrior theories (Russia, the evil empire was simply replaced with newer, equally intransigent states), she really was incapable of seeing or believing that stateless terrorism was a real problem. The Washington Post reports that Condi was going to deliver a speech on September 11, 2001 on the real threats to America which in her eyes required a muscular missile defense program. So much for understanding the real threat from terrorism before 9/11.
After 9/11, there are indications that Condi still believed rogue states, not stateless terrorists were the essential problem. In December 2002, Evan Thomas profiled Condi in Newsweek and he reported:
But Rice without question plays a critical, if largely hidden, role in the overall direction of the president's foreign policy. Bush is "instinctive," Rice often tells interviewers; her job is to translate his "good strategic instincts" into an "intellectual framework," usually in the form of major presidential speeches, particularly those on Iraq. This is probably a subtle, at times almost unspoken process, a matter of a nudge here and there, a phrase inserted into a speech that may seem minor at the time but that can nonetheless have deep long-term consequences.
...Bush's moral impulses were easier to channel after 9-11. Rice was one of Bush's advisers who instantly saw that the war on terror was global. "The initial knee-jerk reaction after 9-11 was to go after Al Qaeda," Powell told NEWSWEEK. He credits her with focusing as well on states that sponsor terrorism. Bush's description of an "Axis of Evil" caused a sensation in the press when Bush uttered the phrase in the State of the Union address this January, but in fact Rice had been privately talking to Bush about going after all rogue nations harboring WMD within a week of 9-11.
No wonder Condi didn't think that it was important to listen to Clarke. In her eyes he was completely off-base on what were the important national security threats.