Condoleezza Rice, a woman of unfailing intensity and focus, is one of the engines hauling along the war on terror. She was in the White House on Sept. 11 and, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, helped navigate the country during the president's absence. She subsequently guided the Afghan and Iraqi wars. Along the way, Rice endeared herself to Americans as a woman who worked her way up from humble Southern origins to become one of the most powerful women in America - and perhaps the world. If Bush is elected to a second term, there are whispers that she could supplant Colin Powell as secretary of state. Others are buzzing that she will run for governor of California in 2006. Surely that would be regarded as a stepping stone to the presidency. For this, her approval has always been assured.
Sixteen words uttered by Bush during his Jan. 28 State of the Union address have unkindly affixed themselves to Rice's reputation. During that speech, Bush cited British intelligence indicating Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa. The obvious implication being that Hussein was reconstructing his nuclear program. The accusation provided the first, clear rationale for preemptively attacking the Iraqi dictator.
Just one thing. The information was bogus. CIA chief George Tenet knew this. In fact, he sent a memo to Rice's chief deputy, Stephen Hadley, questioning the voracity of the British intelligence. Still, the accusation made it into the president's address, raising questions as to whether Rice ignored Tenet's warnings in order to bolster the case for war.
The scent of a full-blown scandal has been wafting around Rice ever since. As national security adviser, she's the president's primary adviser and confidante. It is ultimately her responsibility to make sure that the president is providing the American public with accurate security and foreign affairs information. This is particularly true of the State of the Union address that announced to the world that America intended to pursue a bold new policy of preemptive strikes against rogue and terrorist states.
Rice's failure to edit out questionable intelligence suggests incomplete and shoddy staff work at the highest levels of government. So much so, that the president communicated erroneous information to the public. That is alarming.