The 9/11 Hearings: What have we learned?
What did we learn from the 9/11 Commission hearings? We learned from Bill Clinton’s former terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, that even if all of Clarke’s counter-terrorism recommendations had been carried out during the eight years Clarke worked for Clinton or during the eight months that Clarke worked for President Bush (43), the 9/11 attacks would not have been prevented.
We also learned long-time bureaucrat Clarke is trying to settle a score with National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, because she demoted him to a job he didn’t like and because he didn’t get to be the number two official at the newly-created Department of Homeland Security. We also saw that Clarke is using the hearings to increase the sales of his Bush-bashing book.
We learned our intelligence gathering capabilities are lacking – a decline that started with the post-Watergate congressional hearings designed to “rein in” the CIA. Following that, President Carter ordered the dismissal of almost 400 human intelligence assets in favor of intelligence gathering via satellites. Moreover, Bill Clinton told the CIA it could only recruit agents who were “politically correct.”
Assume for a moment that Bill Clinton had remained in office for an additional eight months. Further assume that prior to September 11, 2001 that Clinton had asked Congress for $3 Billion Dollars to create a Department of Homeland Security and for authority to destroy al Qaeda. What would have happened? Most likely, Clinton would have been impeached (again) and (that time) convicted.
Back to reality: During his eight years in office Bill Clinton could have made meaningful responses to the al Qaeda bombing of the Kobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, to the bombings of our embassies in East Africa and to the attack on the USS Cole. Other than firing off a few cruise missiles targeted with faulty intelligence, Clinton kept his focus on problems here at home. Number one being the Monica Affair.
Granted President George W. Bush only had eight months to consider a response to the attacks that had taken place during the Clinton years, but that does not get Bush (43) entirely off the hook. President Bush must take responsibility for choosing to continue to Clinton’s failed and ineffectual defense policies during the eight months leading to 9/11.
But what would have happened if President Bush had asked, prior to 9/11, to create the Department of Homeland Security and sought Congressional approval to root out and destroy al Qaeda. Like Clinton, Bush (43) would have been considered insane.
Still, with 20-20 hindsight, Bush (43) could have done some pre-9/11 things differently. He could have canned Clinton’s Director of Central Intelligence and Clinton’s FBI Director. He could have moved, Richard Clarke, Clinton’s terrorism czar – who just confessed to failing -- to some other job. (Ever tried to fire a career federal bureaucrat?)
Actually, National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, did reassign Clarke to the cyber-terrorism desk. Smart politics would have made Clarke the number two official at the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security. But that would have put politics before principle.
Be it the post-Pearl-Harbor hearings or the post-9/11 hearings, some reputations are destroyed. President Roosevelt’s scapegoat for the Pearl Harbor disaster was Admiral Husband Kimmel, the senior naval officer in Hawaii. Gee whiz, I always thought the Japanese were at fault.
Clarke’s self-contradictory and obviously money-motivated attempt to make Bush (43) the Admiral Kimmel of 9/11 failed. Moreover, in the process, Clarke destroyed what had, hitherto, been a good reputation.
But even if the 9/11 hearings were to reveal Bill Clinton as the Neville Chamberlain of counter-terrorism, that would serve no useful purpose. Bottom line: We must improve our early-warning, intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Ironically, many of the same people who claim Bush (41) should have exceeded his U.N. mandate and deposed Saddam Hussein in 1991, now claim Bush (43) exceeded his 2002 U.N. mandate by deposing Saddam Hussein in 2003. Can you spell: p-o-l-i-t-i-c-s?
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – novels about terrorist attacks on Colorado’s water supply and on the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2004. William Hamilton.