Rice Speech Limited to Topic

WaPo Top Focus Before 9/11 Wasn’t on Terrorism

On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday” — but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.

The speech provides telling insight into the administration’s thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.

The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.

If the purpose of the speech were to make the case for national missile defense, it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t mention non-missile threats from terrorist groups. I’m guessing it also didn’t mention dozens of other foreign policy matters.

That said, of course terrorism wasn’t the main focus of Bush Administration foreign policy before 9/11. It wasn’t the top focus of Clinton policy, either. Why would it have been? Essentially no one in the national security establishment, save people who were terrorism specialists, considered terrorism the top priority on September 10, 2001.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. dw says:

    I’m firmly in the “Dubya and Co. blew off Al-Queda” camp, but I agree with you. This article is extremely spurious. So what if Condi didn’t say Al-Queda ten times? As I understood things, most of the concern over terrorism, even during the Clinton days, was never something the Executive made a point of discussing in every defense speech that came about.


    The problem with this pitched battle between R. Clarke and the White House is that it’s distracting the 9/11 Committee from what it should be doing — identifying how A-Q did it, how we deter 9/11 from happening again, and formulating a suggested strategy for the future. This endless blame game is useless, and I will freely admit that any anger I have at the White House’s inability to grasp the nature of the threat is not going to bring any of those 3000 people back.

    I wish the NFL could send over a ref who could flag pols and wonks for “excessive politicization” and mark off 15 yards. Hell, Ted Kennedy and Tom DeLay would be in West Virginia by sundown.