Published on Friday, April 29, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Condoleezza Rice Has a History of Covering for the Bush Administration's Failures
by Joy-Ann Reid
|Condoleezza Rice is not known as an ideologue. Instead, she has built her career and reputation on loyalty, and in particular, on carefully ploughing the intellectual and political minefields for George W. Bush.
When she was Bush's national security advisor during his first term, Rice sometimes seemed adrift in her role as coordinator of national intelligence and sifter of threats to the United States. Her infamous failure to grasp the urgency of a Presidential Daily Brief entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States" became the leading highlight -- or lowlight -- of her confirmation hearings for the position she was promoted to in Bush's second term; Secretary of State. Her slipperiness in not taking her share of responsibility for the president's 2003 State of the Union speech, in which he misstated intelligence on Iraq's supposed attempts to procure enriched uranium from Niger (a debacle that led to the leaking of a CIA agent's name and which could yet send two reporters to prison), established her, on the chat show circuit and in the minds of many political watchers, as Bush's most effective spin-meister -- and as her own.
Now, Rice is facing her most daunting challenge: reigning in a State Department which the neoconservative hawks inside the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, and their intellectual backers consider to be Arabist outliers, disdainful of the president's foreign policy and insubordinate in its implementation. Under their old boss, Collin Powell, the "regime change" doubters and "spread of democracy" scoffers could find sympathetic ears, including Powell's and those of his chief deputy, Richard Armitage. And despite the insertion of blustery ideologues like the former undersecretary in charge of arms control, John Bolton, into their midst, State once served as a weak but ever-present brake on the wilder ambitions of neocons like Wolfowitz, Feith and Cambone at Defense. Now, the house of diplomats is headed by Rice, a woman whose sole ideological passion appears to be protecting the president, including from his administration's failures.
Admittedly, sales and protection are now distinctly in Rice's job description. And as chief salesperson for American foreign policy, she has towed the line brilliantly, securing almost universally glowing press coverage for her whirlwind charm offensive tour of Europe earlier this year, and barely a mussed headline since. In Russia a week ago, she managed to chide Vladimir Putin on developing an independent press, free from government pressure, without a hint of irony. And while she has succeeded in doing little beyond changing the atmospherics of America's battered image abroad, few would argue that Rice has not proved to be a skilled pitch-woman.
Back at home, she has weighed in to back Bolton's nomination to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- offering support but not so much support that the White House couldn't back away from Bolton at any time. And she has done so despite a side-swipe from the man who once held her job -- Collin Powell -- who reportedly has weighed in with some thoughts of his own on Bolton's fitness for the job.
But Rice's most daring attempt at covering for Mr. Bush comes with the release of a State Department report on global terrorism. The annual report, which will be released to Congress this week, has been carefully scrubbed of anything that might illustrate that in fact, terrorism around the world, and particularly in Iraq, has skyrocketed in the two years since the fall of Baghdad. In fact, the U.S. government estimates that the number of terrorist incidents has tripled worldwide, from a record 175 in 2003 to approximately 655 last year, according to a report in the Washington Post. In Iraq, the number of terrorist incidents ballooned from 22 to 198 -- nine times the 2003 total. Attacks have also spiraled on the West Bank and Gaza, inside Israel, in Afghanistan, Russia, Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union, with the overall death toll exceeding 1,000, not including U.S. military personnel. We know this not because the agency charged with reporting these figures to Congress -- namely Ms. Rice's State Department -- has told us so, but because the information was leaked to the Post by congressional aides.
That it was leaks which brought these numbers to light speaks volumes about the Bush administration, which, since the 2001 terror attacks in Washington and New York, has taken information management to levels that would make Richard Nixon blush. That the agency headed by Ms. Rice is doing the covering up, is, sadly, not surprising at all.
The Post reported that critics of the move believe the State Department was breaking with tradition in sanitizing the required annual report, in an effort "to shield the government from questions about the success of its effort to combat terrorism by eliminating what amounted to the only year-to-year benchmark of progress."
That notion has a familiar ring. Last year, the Department under Mr. Powell had to retract the same annual report after it was revealed that its terrorism count was artificially low. That it was an election year was lost on no one. Powell was forced to apologize.
This year, Mr. Bush is no longer running for office. But Ms. Rice remains in protective mode, and the terrorism data shield is far from the only example. This week, Rice is also attempting to buck up American policy in Latin America, where a leftist revolution has seemed to follow in Mr. Bush's wake. (According to the BBC, more than half of South America's population is ruled by leftist leaders, elected over the last six years, and relations with countries like Venezuela -- which supplies the United States with about 15 percent of its oil supply -- are deteriorating fast.) In Colombia on Wednesday, Rice defended the Bush administration's $3 billion counter-narcotics and insurgency program, which government statistics show has failed to shrink that country's 281,000 acres of coca production. Rice, during a press conference, dutifully focused on the positive, telling reporters, "I don't think it is time to abandon a strategy that is both diminishing the crop here and a strategy that is restoring the democratic security of Colombia."
That, after all, is part of her job. As Bush's chief representative abroad, Rice is expected to put a positive spin on administration policies. And Rice's personal loyalty to the president makes a public airing of the failures of his initiatives highly unlikely.
Still, on the issue of terrorism, which goes to the heart of the personal security of every American, the Congress of the United States -- not to mention the American people -- deserve greater candor, particularly from a secretary of state and an administration so given to lecturing other countries about openness and democracy. As California Rep. Henry Waxman told Rice in a letter urging the State Department to fully release the terrorism data, "the large increases in terrorist attacks reported in 2004 may undermine administration claims of success in the war on terror, but political inconvenience has never been a legitimate basis for withholding facts from the American people."
Joy-Ann Reid's columns have appeared in the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Salon.com and other publications. Her website and blog can be found at http://reidreport.com.