Today Dr. Condoleeza Rice testified before the 9/11 commission. The hearing confirmed that United States intelligence, answering to the executive branch under two presidents, underestimated and misassessed the terrorist threat, being thus caught completely off guard by the terrorist incident in September 2001. Ms. Rice spent a great deal of time trying to run a campaign ad for the Bush administration, to the detriment of the process.
Ms. Rice acknowledged the fact that five weeks before the attack, the White House was provided with a position paper entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States". It appears relatively clear now that the government knew that Bin Laden's terrorist cells operated in the United States well before the September 11 tragedy.
I think that there is blame enough to go around on the response to terrorism prior to 9/11/01. I do not join in those who pillory only the Bush administration for the wrongs that happened in the years leading up to 9/11. I am not particularly impressed that Mr. Clarke issued a book to earn royalties at the same time that he went on a publicity campaign about Bush administration shortcomings.
At the same time Dr. Rice's testimony shows the stark difference between appearing on a television talk show and appearing before a hearing involving cross-examination under oath. Dr. Rice clearly should have spent less time on the talk circuit making bold pronouncements, and more time realistically assessing what it means to get a document entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States" in August 2001. Sometimes, when cross examination is permitted, the spin doctors must yield in the face of reality. Dr. Rice, as did Mr. Clarke, should have apologized for the failure to take Bin Laden's threat seriously. It's clear that more should have been done, even if it is not clear that a specific failure by either the Clinton or Bush administration should have detected the 9/11 plot.
The effort to deal with terrorists requires massive expenditure of time and resources on homeland security. It involves drastically improved intelligence, and it will involve some confrontations in foreign lands. I shudder when I think of how this country could have spent, let's say, 8 billion dollars on bolstering the public health system and 8 billion dollars on hunting down Al Queada members, rather than the 85+ billion dollars we spent in Iraq. My only hope is that the people of Iraq somehow get a more free country when we leave than Saddam Hussein operated.
The most amusing thing about Dr. Rice's testimony is that it reminded me starkly of the worst "depends on the meaning of 'is'" excesses of Mr. Clinton's time in office. Mr. Clinton, of course, was speaking evasively with relation to a mistress. The current issue is a bit more stark than that.
I draw the conclusion from today that Dr. Rice is a bright woman who is very articulate, that the Bush administration spin on events fails to meet the facts, that both parties were relatively sleeping until the wake-up call of 9/11, and that a lot of documents need to be de-classified, and a lot of witnesses need to be called to testify.