Here are one person's not-so-random thoughts on Richard Clarke, the 9/11 Commission, and our nation's continuing refusal to come to grips with the lessons of September 11:
1. Out of some unseemly combination of Bush-hatred, self-love, and monetary greed, Richard Clarke, a once-honorable civil servant, turned his earlier non-partisan criticisms of the Clinton and Bush administrations into a hit-job aimed at the current president—a hit-job delivered in the midst of a war, no less. For a former official of the National Security Council to use the inside knowledge and the cachet accruing from his career service to try to destroy the administration he worked for, and while it is still in office, is an unheard-of act of betrayal, not just against Bush, but against our entire national security apparatus, which rests on trust and discretion in its inmost councils.
2. The Commission was supposed to conduct a search for the truth about the most urgent issue facing our country, our failures to stop the terrorist attacks of September 11, and thus our vulnerability to possible future attacks as well. Instead, the Commission has become a partisan circus. The fact that it provided Clarke a platform to carry out his self-aggrandizing vendetta against the President, with his appearance co-ordinated with the publication of his book, and with the Democrats and the liberal media—like a chorus of shrieking Maenads—backing up this most unlikely liberal hero, renders the Commission a fraud.
3. In response, the Bush Administration just wants to make the partisan attacks go away. So they're willing to accept a moral equivalence: everyone was equally at fault, or rather, everyone was equally faultless. Thus eight years in which Clinton kept complacently blinking in the face of terrorist attacks on this country is equated with Bush's seven months in office before 9/11. The view being advanced by the Bushites is that "nothing" could have been done to prevent 9/11—by either administration. This concession is a huge victory for the Clintonites, lifting from their backs the blame for eight years of craven avoidance and surrender. How different was Bush, who, as soon as America was attacked on his watch, resolutely invaded and defeated the country from which the attack had come, an exercise of leadership and courage that it is impossible to imagine if Clinton or Gore or Kerry had been in the White House on September 11. Ann Coulter has neatly summed up the Democrats' Big Lie on this point: "they claim to be outraged that in the months before 9-11, Bush did not do everything Democrats opposed doing after 9-11." Yet, as a result of Clarke's opportunistic evisceration of Bush, a moral equivalence between these two very different administrations seems to be the best the Bush people can hope for.
4. However, this result, so unjustly beneficial to the Clintonites, and so seemingly unfair to Bush, is not entirely without justice. It is, for one thing, an inevitable consequence of Bush's familiar modus operandi. Bush eschews any criticism of his Democratic opponents, while they savage him. He gives them back rubs, while they stab him in the back. Over and over, he has left himself open to Democratic perfidy. Is it really any surprise that the same thing has happened here?
5. More fundamentally, this result is not without justice because Bush himself never uttered a single critical word about Clinton's inadequate anti-terror actions. True, after Bush became president, he made one cutting remark—in private—about his intention not to repeat Clinton's odd habit of firing cruise missiles at camels. But that was it. As a presidential candidate in 2000 and as president prior to 9/11, Bush never took issue with the Clinton approach of treating terrorist attacks as discrete crimes rather than as part of a war against the United States. Indeed, Bush didn't disagree with any aspect of Clinton's foreign policy, with the exception of his short-lived opposition to nation-building.
6. An example of the Clinton-Bush mindset that left America defenseless was the rule prohibiting federal investigators from conducting surveillance on a terrorist suspect in the absence of evidence of criminal activity by that person. The fact that a man belonged to a terrorist group was not enough to give the FBI the legal authority to investigate him; he had to be suspected of having personally done something criminal. This goes to the heart of the difference between viewing terrorism as a crime and viewing it as a war. And Bush was on the wrong side of that issue, at least until 9/11.
7. Similarly, like Clinton, Bush actively pursued friendships with terror-supporting Moslem lobbying organizations such as CAIR, inviting them over and over to the White House both before and after 9/11, repeating on every possible occasion his unctuous mantra that Islam is a "religion of peace," and generally conducting himself in such a way as to weaken any rational concerns that Americans might have had about the militant Moslems within our borders.
8. In fact, candidate Bush in 2000 was even easier on Islamic militants than Clinton was, promising to remove a key investigative anti-terrorism tool in the name of stopping the imaginary "racial profiling" of Moslems. As president he continued his campaign against this chimera, subjecting children and old ladies across the land to demeaning and invasive security checks in airports to avoid the appearance of singling out young Moslem men. To his shame, Bush has also thrown blockades in the way of allowing airline pilots to arm themselves.
