Condoleezza’s Condescensions


Watching our national security advisor deposed before the 9-11 commission, you had to be awed by this superwoman. What should one admire the most? Was it the confidence with which she expatiated on simple questions where a yes or no answer would have sufficed? Or the coolness with which she kept shrugging off responsibility? With her it was always the CSG, FBI or CIA’s job. One was reminded of the many-armed goddesses of Hindu mythology, only in Convolute-a case, the hands seemed to have an sure knack of pointing in all directions except her own.

At one point, she couldn’t help playing the race card. She pointed out, though not out entirely of context, that the founding fathers, when they said, “We the People”, certainly didn’t mean people like her. Certainly, the color of the skin should not be the basis of discrimination. Its thickness is another matter entirely. Any national security advisor with a shred of shame would have quit first thing September 12, 2001. As Richard Reeves wrote in the Washington Post, if 9-11 had happened in Japan, there would be no one left in the government to turn out the lights.

This, however, is America. Our rulers live by different standards. When Bob Kerrey asked about using the ‘M’ (Mistake) word, or when Tim Roemer asked about why no one had resigned, Conscienceless-a Rice did not appear embarrassed in the least.

Where Richard Clarke’s testimony seemed factual, Confoundaleeza Rice’s seemed to be flush with management jargon, the air thick with words like structural, tactical, strategic (with no apparent accretion to lucidity — see what I mean?). The peformance would be familiar to most people in the white collar industry, where words are an aid to hiding incompetence as much as to reveal it, and where obfuscation is the first rule of management. Dilbert may now boast of a new character — Condilberta Rice.

But the blame falls elsewhere too. What kind of a deal is it, where a paid offical (a servant of the people?) cannot spare more than a half-day to appear before a commission to answer for a national calamity on her watch? Can anyone explain why the questions had to be limited to 10 minutes each? And this for a person incharge of coordinating the the entire nation’s security? And for the commission to forfeit all follow up (sworn, public) testimony, either from her or from others on the President’s staff who may have vital information?

The commissioners seemed so overwhelmed that Rice had agreed to appear before them (Condescend-a?) that they seemed to be treading on eggshells. She seemed to sense this, and kept ignoring Ben Veniste, Kerrey and Roemer’s pleas for brevity; instead of sticking to the point, she kept wasting their time with philosophical digressions, which they were utterly powerless to check.

Bipartisanship is all very well, but it should not interfere with the commission’s main purpose. I was shocked when Lee Hamilton, after the testimony, was gushing about her performance. For the record, could he not say that he wished she had answered simple questions simply, thereby allowing the facts to come out more clearly?

The four heroines of the 9-11 commission, the ladies responsible for its very existence, were on the Chris Mathews Show shortly after, and asked a few simple questions which the Commission, in its flustered state, did not. One of them said. “Ashcroft stopped flying. Pentagon officials stop flying the day before September 11. They were warned not fly on September 11. We think San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was told not to fly.” Another wondered “…why the national security advisor did not know that planes could be used as missiles. That’s her job.” Such simplicity eludes those in high places.

However, Truth, like water, has a way of finding its course. In a strange manifestation of the trickle-down theory so beloved of this administration, some facts percolated despite all this. And they are indisputable. Today they were summarized by the spontaneous applause which greeted Ben Veniste’s “Did you tell the President?”. Once again, the twin questions of yesteryear, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” have arrived at the forefront.

So the testimony, for all its apparent snow job, may yet turn out to be a Contretemps-a-Rice.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His writings can be found on He can be reached at


/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at