(CNSNews.com) - "Just ridiculous," said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a television interview Monday morning. She rejected the claims of a former White House official, who suggested that Rice had never heard of al Qaida when he mentioned the terrorist organization to her.
In a new book that goes on sale Monday, Richard A. Clarke (described by Rice as a former "counter-terrorism czar") said the Bush administration bungled the war on terrorism by obsessively going after Iraq rather an al Qaeda.
Clarke wrote that when he mentioned al Qaeda to Condoleezza Rice, "Her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before."
Rice refuted Clarke's comments on Monday morning, in an interview on the Fox News Channel. "I don't know why Dick Clarke goes around trying to read people's minds...of course we all heard of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden..."
In the days immediately after 9/11, Rice said, President Bush was concerned about a "follow-on attack" -- how to protect the nation from additional plots hatched in hostile nations.
And yes, Rice said, Bush was concerned that Iraq might have had something to do with the 9/11 attacks.
"Yes, when we were thinking about against whom we would be retaliating, we asked questions about who might have been responsible. Given our history with Iraq, it's not surprising that people asked about Iraq, given that Iraq had tried to assassinate former President Bush, so why not ask about Iraq?"
According to Rice, "When the president learned from [CIA Director] George Tenet that there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11, the president said, the next day, on Sept. 16...'We'll put Iraq aside -- this is now an issue of how to deal with Afghanistan.'"
Attacking Iraq was not President Bush's sole focus, contrary to what Clarke claims, Rice said.
According to Clarke, who also gave TV interviews Monday morning, the Bush administration gave the American public the impression that it was going to war in Iraq to avenge the deaths of 9-11 -- even though Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
Clarke told ABC News that soldiers in Iraq did not die in vain -- but they did die for President Bush's agenda. He said the Bush administration went off on a "completely unnecessary" target, by diverting resources to Iraq. The war in Iraq simply inflamed the Arab world, he said, creating a whole new generation of terrorists.
The question isn't whether there was WMD in Iraq, Clarke said. The question is whether Iraq was a real threat to the U.S. -- and he claims it was not.
Rice said Dick Clarke had an open door to discuss his concerns with Rice -- and even President Bush -- but did not do so.
"Dick Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell me that he thought we were going awry in the war on terrorism," Rice said. But at one meeting, Clarke told her he supported the president.
Clarke told ABC News that he did not write his book to advance his own political agenda or to support Democrat John F. Kerry.
He said after 30 years in the government, all he wants to do is "get the facts out." He denied wanting a job in the Kerry administration.
Clarke called himself an "independent."
He is expected to testify on Tuesday before the commission examining the events leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
E-mail a news tip to David Thibault.