Titanic irresponsibility

Thomas Sowell
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Posted: Apr 13, 2004 12:00 AM

 The so-called "9/11 Commission" is supposedly trying to find out what happened, or failed to happen, that allowed the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 to succeed. But there is a big difference between trying to unearth facts about September 11, 2001 and trying to collect political ammunition for November 2, 2004 -- election day.

 It has become painfully obvious from some Commission members' grandstanding, especially during their questioning of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, that they are more interested in scoring political points during an election year than in finding out what happened before the terrorist attacks in 2001.

 Many of what was presented to Dr. Rice as questions were really political speeches -- and the fact that the questioners tried to keep her from replying to their insinuations showed how little interest they had in finding out facts.

 After all, Condoleezza Rice had already testified for hours before this same commission in private, so calling her back to testify again before television cameras was pure politics.

 The underlying assumption that an unprecedented surprise attack could succeed only if there was an intelligence failure is one of the signs of the lack of realism in our times. During World War II, the American government knew that the Japanese were likely to attack us somewhere, somehow, during the last months of 1941 -- but that was wholly different from knowing that they were going to bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7th.

 To some today, the fact that the Bush administration had warnings that al-Qaeda was up to something should have told them that terrorists were going to fly planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th.

 We already know from Osama bin Laden himself that not even all the terrorists on the hijacked planes that flew into the World Trade Center knew that this was what those in the cockpit were going to do. If hijackers on board the planes didn't know, how could anyone else know?

 The same people who have been criticizing our Homeland Security's generalized warnings and alerts seem to think that generalized information before September 11th should have let the administration know what specifically the terrorists were going to do and when and how they were going to do it.

 Commission member and former Senator Bob Kerrey argued that President Bush had enough information on the terrorist networks before September 11th to ask Congress for a declaration of war on them.

 Put aside the fact that this commission is supposed to be finding out what actually happened, not drawing up plays like Monday morning quarterbacks. Can you imagine what would have happened if President Bush had done what Bob Kerrey suggested?

 Suppose the president had somehow managed to get the closely divided Congress to issue a declaration of war against terrorist networks prior to 9/11 and then 9/11 happened. You know and I know that the president's declaration of war would have been blamed for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

 Loud cries would be ringing out across the land that this would never have happened except for President Bush's declaration of war. You can just hear the words and the music.

 All this political grandstanding is taking place in the shadow of the greatest danger our nation has ever faced. North Korea is not only rebuilding its nuclear capacity, it is a threat to sell nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations, including those who planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

 Make no mistake about it. We could wake up some morning and find American cities in smoldering radioactive ruins.

 Against the background, partisan political grandstanding is obscene. It is as if officers on the Titanic were spending their time arguing among themselves about who should have seen the iceberg, instead of getting people into lifeboats.

 We already know that our enemies are following American political bickering. Senator John Kerry's political statements are being reported extensively in North Korea's government-controlled press. The North Korean regime is no doubt among the foreign supporters who want him to win this year's election.