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Iraq Invasion Proponent Condoleezza Rice To Testify At Senate Confirmation Hearing

StoryJanuary 18, 2005
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National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today for the start of her confirmation hearing as Secretary of State. Rice is a close confidante of President Bush and was one of the chief backers of the invasion of Iraq. We speak with radio host Laura Flanders, author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species. [includes rush transcript]

National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today for the start of her confirmation hearing as Secretary of State.

Rice is a close confidante of President Bush and was one of the chief backers of the invasion of Iraq. In the months leading up to the war, she was one of the leading administration officials who warned Iraq was harboring stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. announced it ended the search for WMDs last week.

Rice said Iraq tried to buy thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes that were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs” and said U.S. intelligence suggested that Iraqis had helped al Qaeda to develop chemical weapons.

In September 2002, Rice warned about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear threat by saying “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

In the early years of her career, Rice taught at Stanford and later rose to become the University’s provost. She later worked with national security adviser Brent Scowcroft under President George HW Bush. When his son, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush declared his candidacy for the 2000 presidential race, Rice was one of his most trusted advisers and served as one of the 10 members on his hand-picked Presidential Exploratory Committee.

President Bush wants Rice to be sworn in by Inauguration Day. If so, she would become the fist female African-American Secretary of State. Rice’s position on race has frequently come under criticism in the past. In January 2003, a report in The Washington Post credited Rice with helping to shape the administration’s decision to challenge the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Michigan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest today is Laura Flanders. She wrote the book, Bush Women: Tales of a Cynical Species and focuses on Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Laura.

LAURA FLANDERS: Great to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you expect from these hearings?

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, I don’t expect much, frankly. I mean, in a real world, the world that cared about human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, a world that cared about the fact that there are no weapons of mass destruction, there is no freedom, there is no democracy in Iraq, Condoleezza Rice would be being fired along with those CBS producers. Instead, she’s moving on up, and I suspect, she will be given a pretty easy ride today and be able to continue her job as kind of the president’s prop as he pursues his goals and Donald Rumsfeld’s goals around the world. The timing is fantastic for her. And I think we will see a parade into the Senate hearing room today of her supporters, and much made of her family background in Birmingham, Alabama, and the victory that it is for civil rights in the United States, that she is becoming the first African American Secretary of State. Sure, there’s something to be said for that, but I really think that this is a woman who deserves very strict grilling, very stiff questioning on her record up to now, which is a record of, as far as I can say, either dismal failure or utter mendacity lying to the American people and the world. That’s what she deserves. I don’t think it’s what she’s going to get.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Laura Flanders. When we come back, we’ll explore some very strong allegations here of mendacity, what Condoleezza Rice’s role, what she said in the 9/11 hearing, what she said about nuclear weapons, about weapons of mass destruction, with Laura Flanders.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who is going before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, confirmation hearings as Secretary of State. Our guest is Laura Flanders, a radio talk show host on Air America, also author of Bush Women: Tales of a Cynical Species. Let’s go back to the 9/11 Commission hearings, when one of the Commission members, Richard Ben-Veniste, was questioning Condoleezza Rice.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: You acknowledged to us in your interview of February 7, 2004, that Richard Clarke told you that al Qaeda cells were in the United States. Did you tell the President at any time prior to August 6 of the existence of al Qaeda cells in the United States?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: First, let me just make certain —

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: If you could just answer that question, because —


RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: I only have a very limited —

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but it’s important that I also address —

