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For GOP, It's Rice to the Rescue on Bin Laden

May 6, 2011

As their massive mobilization in response to the killing of Osama Bin Laden shows, nobody circles the wagons like the Republican Party. And that goes double for Team Bush. Confronting President Obama's success where George W. Bush failed to deliver Bin Laden either dead or alive, torture architect John Yoo and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey quickly penned op-eds proclaiming "the waterboarding trail to Bin Laden." But with President Obama in the spotlight at Ground Zero on Thursday, Republicans turned to the kinder, gentler Condoleezza Rice to make the case that it was her boss who deserves the credit for "having taken the really tough decisions that put the infrastructure in place to do this."

As it turns out, Condi Rice is an odd choice to rewrite the history of George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden. After all, from her pathetic performance before the 9/11 Commission and myriad policy failures to her dissembling over Saddam's nonexistent WMD and mythical links to Al Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice is the embodiment of the Bush administration's deceptive cheerleading gone horribly wrong.
That cheerleading was on display Tuesday when the former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State explained to Fox News that President Obama could never match George W. Bush's "bullhorn speech" at Ground Zero:

"President Bush had at Ground Zero probably the most important moment maybe in American history."

But with President Obama in Lower Manhattan Thursday to honor 9/11 families and first responders, Condi Rice took to the airwaves to give credit where it wasn't due. On CNN, she insisted that President Bush didn't merely "put the infrastructure in place to do this," but that the Bush administration's regime of detainee torture was responsible for Bin Laden's death eight years later:

"We just sit and talk about the people and remember the day, actually, that Mike Hayden came in to say that they knew now about this courier and they were following the leads. He had a brother and it all kind of comes flooding back.

She told CNN's Anderson Cooper that the Bush administration learned about Bin Laden's courier in 2007 and then explained how:

"There's no doubt that the information that was gleaned from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al-Libi and others and contributed to this day and, so I know there was a lot of controversy around these issues but the controversy I would have been worried about is if people had said you didn't do everything you could do and President Bush at the time said, 'I want to do everything that I can that is within the law and is necessary.'"

Then in a combative interview with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, Rice regurgitated her old talking points for justifying the war in Iraq that diverted resources and attention from the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan:

"If one looks at what happened to us on September 11th, we didn't connect the dots, there was a threat materializing that we didn't respond to. Saddam Hussein had been a threat from the time that he invaded Iran in the late 1980s through 1991, when in fact he went into Kuwait, dragging us into war. We thought he had reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction. And in a context in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was a nexus that we could not allow, we decided that this was a threat that had to be dealt with."

Unlike the real threat to the United States, which from the earliest days of the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice and her boss blissfully ignored.
On August 6th, 2001, a vacationing President George W. Bush received the infamous Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) warning of Al Qaeda's intent to attack the U.S. homeland. His response to his CIA briefer?

"All right. You've covered your ass, now."

That would be the same PDB about which Condoleezza Rice was quizzed by the 9/11 Commission three years later:

BEN-VENISTE: Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?
RICE: I believe the title was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

On March 22, 2004, Rice took to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post to argue, "No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration." And in an argument she would later make repeatedly, Rice first introduced the Bush administration's soon-to-be ubiquitous "nobody could have predicted" defense on May 16, 2002:

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile. All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking."

As it turns out, then National Security Adviser Rice was misleading the American people on all counts.
While Rice claimed, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would...try to use an airplane as a missile," counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke had anticipated exactly that. More alarming still, the plan he presented to Rice in January 2001 only became the subject of a national security "principals meeting" in the days just before September 11. (Bush, you'll recall, spent the previous month at his Crawford, Texas ranch agonizing about his policy on stem cell research which his adviser Karen Hughes described at the time as "the most important decision of your presidency.") It's no wonder Sandy Berger told Rice during the transition that "I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject."
Berger, as events would show, was wrong. It was Iraq which starting in the immediate aftermath would dominate the Bush administration.
Condoleezza Rice didn't just peddle bogus intelligence claims about Iraq's "nuclear tubes." She became a primary propagator of the Republican myth that Saddam was tied to the 9/11 attacks.
In a major address on October 7, 2002, President Bush warned, "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us," adding, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." But it was Condi Rice who introduced that talking point a month earlier:

"We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought, maybe six months from a crude nuclear device.
The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't what the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

On April 22, 2003, Washington Post columnist and Fox News regular Charles Krauthammer created a now-abandoned credibility test for the Bush administration and WMD:

"Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We've had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we will have a credibility problem."

A credibility problem, indeed. Just not one George W. Bush, Condi Rice, Karl Rove or the others who warned of Saddam's WMD ever owned up to.
Sadly, Rice's mythmaking hardly ends there. She also played a central role in perpetuating the GOP's zombie myth about Saddam's ties to Osama Bin Laden.
Zombie, that is, because it will never die. As late as March 2009, former press secretary Ari Fleischer insisted:

"After September 11th having been hit once how could we take a chance that Saddam might strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed and I think we are all safer with that threat removed."

Pressed by Charlie Rose a week later, Rice played dumb about the Bush administration's past claims about 9/11 and Iraq:

ROSE: But you didn't believe it had anything to do with 9/11.
RICE: No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.
ROSE: No one.
RICE: I was certainly not. The President was certainly not. ... That's right. We were not arguing that.

Of course, that's precisely what Rice and the mouthpieces of the Bush administration were arguing. As ThinkProgress documented in March 2009:

In his book, Bush At War, Bob Woodward noted that Bush said after 9/11, "I believe Iraq was involved, but I'm not going to strike them now." Rice was no exception either. On Sept. 15, 2002, she said that Saddam had "links to terrorism [that] would include al-Qaeda." As late as September 2006, she remarked, "there were ties going on between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime going back for a decade." Cheney still believes there was a link between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Rice's pathetic talking points go on and on. In September 2006, Secretary Rice tried to defend the chaos and carnage in Iraq by drawing parallels to the American Civil War, a forerunner the "Bush as Lincoln" meme jointly manufactured by the White House and Fox News. As MSNBC recounted, Rice told the predominantly African-American readership of Essence magazine that the invasion of Iraq was "absolutely" worth the costs in blood and treasure:

Rice then offered a parallel between critics of the administration's Iraq policies and "people who thought it was a mistake to fight the Civil War (in this country) to its end and to insist that the emancipation of slaves would hold."
"I'm sure that there were people who said, "why don't we get out of this now, take a peace with the South, but leave the South with slaves."

In her defense, Condi Rice is not without her moments of candor. After the Bush administration's push for Palestinian elections which produced an overwhelming victory for Hamas, Secretary Rice admitted that, in essence, the Bush White House didn't know what it was doing:

"I've asked why nobody saw it coming," Ms. Rice said, speaking of her own staff. "It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."

While Condoleezza Rice rushed to the front lines of the Republican campaign to credit George W. Bush for the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, it's worth remembering that she once spoke the truth. As she acknowledged about the Iraq war in 2006:

"I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure. I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration."

On that point - and perhaps that point alone - Condoleezza Rice was telling the truth.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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