Commissioner Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator from Nebraska, has been the man to watch during the commission hearings. Kerrey has been tough on both administrations. And unlike almost everyone else in Washington, Kerrey was pushing for a military response to the Cole attack -- against Iraq, no less -- when it wasn't a popular move. You have to respect the man and his convictions.
That said, Kerrey's not being realistic if he thinks Bush could have won support for a military response -- other than ineffective aerial bombings -- to the Cole. It was hard enough for Bush to win support after al Qaeda thugs attacked Washington and New York, killing 3,000 people and leaving a smoking hole in the American landscape.
That's what makes the whole exercise of the commission hearings so revolting.
Critics who fault Bush for being pre-emptive on Iraq do not hesitate to fault Bush for not being pre-emptive when it came to attacks that were unexpected and unimagined. Some behave as if they believe the president is supposed to be a superhero who can smell threats, including risks that intelligence staffers haven't been able to pinpoint.
Kerrey faulted the Bushies for having a phobia about their "m-word" -- mistake. Granted, Bush League has been too slow to release information, too defensive and not very savvy in its refusal to simply say that the administration wishes it had known more and acted on it.
The Bushies also can't come out and say what everyone knows -- that America was too busy, too happy and too peace-loving to pounce on al Qaeda.
It's an old story that a country's strengths are its weaknesses. It is a national strength that Americans are reluctant to go to war. It is right that America has been slow to use its unmatched clout as a club to bend others to our will. It is just and admirable that the world's most powerful nation has to be provoked before it counterattacks.
It was an approach that worked. Until it didn't.