Confirming the worst

This week’s confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice’s appointment to Secretary of State served as little more than a confirmation of exactly what is wrong with the Bush administration.

With a distinct memory of the valley-girl arrogance Rice displayed in the 9/11 hearings, I was concerned, though utterly unsurprised, when Dubya tapped her for Colin Powell’s job, Secretary of State.

I flipped to C-SPAN on Tuesday and caught the tail end of the confirmation hearing, beginning with Sen. Barbara Boxer’s evisceration of Dr. Rice. When pressed about why she had pushed to remove strict wording prohibiting torture from a drafted resolution, Rice’s excuse was that it was, in effect, redundant, as it had been covered elsewhere.

Why take the effort to drive home the message that the U.S. government absolutely repudiates torture, right? It’s not like we have a concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay or anything. But, ivory tower hauteur draped around her shoulders like a stole, she said, "The Geneva Conventions should not apply in the case of terrorists like al-Qaida…that would stretch the meaning of the accords."

During her confirmation hearings she basically functioned as a whipping-girl for the Bush administration’s various perfidies. Republicans will dismiss the questioning as sour grapes and partisanship, but the issues raised were central to most people’s opposition to Bush, and the continuance of such policies is obviously not in the nation’s best interest.

The iterations of her doublespeak began with Sen. Joe Biden’s line of questioning on the levels of trained Iraqi fighters and policemen, "How many do you really think are trained that Allawi can look to and say, ‘I can rely on those forces’?" Rice answered, "We think the number right now is somewhere over 120,000." Clearly disturbed, Biden said that the "folks on the ground over there" estimated the number at closer to 4,000, but his time was up for the moment.

The next day he re-approached the issue, having done some homework. Citing conversations with General Petraeus in Iraq, as well Deputy Assistant Secretary for Foreign Assistance Programs and Budget Joe Bowab, and the Iraqi head of the police forces, General Adnan, he said, "At the high end, assuming every one of those forces is in battle-ready, that would give you about 14,000 forces. But in reality, it’s probably no more than a third that are actually battle-ready." Rice’s response? A robotic "We’ve trained 120,000 forces."

Sen. Barack Obama was the most diplomatic and eloquent of the questioners. Though Rice is often called "the Velvet Hammer," it was Obama who, in measured, reasonable tones, pounded Rice for her insulting disingenuousness with people in the United States. "Part of the … debate and divisiveness of Iraq had to do with the fact that it appeared that the administration sold military action in Iraq on the basis of concern about terror, and then the rationale shifted or at least got muddied into an acknowledged desire to get rid of a tyrant."

It is potentially disastrous to have such a puppet represent the face of our nation to the world. When she asked for the verbiage on torture to be removed, she was not protesting redundancy, she was allowing herself what Senator Obama called "wiggle-room." There is none such to be had on the issue of torture. To administratively approve such barbaric tactics is to issue a clarion call to the enemies of our country. After all, if we are torturing possibly innocent people, doesn’t that give their relatives and loved ones a legitimate beef with the United States?

Again and again, this administration makes decisions that seem to be gross misuses of power, all the while insisting that they were acting in our best interests, denying us the justifying evidence in dangerous condescension. Sen. Obama summed it up neatly. "[I]t seems to me that this administration often asks that we simply go along and have faith that you’re making the right decisions … ‘Trust us,’ I think is the message, ‘and we’ll make the best decisions.’" Unfortunately, it’s quite clear that we cannot trust them – that, in fact, we would do so at our peril.

Riggs Fulmer can be reached at [email protected].