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As I See It

Hal Sundin

What illuminating revelations have come out of the Sept. 11 Commission hearings? The unavoidable impression is that clearly someone dropped the ball. The question yet to be answered is where the responsibility for the disastrous failure of the system lies.

What we have heard are a lot of lame excuses, either claiming that no one could have prevented the al-Qaida attacks on that day, or that the fault lay elsewhere. Let’s look at some of them:

First is the claim that the administration didn’t take action because it didn’t have “actionable” intelligence about a terrorist threat ” that the president’s Daily Briefing memo of Aug. 6, 2001, warning that Osama bin Laden was aiming to attack us on our home turf was more “historical” in nature, and did not warrant immediate action.

How strange, when this same administration used knowledge that Iraq had and had used weapons of mass destruction (which truly was historical), and that Saddam was therefore an “imminent threat” to the United States, as sufficiently “actionable” intelligence to justify sending our country into war.

Both President Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice have stated over and over again that if they had known attacks were going to be launched on New York and Washington, D.C., they would have done everything possible to prevent them, but they didn’t have any information that specific. How blatantly stupid! I suppose they would also have needed information on the date and method of attack. Terrorist enemies don’t telegraph their moves. In warfare, a proper defense must envision all possible enemy tactics, and develop appropriate countermeasures and alert systems.

The possibility of hijacking planes for use as weapons had been suggested, but was disregarded. A vigilant commander-in-chief would have asked all surveillance and intelligence agencies to report any and all suspicious activities (of which there were many), which might very well have made it possible to thwart the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rice also claimed that the administration was focusing on long-range counterterrorism strategies ” presumably like invading Iraq and converting the Middle East to democracy, and was tired of “swatting at flies.” But until any such long-term goals are a reality, you’d better pay attention to swatting the flies ” and before, not after, they bite.

Another stupid response from Rice: “The key here is to remember who is responsible (for Sept. 11). Al-Qaida is responsible.” The question begging for an answer is, who is responsible for our defense against al-Qaida?

This administration’s reaction when anyone raises an issue for which it does not have a defensible response is to start a smear campaign to try to undermine credibility with character-assassination tactics.

As Joe Klein wrote in the April 5 issue of Time magazine, “Unable to defend his policies in a coherent way and unwilling to acknowledge his mistakes, Bush responds to criticism with ugliness.”

The situation in which this country now finds itself is testimony to the danger of Bush’s attitude of absolute certainty, arrived at without regard for advice from any source not in line with his thinking. The implications for the future are even more frightening.

Instead of a president who apparently believes, “I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken,” we need a leader who lives up to the motto Harry Truman had on the president’s desk: “The Buck Stops Here.” I wonder what ever became of that ” it’s been missing for a long time. I hope it isn’t lost forever.

Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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