I’m thinking the 9/11 commission has veered a bit of course. While it’s instructive to do a post-mortem on this tragedy and look for ways to prevent future such events, looking for blame is unproductive, divisive, and maybe just stupid. I doubt there’s any way that Clinton, Bush, or any other president could have prevented 9/11 from happening. It’s easy to look at the situation in retrospect and find the signs. But prior to 9/11 there was no basis for expecting such an attack, nor would there have been any public support for any sort of overt preemptive action to avert it. Could this specific disaster have been prevented? Maybe. But sooner or later a determined group like al-Qaeda was going to be able to catch us off guard and deal us a severe blow. And they probably will again.
On a related note, I’m intrigued by the character assassination currently waged on Richard Clarke. It’s not surprising given his allegations in his recent book, and arguably he may really have his biases and an axe to grind. To my mind, the most damning allegation was the preoccupation with bombing Iraq in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It lends yet more credence to the assertion that the entire motivation for the war with Iraq was illegitimate. And no one is refuting his assertions on the merits. The few rebuttals that have been made seem to make the situation look worse. For example, Cheney’s claim that Clarke, who was then the counterterrorism czar, was “outside the loop” in the planning of a post 9/11 response. Does that make sense? Why would you leave your counterterrorism expert outside the loop when responding to an obvious act of terror? Even if Cheney’s right, it makes the administration look dysfunctional.
It seems more likely that Clarke is now in the company of General Shinseki (who warned about the nightmares of postwar Iraq), Ambassador Wilson (who blew the whistle on lies in the 2003 State of the Union address), and Richard Foster (who revealed the that the true cost of the new Medicare plan was silenced). All of these people have had their careers and/or personal lives assailed after coming out with revelations unfavorable to the Bush administration. And so far none of them have had their allegations successfully refuted. Quite the opposite, in most cases additional corroborating evidence and witnesses have come to light. Therefore, recent history certainly suggests that Clarke’s revelations are likely not just sour grapes.