With the deceitful Richard Clarke fading into nothingness (unless you count book sales to Bush haters), the anti-Bush forces are now pushing the story of how Condoleezza Rice was set to give a speech, on 9-11 itself, that confirmed that anti-terrorism was not the administration’s top focus. Here is the Washington Post’s version, called “Top focus before 9/11 wasn’t on terrorism; Rice speech cited missile defense.” Post reporter Robin Wright acknowledges that the text specifically mentioned the threat of terrorism (“we need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb, and the vial of sarin released in the subway”). However, according to former administration officials who say they have seen the full text (the Washington Post hasn’t), the speech never mentioned al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups (Rice must have been thinking about animal rights protesters or moderate Islamic terrorists). Nor, presumably, did Rice’s text mention airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. But where is the high-level Clinton administration speech that mentions even suitcase bombs and vials of sarin?
This latest attempt to discredit Rice and Bush is based on the fallacy that because the administration was pushing hard for missile defense it must not have been taking terrorism seriously enough. It’s a similar fallacy to the one that assumes that the war in Iraq is hurting our anti-terrorism efforts. But at least the latter argument can be defended in theory by pointing to the war’s use of military resources and its unpopularity among some of our allies. There can be no argument that an emphasis on missile defense meant a lack of emphasis on fighting terrorism. Indeed, by the time Rice was to give her speech, the administration had hammered out a new anti-terrorism policy that was to increase our efforts to combat al Qaeda.
Moreover, the stepped-up effort against al Qaeda didn’t need to be the subject of a major foreign policy address. It was something the administration could just do on its own, behind closed doors. Not so with missile defense. The Post story stresses that missile defense is “controversial’ (Bush the “divider” strikes again). But it fails to acknowledge the relevance of that fact to its story — missile defense was something the administration needed to promote publicly; anti-terrorism was not.
Perhaps I’m being too Pollyannaish, but I can’t help thinking that the public will soon lose patience with the kind of carping — did Rice mention al Qaeda in this or that speech; what did her face look like when someone else mentioned al Qaeda — exhibited in these types of stories. The Democrats and their friends may be over-lawyering this one.
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