I don't think Bush owes anybody a personal apology. He has zero moral culpability in the mass murder perpetrated by al-Qaida. But he does have official accountability as the head of the executive branch. And it seems to me that the executive branch - and the other branches and the media, for that matter - all failed on 9/11. The job description of all of these institutions say that they should have been on top of one of the most important developments in American history - and they weren't. My evidence: a lot of dead Americans.
Unfortunately, the administration seems to think that admitting any fault, even institutional fault, will cause confidence in Bush's leadership to evaporate. I just don't think that's true. Recognizing the obvious fact that mistakes were made is reassuring to most people because it reveals that someone understands what needs to be fixed. I think the White House has a very good grasp on what needs to be fixed, but they have a poor grasp at how to communicate the progress they're making - in Iraq and in our own government.
Which brings me to the case for Bush's re-election. When you strip out the biliousness from Clarke's charges, one thing comes through loud and clear: The Bush team didn't adjust to the dangers of al-Qaida quickly enough. They were clearly putting the right policies in place, but they had to learn on the job. They eventually accepted almost all of Clarke's recommendations, including an all-out assault on Afghanistan after 9/11. In fact, it was Condoleezza Rice who insisted on keeping Clarke on board in the White House in order to maintain "continuity" between the administrations. Clarke repaid her by saying she'd "ignored" the threat of terrorism.
Well, if this administration, brimming with all of these alleged hawks and cowboys - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz - still needed to get up to speed on the terrorist threat, do we really believe that John Kerry won't need even more on-the-job-training? Even if Kerry were as hawkish on terror as Bush - or even Clarke - he would still need to bone up. Unfortunately, Kerry's not only not up to speed, but he's actually committed to the notion that this isn't even a war on terrorism so much as a job for law enforcement. Do we really want him to learn the error of his ways on the job?