Charles Krauthammer

What exactly was the failure? What was Bush supposed to do in order to prevent Sept. 11? Invade Afghanistan? Clarke has expressed outrage at Bush's pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. So: Bush deserves excoriation for pre-emptively invading Iraq based on massive, universally accepted intelligence of its weapons, to say nothing of its hostility and virulence; and simultaneously, Bush deserves excoriation for not pre-emptively attacking Afghanistan on the basis of ... what? Increased terrorist chatter in the summer of 2001?

At the hearing, Clarke was particularly brilliant in playing to the gallery, mainly to the families in the gallery. By some strange cultural transmutation, the families -- or more accurately, a small number of politically active families -- have claimed, and been ceded, special status in the war on terrorism.

Surely they deserve our sympathy and our care. And they have received an extraordinary, indeed unprecedented, outpouring of both from the public and from the government. But some families go much further, and claim the moral high ground in judging the war on terror and how it is to be waged.

On what grounds? Did the Pearl Harbor families enjoy special status in critiquing FDR's decisions in World War II? The Oklahoma City families were denied any special status at all -- they never even got compensation of the sort the Sept. 11 families received.

Just this week the widow of Daniel Pearl was denied a claim for similar government compensation, on the grounds that, while Pearl was surely a victim of the war on terror -- and, in fact, was engaged in it by pursuing the truth about those waging war against us -- he happened to die on a date other than Sept. 11.

Clarke's clever pseudo-apology -- we failed, meaning, they failed -- played perfectly to the families in the gallery, who applauded and warmly embraced the very man who for 12 years was the U.S. government official most responsible for preventing a Sept. 11. A neat trick.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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