Whatever the specific merits or demerits of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, re-organizing the whole intelligence operations of the United States in a few months before an election seems like quite a rush to judgment.
Yet, precisely because it is an election year, elected officials will be under great pressure to "do something." The old saying, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure" may turn out to apply to a hasty marriage of intelligence services in the heat of a political campaign.
Creating an intelligence "czar" in charge of all information on terrorists, whether that information comes from the CIA, the FBI or elsewhere, may or may not be a good idea. But what kind of intelligence "czar" can you get to be put in place just months before a presidential election?
The kind of top-caliber person needed is the least likely to accept such an appointment, when the job could turn out to end in a few months, depending on the outcome of the presidential election. Even if such a person could be found, how much influence could that official wield over long-term career people in the intelligence services who know that this official could be gone next January?
Behind all the emphasis on "intelligence failure" is a notion that surprises can be prevented. Some can and some can't. There are too many possible targets and too many ways of attacking them for even the best intelligence agencies to discover all threats in time to keep them from being carried out.
No quick-fix reorganization can change that. The war against terrorism is a very different kind of war. The Soviet Union, with all its nuclear weapons, could be deterred by our nuclear weapons. But suicide terrorists cannot be deterred. They can only be intercepted or killed.
What can be deterred are countries that provide the support for terrorism. That means making such countries fear us more than they fear the terrorists. You don't get that with UN resolutions or even by consulting our "allies" -- least of all allies who cut and run, like Spain and the Philippines.
You deter nations by showing them what destruction you are prepared to rain down on those nations that refuse to be deterred. Whether or not the war against Iraq ends up uncovering any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it has already turned up weapons of mass destruction that Libya is giving up because Qaddafi did not want to end up like Saddam Hussein.
Everyone already knows that the United States has the military power to destroy any government that promotes international terrorism. What has long been in doubt is whether we have the will.
National solidarity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and public support for the invasion of Afghanistan showed that we had the will as well as the means. This led many nations around the world to begin cooperating with American efforts to disrupt the international flows of money and terrorists that made international terrorist networks so dangerous.
But now the national unity behind that progress has been replaced by national disunity produced by irresponsible election-year rhetoric that has signaled to foreign governments -- especially those of our enemies -- that the United States is far less capable of decisive action now than it was two years ago.
Countries like Iran and North Korea are now threatening to go nuclear, which means that in a few years terrorists may be able to go nuclear with their help. But too many politicians care only about what will get them elected this year.
The purpose of the 9/11 Commission was supposedly to find out what happened on 9/11. Having such a Commission reporting its findings during an election year would have been a questionable arrangement, even without the mission creep that has led the Commission into policy pronouncements.
This Commission will not be around to be held accountable for the actual consequences of its recommendations. These consequences will include election-year haste in search of a quick fix solution that can easily turn out to be a dangerous illusion.
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