Congress begins confirmation hearings next week for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who President Bush has chosen to be his new Secretary of State.

Condoleezza Rice moved quickly from candidate George Bush's primary foreign policy adviser to President Bush's National Security Adviser.

She helped steer the Administration's response to its first international crisis when China forced down a U.S. reconnaissance plane. But like the president himself, it was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that set the agenda for Condoleezza Rice.

"As an officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the sorrow and the anger that I felt, nor will I forget the courage and resilience of the American people, nor the leadership of the president that day," said Ms Rice.

Alongside Ms. Rice in the underground leadership bunker that day was counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke. His account of the time portrays a president eager to find a link between the attacks and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a way of building a case for invasion.

The bipartisan commission investigating 9/11 wanted to ask Ms. Rice about those claims. But President Bush refused to allow her to testify, saying it would set a dangerous precedent if Congress could question the president's National Security Advisor.

Under considerable political pressure, Mr. Bush finally relented. Ms. Rice refuted Mr. Clarke's testimony, telling the commission that the White House was focused only on terrorist backers in Afghanistan.

"I can tell you that when he went around the table and asked his advisers what he should do, not a single one of his principle advisers advised doing anything against Iraq. It was all to Afghanistan," she said.

When it was time to invade Iraq, Ms. Rice spoke out against European calls for giving weapons inspectors more time, saying that would only play into Saddam's hands.

"It's really time for the Iraqi people to have an opportunity to rejoin the international community. It's time for the world to be rid of the threat of this homicidal dictator with weapons of mass destruction. It's time for the region to have the chance to return to a more normal life," she stated.

Central to the president's case for invading Iraq was the threat from weapons of mass destruction. Part of building that case was accusing Saddam of trying to buy uranium in Africa, an allegation that turned out to be based on forged documents.

Responsibility for failing to properly screen information in the president's State of the Union address fell to the National Security Council where Deputy Steven Hadley, not Condoleezza Rice, ultimately took the blame. Mr. Hadley has been tapped to move up to National Security Advisor once Ms. Rice moves over to the State Department.

During her time at the White House, Ms. Rice has been involved in reorganizing parts of government directly related to intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks. She says the only thing which might have stopped the violence would have been better information sharing.

"The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them," she explained.  "For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered and America's response, across several administrations of both parties was insufficient."

Never shying from her defense of the president and his policies, Ms. Rice has, at the same time, tried to soothe relations with allies that opposed the Iraqi invasion.

"A part of democracy, a part of free speech, a part of politics is to have open dialogue and open criticism," she noted.  "It is not as if, by the way, some of our longest-standing democratic allies don't find fault from time to time with American policy."

Congress approves her nomination, Ms. Rice will move from heading a relatively small staff within the White House to sitting atop a diplomatic bureaucracy of thousands. Long the gatekeeper for cabinet secretaries seeking the president's ear, Ms. Rice will be one of those secretaries herself, no longer balancing sometimes-competing agendas but charged instead with representing the men and women of America's diplomatic corps.