As a public service, I’ll be keeping a running diary of CondiTV (Condi Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission).
To warm up for the festivities, I just read Bob Kerrey’s piece in the WSJ. He says that there will be nothing partisan about today’s hearings and that Kean and Hamilton will come together and issue a joint finding. But Kerrey’s an outlier – he’s a Democrat who favors the Iraq war and thinks Dick Clarke is wrong to oppose that action. Will his attitude prevail or will the more partisan Ben-Veniste and Gorelick have the dominant voices?
A PR guy is on Fox saying that Condi has to show how much she cares and how badly she feels for the victims’ families. Are we at war or should we just have a giant therapy session?
Fox is calling today’s proceedings “Rice on the Record.” Pretty spiffy alliteration, no? They also just said that she’s going to give a 20 minute opening statement. I’ll admit it – I’ve been at it for four minutes and I’m already losing interest in this idea.
The hearings are hereby convened! Tom Kean is shaky – really doesn’t seem like a guy in charge. Lehman, Hamilton and Kerrey all look like more natural leaders. Kean bids Condi a cordial welcome. Hamilton gets to give the Democratic greeting. He lets us know how important it is to shed some light on the previously obscure event of 9/11. “Our purpose is to understand and inform.” Back in the day, Hamilton was a Scoop Jackson Democrat. I bet he wouldn’t have minded shutting down Sadr’s newspaper like his party’s current standard bearer did.
Condi’s opening statement begins. She’s reading an interminable list of terrorist atrocities dating back to 1983. “The terrorists were at war with us but we were not yet at war with them.” God, is there anything new to say about this subject? Is there any purpose to these hearings beyond a search for a scapegoat?
Condi’s composed and effective. She’s actually giving a very nice history lesson. I always have trouble with Condi regarding the toughness issue; is she tough enough for her job in today’s world? An answer to that question - that’s what I’m looking for today.
She’s talking about her briefing with Sandy Berger. She has yet to use the term “pompous windbag.”
One thing’s clear – the Bush administration internally had a lot of meetings with a lot of people. She’s subtly making it clear that it couldn’t all be about Dick Clarke and his concerns, although she’s yet to say anything negative about Clarke. Yet.
Bush was tired of “swatting flies.” Where are the sensitivity police? Isn’t that imagery dehumanizing? If we view our foes as flies, do we not deny their basic humanity? Where’s the outrage? If I were still at Harvard, I’d think about erecting a shanty-town to protest!
Condi: Within a month of taking office, Bush sent a strong private message to Musharaf urging him to take action to dismantle the Taliban. It didn’t work; the al Qaeda policy didn’t work because the Taliban policy didn’t work because the Pakistan policy didn’t work.
She’s laying this out clearly enough that Tom Brokaw will be able to follow it. Maybe.
Rice is tacitly saying that the Bush administration's stronger message which came post 9/11 and relied on military menace, was a lot more effective.
Fox just flashed that Rice’s father was a Presbyterian minister. Good to know. It now just flashed that Rice was tutored by Madeline Albright’s father. Drop that nugget at your next dinner party, dazzle your guests with your erudition!
She’s reading an actual terrorist related memo from Summer 2001. Richard Ben Veniste is frowning.
The market is surging. Is it Condi or is it Yahoo? Probably Yahoo.
About once every two minutes, Rice’s voice crackles. For those of you who think she should run for national office, you might want to bear that in mind.
Whenever I see a hearing like this, I can’t help but think of the Congressional hearing scene in Godfather II. It’d be pretty cool if at some point Condi said, “Senator, ‘Godfather’ is a term of great honor and respect for my people.”
Condi: “The governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now pursue terrorists with energy and force.” Sure. Those energetic Saudis. Good thing they’re on our side.
Rice is much better at answering questions than giving speeches.
Kean: Where in the early days after 9/11 did the U.S. place Iraq? Good question; this is the heart of the matter. Should we have continued to use law enforcement to deal with terrorists only after they had accomplished their mission or should we have rolled up the global network? This is the big chance for Condi to lay it out. She isn’t though. She’s saying that right after 9/11 it was all about Afghanistan and protecting the homeland. I don’t know why the administration won’t make this argument. Admittedly we’re not all brilliant like Sandy Berger, but we can follow it.
Hamilton steps up to the plate. Compliments Condi for her opening statement. He wants to know if we were showing a proper sense of urgency vis a vis terrorism prior to 9/11. He’s also hammering the Clinton administration. He’s even citing the now famous quote form the Bush in the Woodward book about how he (Bush) lacked the adequate sense of urgency prior to 9/11.
