Once, at a dinner party, Condoleezza Rice mistakenly referred to George W. Bush as her husband. A strange slip, indeed. Their worldviews were finely attuned to each other, and Bush viewed her advice as rock-solid, even more so than Cheney's.
As National Security Advisor, Rice was charged with keeping all of the principals in line and filtering their priorities before sounding them to Bush. She knew how to say the words Bush wanted to hear. However, she was unwilling or unable to repair the schism between the Defense and State departments. Even in the best of times the relationship is cool, but with Rumsfeld and Powell respectively in charge, there was alarming antipathy.
A pattern emerges with the top three major players that surrounded Bush throughout his presidency. Rice, Rumsfeld, and Cheney all had windows when they could have pursued the highest office in the land. All three declined the opportunity. Their loyalties to Bush trumped the usual egomaniacal pursuits of high-profile politicians. On the surface this seems ideal. Conversely, Bush's perceptions of his infallible instincts would sometimes veer off course, and Rice rarely, if ever, steered him back on track. Rather, she would enable and protect some very questionable strategies.
It was Josef Korbel, the father of Madeline Albright, that set Rice on the fateful course that sent her to the pinnacle of American political power. Her Soviet studies with Korbel led to her advising George H.W. Bush during the heady days of the dissolution of the U.S.S.R and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her performance during this time led Bush to proclaim to Gorbachev that she "taught me all I know about the Soviet Union." Rice herself has commented that a "black girl from Birmingham, Alabama has no business being a Russianist." She is surely in exclusive company having read War and Peace. In Russian. Twice.
Rice was a competitive figure skater, is an accomplished pianist, and could be a future NFL commissioner. She is a groundbreaking figure in American history. Her academic career as provost of Stanford University (to which she has returned) and her roles as presidential confidante and Secretary of State have gained her the recognition of being one of the most powerful women in the world. Not bad for someone whose humble beginnings included being a target of Jim Crow.
Rice caught a lot of flak over the Bush administration's initial refusal to allow her to testify before the 9/11 Commission. Bush did not want to set a precedent of advisors to the president being called to testify. This would lead to less than forthcoming advice, which seems like something that was already happening with Rice and Bush.
She eventually did testify. When a noteworthy Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) from August 6, 2001 was revealed to have been titled "Bin Laden determined to strike U.S.," Rice performed embarassing verbal gymnastics to claim that the PDB contained "historical" information. Rice actually had the nerve to say "The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says Bin Laden would like to attack the United States."
RIce was accused of using Cheney-esque scare tactics when she uttered her famous comment to Wolf Blitzer regarding Iraqi WMD's: "We do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." She verbally ok'd the use of waterboarding on prisoners to CIA chief George Tenet as early as 2002 and has defended that action by repeatedly saying that the U.S. does not, did not, and will stop using torture. She also justified the harsh interrogations of prisoners by using the mantra: "We have to be right 100% of the time. The terrorists only have to be right once." It is a good point.
Rice is publicly confidant about her role in charting a course for this country that is pregnant with potential consequences, many of them deadly. She sees her record as National Security Advisor as one that sprang forth "birth pangs of a new Middle East." Time will tell.
Coming up next: Condoleezza Rice, Part II: Secretary of State
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