Condi’s Failures on Iraq and Terrorism

The Economist has a quite unflattering look at Condoleezza Rice while reviewing two books on her:

Ms Rice’s star, which rose so fast, has plunged back into obscurity, and the reason is easy for anyone reading this pair of biographies to see. As secretary of state, she has mostly failed in grappling with a web of problems that she herself helped to create when she was turning out to be a notably weak national security adviser. Mr Powell presciently said of Iraq, “If you break it, you own it.” That might serve as an epitaph for Ms Rice’s career at the top of American policymaking.

In reviewing a biography by Marcus Mabry they describe her relationship with George Bush.

Which makes it mysterious how she came to serve him so badly. The national security adviser is meant to co-ordinate foreign-policy making. Yet in that job Ms Rice seemed entirely unable to resolve the many disputes between Donald Rumsfeld at Defence and Mr Powell at State. Even without that failure, it would have been impossible not to allot her much of the blame for the mistakes in Iraq. If she realised America was sending too few troops and had rejected all post-war planning, she should have told the president: she had his ear, and access. If she did not realise, she should have done.

Mr Mabry dwells at length on Ms Rice’s inability to admit to error. This quality of impenitence also extends to her refusal to accept any blame for failing to anticipate the attacks of September 11th 2001. The book presents abundant evidence of the warnings repeatedly sent to her by the CIA (one of the agency’s untrumpeted successes) and of her failure to take them seriously. He notes that Ms Rice seems to have had a blind spot about the potency of terrorism in general.

This was Rice’s biggest failure of all. She not only ignored warnings about terrorism, but later lied about even receiving them ad I’ve discussed in previous posts. In a column in the Washington Post on March 22, 2004 she wrote, “No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration.”

Documents obtained from the National Security Archive  showed that these statements from Rice were untrue. The documents include a January 25, 2001, memo from counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and “Tab A December 2000 Paper: Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects,” These documents show that Rice had received both warnings about al Qaeda and plans for handling them from the Clinton administration but ignored the warnings.

The consequences of Condi’s failure was seen on September 11, 2001.

Obama to Limit Debates

Barack Obama’s campaign has announced a decision to turn down additional fall debates beyond the eight he’s already committed to. This might be a smart move. In the past I’ve argued against the idea of limiting the debates to candidates who are believed to have a real chance to win, feeling that long shots such as Ron Paul and Bill Richardson deserve this chance to be heard. That does not mean that every candidate benefits from attending these debates.

The conventional wisdom is that the debates benefit challengers but pose a risk to front runners as they place everyone on the same level as the front runner. This may sometimes be true but has not applied well in Obama’s situation. In this case, although not the front runner, Obama entered the campaign as a larger than life personality. The debates limit him to brief answers to questions which do not allow him to display the vision he has shown when able to speak at greater length. Rather than harming the front runner, the debates might be bringing Obama down to the level of the other candidates.

The dynamics of the debates also harm a candidate such as Obama who is trying to bring a chance to politics as usual. Frequently the other candidates from the Senate have ganged up on Obama to defend Hillary Clinton, who they see more as one of their own. There may also be an element of jealousy from people like Biden and Dodd who have spent years in the Senate and now see a newcomer outshining them. It also doesn’t help matters that Hillary Clinton has concentrated her attacks on creating false issues to attempt to give the impression that Obama is inexperienced, even when Obama turns out to be right.

There’s also the problem of debate fatigue. Eight debates this fall is more than enough. Once the fall television and football seasons begin the average voter is not going to follow even this number of debates. Obama may be far better off campaigning on the stump where he is more effective than allowing even more debates to interfere with such campaigning.

Update: My opinion of Hillary Clinton’s campaign has just fallen considerably after reading this response: “So he’ll meet with dictators but not the black caucus or seniors in Iowa?” If Clinton wishes to retain credibility she should retract this statement This only reinforces all the negative views people have of the Clintons.

Update II: A contact in the Clinton campaign tells me this morning that the response quoted above was not from the campaign. The original source at Swampland is vague in attributing this to “a source close to the Clinton campaign” but does not actually attribute it to the campaign.