The Main Event

The Washington press corps and political establishment are all atwitter about this week’s appearance by Condoleezza Rice before the 9-11 commission. The early spin is that Rice has a one-time-only chance to save the president from damning assertions made before the same commission recently by former presidential aide Richard Clarke.

That’s nonsense, of course. The hearing will come and go, and so will the excitement surrounding it. Nevertheless, the hype reminds me of an adage: In Washington, the urgent overwhelms the important. Even though the Rice testimony has the potential for high drama, the appearance is a made-for-TV deal, which means that most people will see several hours of testimony boiled down to a couple of snappy (or not snappy) sound bites. We’ll have outraged commissioners posturing before the cameras and, if I know Dr. Rice as well as I think I do (we worked together in the first Bush White House), she’ll try to maintain her cool without giving in. Only later, perhaps much later, will journalists and scholars take the time to pour over the actual testimony, assess the available evidence, try to get the behind-the-scenes story, and so on.

The hearing could produce one of four outcomes: Rice could 1) confess to grotesque malfeasance before September 11th and thus doom the Bush presidency; 2) shred Clarke’s testimony and thus destroy his 15 minutes of fame; 3) lose her cool under harsh questioning; or 4) leave the panelists agog with her bravura testimony. This much is sure: The event won’t match the advance publicity. Furthermore, the Rice narrative will not bring back those who died on September 11, 2001, and it won’t advance materially the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That’s the key point: Dr. Rice’s appearance is a commission-ordered amusement, an indulgence, a waste of time. Worse, the commission plans to release its “report” just before Democrats gather for their national convention. It is hard to take the enterprise seriously given these facts.

The only thing one can hope is that Rice will shed more light than heat, and that the inquiry quickly will fade from memory, so the political classes – and the rest of us, for that matter – may devote our attention to more important, fundamental things, such as winning the battle of hearts, minds and territory in Iraq, and laying the cornerstone for a world in which American values prevail – and murderous mullahs vanish into the mists of history.