Get ready for the old bait-and-switch.
As it has done on countless occasions when backed up against the wall, the Bush administration giveth with one hand and taketh with the other.
Under unprecedented pressure from an array of interests, including usually loyalist Republicans, the White House grudgingly conceded to let National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testify under oath and publicly before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
Well, sort of.
While continuing to claim, laughingly, that it is doing everything possible to assist the commission, the administration is being obstructionist every step of the way. It initially opposed the creation of the commission, fought against giving it relevant documents, did not want to extend its time and for weeks blocked a public appearance by Rice.
After President Bush's former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke testified to the commission, and after days of ensuing controversy, Bush announced that Rice would appear.
Although the Bush camp fought Clarke with every ounce of counterattack it could mobilize, Clarke, as credible as anyone in the nation on counterterrorism, did not buckle. In fact, he looked stronger as he weathered a blitzkrieg of endless attacks from the Bush team, including his leading apparatchik, Rice herself.
Bush and Rice have been trying to hide from the scrutiny they deserve. Without public testimony under oath from Rice, perhaps the key official in the whole administration with detailed knowledge of security events and protocols prior to Sept. 11, the commission would have become a political farce.
Even Bush's supporters who participated in the trashing of Clarke recognize this fact.
But the administration is still impeding the investigation. The White House received a promise that the commission would not call any more White House staffers after Rice's appearance. This allows Rice to be able to make any claims and assertions she wants without any possibility of refutation from other White House staffers.
Rice has plenty to answer for, including statements from her last few weeks of media blitz. She said in interviews, for example, that Bush told her on Sept. 16, 2001, that "Iraq is to the side."
On Sept. 17, 2001, Bush ordered the Pentagon to begin plans for a military invasion of Iraq, underscoring Clarke's charges that Bush saw the terrorist attacks as an opportunity to go after Iraq despite that no evidence existed of its involvement.
As reported in the Washington Post on March 26, Rice has made other statements that contradict those of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA.
There is an increasing sense that Rice may end up being the sacrificial lamb in this affair, her reputed personal relationship with Bush notwithstanding. She has already indicated that she does not plan to return if Bush wins in November.
Will she continue to play the part of loyalist, or will she discover some belated integrity and reveal the full story about U.S. preparedness prior to Sept. 11 and about Bush's obsession with Iraq?
For the country's sake, let's hope Rice's conscience kicks in.
Clarence Lusane is an assistant professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. He's the author of several works, including "Hitler's Black Victims" (Routledge Press, 2002). He can be reached at email@example.com.