A Cautious Man
January 26, 2005
 
Rice Whine
Dr. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed as Secretary of State by the Senate today. There was some opposition - and the usual suspects have latched onto the fact that ol' Senator Robert Byrd was in that opposition, in order to imply that racism was involved.

That's obviously nonsense.

I don't think it's so outrageous for some Senators to have a concern about Dr. Rice, who was in the middle of the Administration's efforts to convince the Senate, and the country, of their now-discredited claims about Iraqi WMDs and ties to Al Qaeda. As just one example, we have her activities in the fall of 2002, when the push was on for passage of the resolution which the President later used in order to launch the war:
In an interview with PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Rice said the U.S. government clearly knows "that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time."

"We know too that several of the detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development," Rice said.

"So, yes, there are contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. We know that Saddam Hussein has a long history with terrorism in general. And there are some al Qaeda personnel who found refuge in Baghdad," she said. "There clearly are contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq that can be documented."

At the same time, she cautioned that "no one is trying to make an argument at this point that Saddam Hussein somehow had operational control of what happened on September 11th, so we don't want to push this too far."

Rice added: "This is a story that is unfolding, and it is getting clear, and we're learning more. ... When the picture is clear, we'll make full disclosure about it."
Seriously, did that little "no one is trying to make an argument at this point" disclaimer really detract from her clear intent, and the Administration's intent, to imply a connection between Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden, a connection in order to justify invasion as the way to deal with Hussein?

The dissenting Senators may also have been concerned about how forthright the new Secretary of State will be in hearings. Look for example at Dr. Rice's performance during the hearings of the 9-11 Commission. She was questioned about the contents of a Presidential Daily Briefing, or "PDB", of August 6, 2001:
The fact is that this August 6th PDB was in response to the president's questions about whether or not something might happen or something might be planned by al Qaeda inside the United States. He asked because all of the threat reporting or the threat reporting that was actionable was about the threats abroad, not about the United States.

This particular PDB had a long section on what bin Laden had wanted to do -- speculative, much of it -- in '97, '98; that he had, in fact, liked the results of the 1993 bombing.

It had a number of discussions of -- it had a discussion of whether or not they might use hijacking to try and free a prisoner who was being held in the United States -- Ressam. It reported that the FBI had full field investigations under way.

And we checked on the issue of whether or not there was something going on with surveillance of buildings, and we were told, I believe, that the issue was the courthouse in which this might take place.

Commissioner, this was not a warning. This was a historic memo -- historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew about the inside.
(Emphasis added) Now, at the time she was testifying, she knew that her interlocutor had seen the PDB, but could not reveal its contents because it was still classified. She therefor knew that she could say anything she wanted about it, and he could not contradict her in public. However, the public eventually did see the unclassified version of the PDB, and it seems more like a warning, not a "historic document":
Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin since 1997' has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Ladin implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."

After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, Bin Ladin told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a [deleted text] service. An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an [deleted text] service at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.

~snip~

Although Bin Ladin has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Ladin associates surveilled our Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.

Al-Qa'ida members — including some who are US citizens — have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two al-Qa'ida members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our Embassies in East Africa were US citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a Bin Ladin cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [deleted text] service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar' Abd aI-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
(Emphasis added) Dr. Rice managed to avoid being called to account for her lack of candor with the 9-11 Commission, during her confirmation hearings. Nevertheless, I don't think a charge of "racism" is appropriate, where some senators had good reason to express misgivings about promoting Dr. Rice to Secretary of State.

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