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the President?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It’s also important, Commissioner, that I address the other issues that you have raised. So I will do it quickly, but if you’ll just give me a moment.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Well, my only question to you is whether you told the President.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but I will — If you will just give me a moment, I will address fully the questions that you have asked. First of all, yes. The August 6 p.d.b. was in response to questions of the President. In that sense, he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al Qaeda operations. Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum, I remember it as being only a line or two, that there were al Qaeda cells in the United States. Now, the question is what did we need to do about that, and I also understood that that was what the F.B.I. was doing, that the F.B.I. was pursuing these al Qaeda cells. I believe in the August 6 memorandum, it says that there were 70 full field investigations underway of these cells. So, there was no recommendation that we do something about this. The F.B.I. was pursuing it. I really don’t remember, Commissioner, whether I discussed this with the President.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I remember very well that the President was aware that there were issues inside the United States. He talked to people about this, but I don’t remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Isn’t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 p.d.b. warned against possible attacks in this country, and I ask you whether you recall the title of that p.d.b.?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I believe the title was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Condoleezza Rice being questioned by one of the 9/11 Commission members, Richard Ben-Veniste. Laura Flanders.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, she obviously has a faulty memory. I mean, she thinks she was given a line or two by Richard Clarke. He has a very different opinion of what happened there. She doesn’t remember being told that al Qaeda was anything she had to do anything about. She would have to have been told that? As far as we know, the Clinton administration outgoing, as they left, that was their number one issue in their incoming briefings of her and her team. So on her memory alone, she should not be sent to any higher office let alone Secretary of State. I mean, I think what we’re going to see in the hearings today is Condoleezza Rice defend her right or assert her right not to talk about her counsel to George W. Bush, either with regard to that August p.d.b. or about the Gonzales memo, which Sy Hersh mentioned earlier on. It’s true. In January 2002, she was one of those who gave the President advice on what to make of the dispute then between Alberto Gonzales and most of the military chiefs, including Colin Powell, about whether the al Qaeda and Taliban detainees should be extended Geneva Convention protections. We want to know where she stood on that. The New York Times suggests that she sided with Gonzales and with Bush and against Colin Powell, but we would be well served to find out what was the truth and have her asked that. I suspect she’ll say that’s going into, you know, personal privilege with the President; I won’t talk about it. In which case, we need the Senators to ask her about policy going forward. What does she — where is she in regard to the Geneva Convention and international law more broadly? This is somebody, who you go back into her history, before she ever served in this Bush administration, when she was at Stanford and when she was writing for Foreign Affairs magazine before the election campaign of 2000, she wrote that the United States has an individual interest, that every nation has an individual interest to advance its own goals, that there is no such thing as a community of nations with shared interests, which I think is a very important thing to realize about her mindset as she goes off to be our emissary to the world. Here is somebody who doesn’t believe that nations should work together to advance shared goals, but rather that each individual nation should pursue their individual goals, and that the U.S. has a right to use really whatever means they want to achieve theirs. That’s a very, very frightening prospect for a Secretary of State. The world should know it, if that’s where she stands, and get prepared.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote in your book, Bush Women, the big thing about Rice is that she was doggedly, disastrously wrong on the most important development to take place on her watch in her policy area. But you weren’t talking about her policy views on Iraq, but on the Soviet Union, 15 years ago.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, I mean, we are going to hear endlessly this morning how brilliant Condoleezza Rice is, and while I’m no expert to scrutinize her writing on the Czech army in the late 1970s, the first book that she had out, I have read very damning reviews even of that. With respect to, yeah, her expertise about the Soviet Union, here she was the top Soviet expert in 1989, did not see the collapse of the Soviet Union coming. I mean, there have been so many more failures since then, one hardly knows where to start, but looking forward, we need to understand that this is a woman — it’s interesting that The New York Times, for example, yesterday is having — laying out the suggestion that because Condoleezza Rice is so close to George W. Bush, she will be able to challenge him more. Unlike Colin Powell, they wrote yesterday, Todd Purdum, she may be able to tussle with him better. I see no evidence that she disagrees with him in his policies in any major way. And I think that this is once again trying to maintain the illusion that there is diversity — to use the word — there is diversity of opinion inside the cabinet. There isn’t. George Bush is surrounded by yes-men, whatever their race, whatever their gender, I’m afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: The Los Angeles Times had an interesting piece this weekend called, “Not Always Diplomatic in Her First Major Post, Condoleezza Rice About to Become Secretary of State was a Divisive Figure at Stanford.” The L.A. Times writes, “The biggest controversy of Rice’s tenure involved the treatment of women and minorities. Stanford had a history of complaints regarding alleged bias. Many considered Rice’s appointment an effort to address those concerns in dramatic fashion. 'It would be disingenuous for me to say that the fact that she was a woman, the fact that she was Black and the fact she was young weren't in my mind.’ Casper told The New Yorker in 2002. 'They were.' Some who believed Rice would emerge as a champion of Blacks and women were disappointed. And it says Rice drew protest and prompted a student hunger strike when she fired the university’s highest ranking Latino administrator, acting when the campaign was cleared for spring break. The Stanford Daily stated at the time a drive-by firing. She further alienated minority students by unsuccessfully seeking to consolidate the university’s ethnic community centers in a single building. The most serious complaints alleged Rice and other Stanford administrators thwarted the advancement of women and minorities.