Condi’s response: Finally, she’s putting the Woodward quote in context. No one in the media’s done that to date. I don’t want to sound gushy here, but gosh, she’s effective. This is what the Democrats wanted?
Condi is very nicely underscoring the fact that the Clinton policies regarding that part of the world were completely ineffective and that of course it was going to take a little time to determine and implement effective policies. She’s also being incredibly gracious to Dick Clarke, saying how they implemented several of his allegedly brilliant ideas.
She’s talking about the fight to reform the Middle East as a generational challenge. She’s saying that there are beach-heads of progress like Jordan and Bahrain so we have something to build on. “We do better when we’re values centered.” She’s also touting the need for educational reform in that part of the world. No madras left behind? Hamilton nods sagely and compassionately.
Ben-Veniste now. I’m not a big Ben-Veniste fan. During the Clinton administration, he stood out as a particularly venomous partisan hack. He’s trying to bully her in a prosecutorial fashion. He wants to know if she told the President prior to 8/6/2001 that there were Al Qaeda cells in the U.S.
Condi points out the obvious. The issue wasn’t that there were such cells in the U.S. The issue is what we could have or should have done about their presence.
Ben-Veniste’s conduct is appalling; he’s conducting himself like a prosecutor, demanding yes or no answers. Rice wisely refuses to comply. Who was the Republican schmuck that allowed this clown on the commission? Ben-Veniste says, “There was a pattern of suspicious activity suggesting hijackings might occur.” Maybe Ben-Veniste is saying we should have used racial profiling to screen passengers at our airports. Probably not.
Ben-Veniste’s time is almost up. If I can just endure one more of his question/speech/rant hybrids, I’ll have made it through this ordeal. Anyone neutral watching today’s hearings will be appalled by Ben-Veniste’s conduct. Why doesn’t he just say, “It was all your fault. UBL was an accessory, but it’s like you flew those planes into those buildings yourself,” and cut through the BS. That would show where his black heart lies.
Fred Fielding’s (who?) turn. Shouldn’t you have to have at least a modicum of fame to appear on one of these commissions?
Rice is talking about the Clinton administration like it was a disorganized mess run by a bunch of juvenile partisans. Who will buy such an outlandish claim?
Condi: “You get few chances to make institutional transformative change.” So true – 9/11 provided us with the opportunity to change things before a truly epic disaster occurs. Amazingly, before 9/11, certain government agencies weren’t allowed to share information. Shouldn’t all the government agencies theoretically be on the same side? Does anyone other than a dues paying member of the ACLU think the non-information sharing policies made any sense?
The intimation from the commission is that the “chatter” and the “traffic” from the summer of 2001 should have caused the government to put the country in lockdown. Maybe it should have, but that course of action wasn’t an option. You can’t change the way a society functions unless the members of that society want it and will allow it. Our society wouldn’t even allow racial profiling at the airports. Even today, there’s a significant portion of our society that thinks if the government knows what books you borrow from the library, then “1984” will have arrived.
It’s the hypocrisy of guys like Ben-Veniste that drives me nuts. He acts like we should have done more, but he and his fellow travelers don’t have the will to do much of anything. All they’re good for is Monday morning quarterbacking.
When’s Kerrey get his turn? Kerrey and Lehman – they’re the ones worth staying tuned for.
Condi’s making the obvious point that we broke up the Millennium plot because we were lucky. Hardly a prescription for future successes. Yet some of the Democracts act like that success should create the paradigm for any further fight against terrorism. So typically intellectually lazy. Take one isolated incident and act like it’s dispositive.
Oyyy. Gorelick’s turn. I better go take my Prilosec.
Gorelick: “I ask you this question as a student of government myself.” Such modesty, such class.
Go Condi!. “We were there for 233 days…we did not begin structural reform of the FBI.” But she also intimates, what about the Clinton administration? They didn’t do squat.
Gorelick, like Ben-Veniste, is also grandstanding for the increasingly annoying 9/11 families. In regards to shaking up the agencies in a timely manner prior to 9/11, Rice says, “Sometimes until there is a catastrophic event that forces people to think differently…you don’t get that kind of change.” Such an obvious statement of a fact of life – why can some people just not get it? Of course, they do get it. But that fact of life shouldn’t stand in the way of a tacky attempt to score partisan political points.
