Nineteen Arabs hijacked four commercial jets and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 people on 9/11. But for many people, this is an afterthought or a minor part of the story. The real criminals are those who did not prevent the attacks. In their vision of the perfect world, alert national security leaders, working with crisp intelligence information, would have been on top of every threat, and should have quickly responded to and pre—empted these attacks.
Of course, these same critics of the less than perfect response to the signals that might have been out there warning of 9/11, are not happy with any invasion of privacy. They do not like racial profiling (such as asking why the same Arab men were buying first class tickets on the same Boston to LA route week after week). They do not like the CIA getting into domestic operations. They do not like anybody listening in on phone calls, or reading emails, or tracking suspicious people. They think John Ashcroft is a monster, and the Patriot Act smacks of Nazi Germany.
So we must have perfect intelligence information, and perfect interpretation of that information, but somehow obtain it without changing anything in the way our free and open society operates.
The critics of the Bush administration's failure to unravel and prevent 9/11, are the same ones who decry his post 9/11 measures that make things difficult for Arab immigrants who are here illegally. They are some of the same people who scream about a climate of fear created by repressive measures.
Some of these critics are simply Bush—haters. There probably has never been a time in American political history where such ferocious hate existed for a sitting President. Bush is a far bigger enemy for this segment of the American left than any foreign foe. Many of these people would be unhappy if bin Laden were captured and al Qaeda destroyed, if it meant Bush's re—election. We are witnessing a crusade by these people who feel threatened by this President: the dinosaur unions, the hysterical environmentalists (their latest effort the mercury scare campaign), the trial lawyers, the Hollywood leftists, and the traditional media, which works every day to spin every major story against Bush.
So long as one widow of a 9/11 victim is unhappy with something that an Administration official says before the 9/11 Commission, or finds something disturbing in any document that is released to the Commission, that is enough for the traditional media to suggest that Bush failed, and is not coming clean, and of course that the attacks were preventable.
These widows are understandably distraught, but terrorism succeeds because an open society is vulnerable. These widows seem to want the Administration to prostrate itself before them, and beg for forgiveness. Richard Clarke told them he had failed them, and that we all had failed them, and then offered a big group hug.
If Israel—region>, with its small size, permanent heightened security mindset, armed guards at every public place, and many paid informers, can not prevent every restaurant and bus bombing, should it be a surprise that America—region> can be hit too? If anything, it is a miracle that we were only hit twice: in the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and then 9/11. And of course in the 8 years after the first World Trade Center attack, it was the Clinton administration that failed to create the changes in the domestic security apparatus to prevent future attacks, and failed to respond to the attacks overseas that suggested to al Qaeda that it could hit us without consequence.
Clarke in his book says the Clinton administration, unlike the Bush administration, was focused on fighting terrorism, but that the Lewinsky scandal weakened the President domestically and prevented his taking tough steps to fight terrorists abroad. But this is obviously a pretty pathetic excuse for inaction. In 1999, the same Clinton Administration chose to bypass the UN, and go to war against Serbia—region> over Kosovo. Clinton clearly had enough credibility and political capital for a war. He simply chose as his foe Serbia—region>, which had neither attacked nor killed any Americans, rather than al Qaeda, and Afghanistan—region>, which had.
Most media outlets are now spinning the story that the just released August 6 memo is a smoking gun. Really? The memo mentions public statements in '97 and '98 by bin Laden about wanting to attack America—region> in America—region>. It talks about how those attacks in the US—region> might involve explosives. It mentions that al Qaeda operatives are already in America—region>. It mentions attacks designed to extract ransom (release of imprisoned terrorists). Is any of this a shock? Attacks with explosives? Stunning. Bad guys in the country, among 290 million of us and perhaps 5 million Muslims and Arabs? Remarkable. Bin Laden wanting to attack us here? Why not? He had hit us in Africa, Saudi Arabia—region> and on the high seas already, before Bush was elected and without our hitting back. Ransom demands? Perhaps Mohammed Atta did not have time to announce them before he hit the South tower.
The briefing memo is strangely silent on the subject of box cutter attacks on pilots and stewardesses on hijacked planes to be crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on say 9/11. It makes note of Arabs taking photos of federal buildings — later revealed to be Yemeni tourists, completely unconnected to any of the 9/11 hijackers. And this particular briefing, it turns out, was one of 40 daily briefings the President received, talking about al Qaeda before 9/11. If this 8/6 briefing was the culmination of what we knew that might have prevented the attacks, then we knew nothing. At worst, the Bush administration's behavior with regard to al Qaeda in the 7 months before 9/11 was a carryover of the Clinton administration's waving at al Qaeda in lots of meetings over 8 years before them.
Israel—region> gets information every day about as many as 40—50 possible terror attacks, with details of cities that are targeted, and where the killers may be coming from. The information is not perfectly specific about every planned attack. Calling the 8/6 memo vague by comparison gives it too much credit for specificity. But to read the New York Times news stories, editorials or op eds or to listen to David Gregory of CBS News Saturdayevening (the network that brought you Richard Clarke), one would think that the 8/6 memo all but laid out for the White House which planes would be hijacked.
This is a non—story that is being kept alive for political reasons. But since 9/11, most Americans are well aware that the President and his Administration have been doing things differently with regard to homeland security. And presumably the only real value of the 9/11 commission is to find out how we can do a better job in the future, now that we have been badly hit at home.
It would be too easy, however, to indict only the President's sworn enemies or the anti—Bush major media for this after—the—fact attack about what he knew and what he should have done. For it is also true that some of the President's erstwhile allies have been undermining his homeland security efforts since 9/11. Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire went ballistic over the TIA initiative, which might have enabled better domestic intelligence gathering. Grover Norquist, the anti—tax crusader, has been worse. He has worked with Safire, and Bush—haters from the civil liberties left to fight any progress in the domestic intelligence effort. He has also provided cover for Arabs who are anti—American extremists to visit the White House, and be treated as respectable members of the Arab and Muslim communities. Norquist apparently has written—off the Jewish vote for the GOP, and decided that Arabs and Muslims are a richer potential pool for new Republican voters.
The coming election will soundly disprove that logic. But Norquist's various political committees and groups have been well—funded by his new Arab and Muslim friends. Money greases lots of immoral efforts. If America—region> gets hit again, Safire and Norquist will have made their contribution, by weakening the effort to better mobilize our intelligence resources that might have prevented another attack.