originally published at mediard.com
How many of the people who are criticizing President George W. Bush
realize that James Bond is a fictional character? Television and the movies
have warped people’s perceptions about the world of terrorism and crime.
TV cops can solve crimes in an hour. Joe Friday could even solve crimes
in 30 minutes. James Bond, Our Man Flint, and Napoleon Solo always caught
terrorists at the last second.
The real world isn’t like that. If I didn’t know that Congressional
Democrats are so wrapped up in their own careers that they cannot think
of anything else, I would think that those blaming Bush for 9-11 weren’t
any smarter than the people Jay Leno interviews on his Jaywalking segment.
Anyone who understands the presidency should realize that even if James
Bond were a real person, presidents aren’t James Bonds. They don’t
have time to play connect the dots. We have a few million federal employees
to do that for the President. Presidents only have enough time to handle
their public relations duties, evaluate policy alternatives submitted by
subordinates, attempt to work with Congress and converse with foreign officials.
President Bush did his job when he asked for information from the CIA
about what Al Qaeda might be up to. It wasn’t his job to try to figure
out what specifically Al Qaeda might be actually planning to do or to try
to stop the plan. If the CIA or any agency had felt special steps should
have been taken they would have asked Bush to authorize whatever was needed
but that couldn’t be done without presidential approval.
I’m not sure what resources and regulations might have been required
so I’ll use an example from the Gulf War. When President George H. W.
Bush wanted to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait he asked General Colin Powell
what would be needed and then authorized sending the necessary military
If employees of federal agencies, or the airlines, had felt the threat
received last summer required something more than they had been doing to
respond to previous threats, they should have said something. The President
cannot be expected to know what is going on at all levels of all federal
agencies because it isn’t humanly possible. The New York Times has quoted
a United Airlines spokesman as saying they didn’t see anything special
in that warning that caused them any greater concern than previous warnings.
One of the problems with warnings of danger is that people become complacent
if they hear too many warnings and nothing happens as a result of the warning.
I live in tornado alley where we have to worry about a “terrorist”
named “Mother Nature”. Tornado warnings are regularly issued during
the spring months for various areas of the state. During the late 80's
Kansas had tornado warnings, but very few damaging tornados. As a result
many Kansans stopped heeding the warnings. Thus when a killer tornado approached
Andover in the early 90's many people failed to take shelter and died.
The threat of a terrorist hijacking an airliner had been known since
1995, but no such hijackings had been attempted. It’s very likely that
even federal officials had gotten to the point that they said, “another
threat, big deal.”
The truth of 9-11 is that by the summer of 2001 there was probably very
little that could have been done to prevent at least some of the attacks.
Even with a little luck and very good police work the FBI probably wouldn’t
have caught more than a few of the would be hijackers.
The FBI wouldn’t have known if it had caught all of them or not because
even the hijackers apparently didn’t know how many others were involved.
Discovering what Zacarias Moussaoui was up to might easily have convinced
the FBI that it had foiled the plot by arresting him and there was no longer
a danger of a hijacking.
Any attempt to prevent such attacks would have had to have been made
years earlier. The Clinton administration would have had to have persuaded
the airlines that they should spend money to make airline cockpits more
secure and prohibit anyone from leaving the cockpit during flight. Someone
would have had to convince pilots that they should ignore threats by hijackers
and put the plane on the ground ASAP instead of responding in the way pilots
had previously responded to hijackers. Airlines had been getting by with
undertrained and underpaid screeners at airports for years. It would have
been difficult to persuade them that a system that seemed to be working
had to be improved.
We have been in a war with Al Qaeda for years. In war sometimes we win
and sometimes the enemy wins. Even when we are winning big like the war
in Europe after D-Day the enemy may be able to launch an attack like the
Germans did in the Battle of the Bulge.
The goal in war is to find a weakness in your enemy’s defenses and
exploit it. Al Qaeda found a weakness in our defenses in the form of inadequate
air travel security and exploited it. The plan was well planned and conducted.
When our team loses a game its common to look for faults in the way it
played. We overlook the possibility that the other team won because it
played very well.
The war isn’t over yet. We’re winning, but we have to be careful not to help the enemy by giving him valuable information. He can and will continue to try to attack us. Our intelligence apparatus may need to be modified, but conducting public hearings on the subject could provide the enemy with information he could use to improve his chances of conducting a successful attack. It isn’t just a matter of exposing weaknesses he may not know about. An investigation might also reveal strengths he doesn’t know about. Giving him such knowledge would allow him to know what type attacks we can stop and thus he shouldn’t waste time attempting.
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I also write at Mediard