9. It wasn't just Bush, it was the entire GOP that went along with these fatal mistakes. During the 1990s, Republicans offered (at best) only muted criticism of Clinton for treating terrorism as a criminal matter, and never made his pathetic responses to acts of violence against the United States an issue of public debate. No leading Republican, including Dole in 1996 and Bush in 2000, pointed out that Clinton's phony-tough pronouncement following each terrorist attack—"We will not rest until we have tracked down these cowardly fiends, blah, blah, blah"—was a transparently empty gesture, a conscious exercise in unseriousness.
10. Even Clarke, back in the days when conservatives admired him as a hard-liner, was something of a soft-liner. The measures that he urged and Clinton rejected, such as the arrest of bin Laden, remained within the terror-as-crime paradigm. Clarke was only pushing for a somewhat stronger version of the same weak policy he so noisily disdained, a fact that would make his current broadside against Bush appear even more fraudulent and despicable, if that were possible. The coup de grace came when Clarke laconically admitted under questioning from Commission member and former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton that even if President Bush had taken all the steps against Al Qaeda that Clarke had advocated, it would not have stopped the 9/11 attack.
11. And that brings us to the most important point. The emerging bipartisan consensus that 9/11 was "inevitable" is only plausible so long as the focus of the discussion remains on overseas actions which the government might have taken against Al Qaeda, but which, as both Clarke and Condoleezza Rice now say, could not have stopped 9/11, even if the political support to take such steps had existed. The emphasis on foreign and military measures that supposedly could not have stopped the 9/11 attack blinds us to the realization that we could easily have prevented the attack if we had had normal domestic security and immigration precautions in place in this country. The scandalous failure of the FBI and other agencies to piece together the already available information about the 9/11 hijackers is well known, having caused a big stir when it came to light in the weeks following September 11, though now it is rarely referred to. The anti-racial-profiling policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations are also well known. A task force chaired by Gore in 1995 made recommendations for airport security that if adopted would have prevented 9/11. They weren't adopted because Clinton and Gore were just as anxious to avoid the specter of "racial profiling" as the current administration is.
12. Thus, in the midst of the partisan battle over Clarke's charges, the profounder errors of omission that allowed the attack to occur have fallen by the wayside. There has been no discussion about the FBI's failure to piece together the reports relating to the presence of Al Qaeda members in the United States; nor about the urgent warnings from local FBI offices that were repeatedly rejected by FBI higher-ups; nor about the nightmarish laxity of our immigration and visa procedures; nor about the the fantasy promoted by our leaders and our educational system that militant Moslems are the peace-loving heirs of a uniquely tolerant and inclusive civilization; nor about the mental haze induced among police forces by the "anti-racial-profiling" craze; nor about the way our society has ignored previous domestic terrorist attempts, for example, the planned fire-bombing attack on the New York City subways in 1996 that was only narrowly averted because one of the terrorists turned informer, a near mass horror that was forgotten almost as soon as it occurred; nor about the fact that both elite and mainstream Americans—like that ridiculous woman in the Agriculture Department who was threatened by Muhammad Atta and did nothing about it—have become so sensitive to the "Cultural Other" that they are literally unable to see a mortal enemy when he is right before their eyes, threatening them.
13. Commission chairman Thomas Kean has indicated that his investigation has found official errors that made the 9/11 attack possible. But if the Commission's proceedings and the whole tenor of modern American politics are any indication, the government failures Kean will note in his report will most likely be of a technical and bureaucratic nature, not relating to the underlying moral and political attitudes by which we have freely allowed our deadly foes to enter and reside in this country.
14. Beyond the specific fraud perpetrated by Richard Clarke, the larger fraud of the 9/11 Commission is that it is covering up the refusal of our whole society and political system to respond to the terrorists and terror supporters among us, both prior to 9/11 and today. Neither Republicans nor Democrats will utter the simple truth that we were attacked because we let the killers into our country. Both parties want to fudge this fact, because both are committed to the liberal ideology that says all people, regardless of their background and beliefs, are equally valuable as human beings and should be equally welcome in America—the ideology that tells us we are "condescending" (as President Bush condescendingly put it) if we come to the rational conclusion that a large part of the Moslem world are not only very different from us, but dangerous to us. On September 11, 2001, our ideology of tolerance was carried to its ultimate extreme and revealed its true meaning to anyone with eyes to see. The real meaning of the 9/11 Commission is that the political elites of our country still refuse to acknowledge that truth.
Lawrence Auster is the author of Erasing America: The Politics of the Borderless Nation. He runs the weblog View from the Right.