Friday, March 26, 2004
A Waste Of Time [UPDATED]

This morning's Wall Street Journal editorial neatly sums up where I stand on the 9/11 Commission.

[I]n her 9/11 testimony this week, Ms. Albright blamed the Bush Administration detentions at Guantanamo for creating more terrorists. "It is possible and perhaps probable that anger over these detentions has helped bin Laden succeed in recruiting more new operatives," she said. So the detention of Taliban fighters caught while fighting Americans and harboring terrorists will only help the terrorists? This is the same "mindset" that blocked strong U.S. action against al Qaeda for half a decade.

Or consider this episode from the 9/11 Commission's staff report on the U.S. response to news that terrorists linked to Iran had killed 19 Americans at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996:

"Albright emphasized to us, for example, that even if some individual Iranian officials were involved, this was not the same as proving that the Iranian government as a whole should be held responsible for the bombing. National Security Adviser Berger held a similar view. He stressed the need for a definitive intelligence judgment. The evidence might be challenged by foreign governments. The evidence might form a basis for going to war."

Yes, it might. But the failure to act without "definitive" evidence and "foreign" agreement might also encourage the terrorists to think that they can get away with it and so hit us again.

The idea that every President would have toppled the Taliban after 9/11 is also wishful thinking. The press at the time was full of hand-wringing about the dangers. The establishment consensus, even so soon after 9/11, was that the U.S. could end up bogged down in Kabul like the British and Soviets. President Bush is the one who took the risk of using force to rout the Taliban and the al Qaeda camps they were protecting.

All of this is what we ought to be debating this election year, not how selective Dick Clarke's memory is. Even if everything Mr. Clarke says is true--and he's already contradicted himself numerous times--it is beside the point. What matters is which strategy against terrorism the U.S. should pursue now and for the next four years.
As I wrote in the comments over at Mader Blog a few days ago:
The reversal in approach to terrorism was nearly absolute [after 9/11]. So why do we keep coming back to examine 'pre-attack' thinking? Whether the failure belongs to Bush, or Clinton, or Bush, or Reagan, or - heck, why not? - even Washington, its all irrelevant to the current situation.

Unless, of course, this 'who-do-we-blame game' is going to result in the shaking loose of the last pre-9/11 thinkers in the Intelligence field. But if we look at where the game is heading, we see it's aiming for the top, and not for the offending cogs. It's a worthless waste of time.
Like the WSJ editorial mentions, if Bush's opponents continue this line of questioning and criticism to its logical end, they are going to wind up supporting his moves in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are arguing for a streamlining of the administration so that intelligence failures don't happen again - weeding out thinkers like Richard Clarke, so that the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption against terror and its supporters can be more effective. Sounds good to me.

Meanwhile, democracy continues to spread.

Lileks has a fantastic examination of the media's handling of the Clarke fiasco, and he winds up sharing my opinion:
Look: to me that's ancient history. That's Flintstone time. If it weren't for these hearings I wouldn't give a tin fig for who didn't do what when and where. September Eleventh was the bright red gash that separated the Now from the La-la Then, and we've been living in the hot spiky Now ever since. I am interested in the Now and the What Next. I don't have much patience for people who believe that the salvation of Western Civilization depends on hiking the marginal tax rates to pre-2002 levels. But if you want to play Eight Years vs. Eight Months, fine. Just remember that before 9/11, the skies over Afghanistan were clear. After 9/11, they thrummed with the sound of B-52s until the job was done.

No small distinction.
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A webjournal of ideas, comments, and various other miscellany from a Texan university student (with occasional input from his family) living in Toronto, Ontario. Can you say "culture shock?"

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