How is it that the worst National Security Advisor in U.S. history will be our next Secretary of State?
Condoleezza Rice, who will be named as Colin L. Powell’s replacement as early as today, has forged an extraordinarily close relationship with President Bush. But, paradoxically, many experts consider her one of the weakest national security advisers in recent history in terms of managing interagency conflicts.
“State Department officials dislike her intensely because they love Powell and believe her staff demeaned the State Department,” said one former State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he frequently interacts with Rice.
Despite her experience as Stanford’s provost, her managerial skills were often called into question when running the NSC. According to Bob Woodward’s book, “Plan of Attack,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage privately complained to Rice that the interagency process was dysfunctional.
Throughout the first term, policies on such critical issues as dealing with North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs have remained mired in disagreement, and officials said Rice never seemed to drive the process to a resolution. Officials on both sides of the administration’s debate over North Korea faulted Rice for failing to fashion a coherent approach to dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program.
The Sept. 11 commission report was particularly tough on Rice, portraying her as failing to act on repeated warnings in the first part of 2001 about the likelihood of a major terrorist attack on the United States.
For example, it noted that on Jan. 25, 2001, a few days after Bush took office, Richard A. Clarke, who had been held over from the previous administration as the counterterrorism coordinator for the NSC, wrote to Rice stating that “We urgently need . . . a Principals level review on the al Qaeda network.” The report noted that Rice did not respond directly to Clarke’s memo, and no such meeting of principals, or top officials, was held on terrorism until Sept. 4, 2001, although they met frequently on other issues, such as the Middle East peace process, Russia and the Persian Gulf.
The report also detailed several more specific warnings from Clarke to Rice in the spring and summer of 2001:
On March 23, he told Rice that he thought terrorists might attack the White House with a truck bomb and also that “he thought there were terrorist cells within the United States, including al Qaeda.” On May 29, Clarke wrote to Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, about possible assaults by a Palestinian associate of al Qaeda, adding that, “When these attacks occur, as they likely will, we will wonder what more we could have done to stop them.” On June 25, Clarke informed Rice and Hadley that “six separate intelligence reports showed al Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack,” the report said. Three days later, he added that the pattern of al Qaeda activity indicating preparations for an attack “had reached a crescendo.” On June 30, a briefing was given to top officials titled, “Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks.”
The spike in reported al Qaeda activity ended in July, but senior intelligence analysts continued to be deeply concerned, the report noted, causing them to include in the Aug. 6 “President’s Daily Brief” an article titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.”