I’ll say this for Gorelick – she’s coming across much better than Ben-Veniste. It’s like the Rodney Dangerfield movie “Back to School.” In order to come across as thin, the overweight Rodney tried to surround himself with really fat people. Coming on the heels of Ben-Veniste, Gorelick comes across as incisive and likable. I bet the other commissioners fight for the honor to come after Ben-Veniste.
Slade Gordon is really boring. He’s asking about the balance between the three ways of preventing terrorism – the hardening of targets, prevention (not sure how that’s different from hardening of targets), and pre-emption. But he’s left out the most important one – deterrence. Why do people not realize that terrorists can be deterred? Terrorists act like they want to be impoverished martyrs, but Arafat, for example, has salted away over a billion dollars. They have goals and they want to achieve those goals; getting killed isn’t one of them. How is Hamas’ promised retribution for the Yassin killing coming anyway?
Kerrey’s turn – finally! He starts by patronizing Condi, telling her how inspiring he finds her life story. Ech! He’s prophylactically apologizing for being an asshole in his forthcoming examination. Kerrey declares war against “radical Islam!” He just shouted at the annoying 9/11 families for applauding (over a critique of our methods in Iraq) and cut them off! Such a cutting off was way overdue.
Kerrey takes exception with the terminology of “swatting at flies.” I was just kidding! Unlike me, Kerrey’s not upset about the dehumanizing terminology though. Kerrey’s upset that we didn’t swat enough flies. Can’t argue with that. “Why didn’t we swat (the Cole) fly?”
It’s getting a little contentious. Kerrey continues with his righteous indignation thing. I wonder how much of it is genuine and how much is feigned. He keeps calling Condi “Dr. Clarke.”
Condi tells us there were no silver bullets for systemic problems. Too bad. Kerrey’s furious that the FBI and the CIA don’t talk. Isn’t that something that the much vilified Patriot Act fixed? He’s called Condi "Dr. Clarke" at least 3 times.
Rice just called Kerrey on repeatedly calling her “Dr. Clarke.” “I know I look like Dick Clarke.” Even the annoying 9/11 families got a hoot out of that one.
Lehman’s turn. Kerrey’s ten minutes were great – a really spirited give and take between two powerful figures.
Lehman’s running through a list of government screw-ups that helped allow 9/11. Boy, there’s lots of blame to go around. Did you know that many municipalities had a “sanctuary” program whereby they refused to co-operate with the INS in terms of dealing with illegals, including illegal Arab nationals? It was just a few teeny cities like New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, etc.
According to Lehman, to this day, the FAA fines an airline if they question more than 2 Arab nationals or descendants for an individual flight. Wow! Are we idiots or what?
Condi: “The country, like democracies do, waited and waited and waited.” Go back through history – try to find an exception to that statement. Have we learned our lesson? As we approach an era of more widely available weapons of mass destruction, that that can no longer be the S.O.P.
Roemer’s turn. He’s suggesting that there were screw-ups and thus, shouldn’t have someone been fired? Aaah, the heart of the Commission’s quest – give us an Admiral Kimmell and we’ll call it a day.
Roemer’s big point – we should have had more meetings!!! Roemer misses the point – the facts were there, they were just poorly analyzed. There was that one FBI agent in MN who got it – no one else in government did.
It’s obvious that the Democrats began the day with the hope that Condi would be their Admiral Kimmell. Ain’t gonna happen. Condi’s coming across as very capable and a lot more on top of things than any of her adversarial interlocutors.
Roemer’s asking his question having doffed his suit-jacket. What does he think this is, a barbecue? He’s the only commissioner who’s made such a sartorially casual statement. Maybe he’s trying to tap into the Howard Dean thing; if so, he should go all the way and roll up the sleeves.
Governor Thomspon is the final questioner. After the adversarial fireworks produced by Kerrey and Roemer, his line of questioning is pretty dull.
Thompson queries: “The Cole – why didn’t the Bush administration respond to the Cole?” One good reason would be that it happened under the Clinton administration. Admittedly, Bush could have sent in a few Texas Rangers.
Thompson’s teasing us, saying that he’s about to mention the one word that hasn’t been mentioned today. The suspense is killing me. It’s “Congress!” I was hoping it was “strategery.”
Condi: “The real lesson of 9/11 is that the country was not properly structured to deal with the threats.” Are we today? We’re better structured but are we adequately structured? Who can make us better structured, Bush or Kerry?
These are the issues to ponder as we go forward.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at email@example.com
James Frederick Dwight