LAURA FLANDERS: Yeah, Casper was the university president at the time, brought her in as his budget cutter. They were facing severe cuts, and here she was. What did she cut? She cut the minority programs. She did everything she could to stymie legal cases brought by women against Stanford on the basis of discrimination. Reminds me of what Lawrence Summers said at the top of the hour, you reported on his record hiring women and people of color in mathematics and science faculties. Stanford has a terrible record, had a terrible record then, went to arbitration actually on these cases. She was brought in to cut back the budget, to implement these budget cuts, and he was right, when he admitted that her race and her gender had something to do with it. I spoke to people involved in that situation then and they said, she did things and said things that no white man would ever have gotten away with. And I think that that’s been true of her career. Interestingly at the time, she talked about affirmative action, so as to say, well, I believe in affirmative action in hiring, but not in promotion, which portrays an utter ignorance again of how the affirmative action mandates work. They’re supposed to be implemented both in gathering information and in hiring and in promotion. So, again, she is given credit for knowing about things that she doesn’t know anything about, and the things that she’s supposed to know so much about, there are some really large questions about what she knows, and what she hides.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Washington Post crediting Dr. Rice with helping to shape the administration’s decision to challenge the University of Michigan affirmative action?

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, there it’s a little bit complicated. I think that in fact they did a sort of two-step role in regard to Michigan. George Bush went very public, saying that he opposed affirmative action in every way. She more privately said, no, actually, we do believe there’s a role for the consideration of race in admissions. What I think they were doing was trying to speak to two constituencies at once. The hard right who want to do away with affirmative action and the sort of moderate center who don’t want to be seen to have those views. So, she helps them put several faces to the world. I think the most important thing for us to realize going forth with her as Secretary of State is that she is somebody who believes in unilateralism. I mean, again, to go back to the top of the program, this is the day after the day we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday, and she will talk, I’m sure, about her history in Birmingham, and how she was eight years old when the girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church were killed, and she knew two of them. She saw white supremacy up close, and she will talk about that, I’m sure, today. What won’t be discussed, I’m afraid, is the role the U.S. is playing now as a global supremacist power, that assumes one set of rights for itself and one set of rights for every other nation in the world. Condoleezza Rice has believed that the U.S. and U.S. corporations — and let’s not forget her ten years at Chevron — had every right to take what that he wanted in the way of resources, in the way of corporate reach around the world at whatever the cost to the people in those countries. We’re seeing now in Iraq, an Iraq that was promised it would be brought freedom, an Iraq that was promised it would be brought democracy, nothing resembling either. What Robert Fisk said, fear on every front. Condoleezza Rice is responsible for that. She needs to be held to account for that. The world needs to realize, I think, that if there was any dissent inside the administration with Colin Powell, even the pretense of that is now gone. This is somebody who, as far as we know, has nothing but disdain for international law and has written that she doesn’t believe in a community of nations. That’s a very frightening thought.

AMY GOODMAN: Her allegation pushing forward very early on, the idea of the mushroom cloud, and then the insertion in the speech of the State of the Union address, that Saddam Hussein was about to get nuclear weapons. Her involvement, her aides’ involvement who will be replacing her as National Security Adviser.

LAURA FLANDERS: Yeah, I mean, she was there both parroting what the President had to say, giving him lines. She did, she said it to CNN in September of 2002, we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. Just days later, the President used that very same word, others were using it, too. She also talked about we must bring democracy to Baghdad. I think that she actually said, we must bring democracy to Baghdad as we brought democracy to Birmingham. And what we have seen now in the Washington Post is reports that indeed, Iraq has become a training ground, a breeding ground for more insurgency, more terrorism, more resistance. She was put on the top — she was put to head the Iraq stabilization group in October of 2003. You asked about her involvement. George Bush considered her a very key player in crafting and coordinating Iraq policy, such that in October of 2003, when things were already not going really well, she was put at the top of this group that was supposed to coordinate reconstruction, democracy building, media, and security. Well, that stabilization group has been nothing but unstable as far as we can see. Seven months after it was founded, all but one of its members was gone on — had gone on to work in other capacities. She has again failed over and over again. But is she central? I think absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: And her relationship with the Bush team, with Cheney, with Rumsfeld, with Wolfowitz.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, that’s another interesting point. Sy Hersh was talking about how important Rumsfeld and Cheney are in this administration. She has been working with them since the first Bush administration. And as I write in my book, she entered this administration to rejoin Dick Cheney, after the first Bush service where she and Dick Cheney were on opposing sides of what to do about the Soviet Union. He supported regime change. He supported the breakup of the Soviet Union. She supported much longer than he did maintaining relations with Gorbachev, maintaining the Soviet Union as a single entity. In the eyes of the neo-cons — Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz — she was wrong, he was right. She came in to the first Bush administration with that history, which in my mind — I don’t know the inner workings of the administration — she must have come in wounded and weak. And they know every time they talk about how brilliant she is, they know that she knows that they know that she was wrong in 1989, in 1990. She left the first Bush administration under a cloud, so who has power in that negotiation between Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice? I don’t think it’s Rice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Laura, for being with us. Laura Flanders is author of Bush Women: Tales of a Cynical Species. She is the host of radio programs on the weekend on Air America. Thanks for being with us.

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