A new book out on the war on terror by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind is causing quite a stir. Suskind, a veteran journalist who previously wrote a kiss-and-tell book with former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, now writes a less-than-flattering portrayal of the administration's efforts to fight terrorism. "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11" details a number of foiled plots against the United States. But instead of hailing the administration's achievements in keeping America safe, the book is a long indictment of administration policy.
The title for the book, Suskind explains in a Time magazine excerpt this week, comes from a statement attributed to Vice President Dick Cheney. Suskind reports that two months after 9/11, then-CIA director George Tenet briefed the vice president and Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Adviser at the time, on a meeting between a Pakistani nuclear scientist and Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. The meeting, which took place in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was to discuss al Qaeda's attempts to secure a nuclear device. According to Suskind, the vice president was obsessed with what he called a "low probability-high impact event." "If there's a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response," Suskind quotes Cheney as saying. "It's not about our analysis . . . . It's about our response."
In Suskind's telling, the phrase becomes a metaphor for everything he thinks has gone wrong in the war on terror. But the vice president was just reflecting what most Americans expect of our leaders, especially after the devastating attacks on New York and Washington. A "one percent doctrine" is far preferable to the bureaucratic inertia that permeated our intelligence agencies pre-9/11. We can't afford to be wrong again. We can't wait until operatives at Langley analyze every nuance of intelligence and debate the prerogatives before we act. Our problem is not that we have acted too precipitously but that we tied the hands of those assigned to ferret out and respond to threats to the United States.
The new information revealed in Suskind's book comes from highly placed sources, some of whom even speak on the record. Many of these sources are clearly trying to settle old scores or deflect attention from their own failings. You get the sense that some of these fellows are more interested in correcting the record than in protecting America.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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