Rice’s Testimony and the PDB

by on April 14th, 2004

My column for this week in the Independent Florida Alligator discusses Dr. Condoleeza Rice’s testimony from last Thursday and the controversy surrounding the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB):

Last Thursday’s 9/11 commission hearing proved both the brilliance of Dr. Condoleeza Rice and the hypocrisy of the Democrats.

After weeks of demanding her public presence and sworn testimony, the hostility and rudeness certain commissioners showed Dr. Rice was astounding. Rice started college at fifteen and later became Stanford’s youngest ever provost. Having once considered becoming a concert pianist, she has played with the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, at his request. She has read Tolstoy’s War and Peace twice… in Russian. In short, she has approximately as much brainpower resting on her shoulders as the whole political witch-hunt of a commission combined. Still, certain commissioners tried to bully her around, as if they were cross-examining a hostile witness.

Obviously in search more of sound-bytes than the truth, Commissioner Ben-Veniste repeatedly attempted to clip Dr. Rice to one-word answers. After loudly demanding that she testify under oath, the commission seemed determined to prevent her from telling the “whole truth” as they had so recently requested and as she swore to do at their insistence.

As a sitting National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice testified at the discretion of the president. After the way she was treated, every future president should be more wary about allowing his advisors to testify. Fortunately, Dr. Rice is sharp enough to hold her own against a few grandstanding politicians.

The other product of Thursday’s hearing was the demand for declassification of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, although the commission already had access to the document.

The now-released PDB was the result of a presidential request for a briefing on Bin Laden’s capabilities and intentions. Anyone who has taken the time to read it should realize nothing in it could conceivably have prevented the attacks of September 11.

The mostly-historical briefing recaps terrorist activity in the U.S. and announces unsurprisingly that Bin Laden wanted to “bring the fighting to America.” The only current threats it discusses – a possible hijacking plot to secure the release of U.S.-held extremists, suspected terrorist surveillance of federal buildings and a possible plan involving explosives – don’t apply to what actually happened. What, one must wonder, could the President have done given that intelligence?

In criticizing President Bush for not acting to prevent the attacks of September 11, Democrats complain that, even though there was no specific intelligence or imminent threat, the president should have done something anyway.

Amazingly, in criticizing President Bush for liberating Iraq, these same critics charge that the President should not have taken action because Iraq did not pose an “imminent” threat. How can this non sequitur be explained? Either these critics have not learned anything from 9/11 or (more likely) it is simply politically-driven hypocrisy.

These critics are just half-way there to learning the primary lesson of 9/11: a reactive approach to terrorism is not effective. This nation must meet terrorists on their own turf and defeat them before they get the opportunity to pose an imminent threat. It’s a good thing the Bush administration has learned that lesson.

Hunter Williams