January 2, 2004
Accountability for What?
Our President talks the talk of accountability. When it comes time to walk the walk, he is hard to find. Each time his administration has failed us, he has promptly resisted the attempt to have an independent investigation, stonewalled any panel that was appointed, and then proceeded to censor or repress the part of the resulting report that would have embarrassed or exposed him, citing National Security concerns. How convenient it must be to run the White House like a police state, control both houses of Congress, and when all else fails, fall back on the Supreme Court that elected him.
Speaking of National Security Concerns, what better example than 9-11 could one find of the alarming trend exhibited by our current leadership to avoid responsibility for those things that count most to our Nation. Perhaps the President and the Vice President learned these techniques from their Corporate Cronies like Ken Lay, et al. To hear those poor billionaire CEOs whine that they didn't know what was going on in the organizations that they built and led surely brings a tear to my eye.
The one job that we citizens hire our President to do, above all others, is to keep this Nation safe. Why else would we make him the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces? Why else would we allow him to pick his people to head the Department of Defense, the CIA, the FBI, and all the other governmental entities charged with the security of the Country? Why else would we require him to solemnly swear to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States? If preventing the likes of 9-11 is not the President's Job One, I would be really surprised to find out what is. Well, sir, in case you forgot, you did not get that job done.
Nor should it have been hard for the President to foresee the impending collision between our good old USA and the International Terrorist Movement. The terrorism experts both inside and outside the intelligence community have been warning of it for decades. We also have several decades worth of history pointing right to 9-11. One could perhaps go back as far as the assault on the Israeli athletes during the Summer Olympic Games of 1972 in Munich in which Arab terrorists killed eleven innocent athletes and coaches. Even if one chose to start closer to home, we have the taking of 52 hostages in the US Embassy (US Soil) in Tehran, Iran, by Islamic militants in 1979, an incident that cost Jimmy Carter his job. This was followed by the bombing attack carried out by Arab and Islamic terrorists on our Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, in which over 241 of our brave fighting men (who were there on a peacekeeping mission) died. What about the taking of the Achille Lauro in 1985 and the subsequent murder of a 69-year-old disabled American tourist by Arab extremists, or the downing by terrorist bombers of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988 in which 270 innocent lives, many of them US citizens, were lost? Then, of course, there was the first bombing attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 conducted by Islamic extremists, in which six were killed and over a thousand were injured. Fast forward to the simultaneous bombing of two US Embassies in Africa in 1998 or the attack on USS Cole in 2000 that were carried out by al-Qaida. These further attacks on what is by international law US property and soil demonstrated the growing sophistication and reach of the global terrorist organizations. How many wake up calls does a nation or its leaders need before action is taken?
We have heard a lot about the pre-9-11 failure of the intelligence communities to connect the dots. All that one needs to do to see the pattern is connect the twenty year history of the above assaults on US citizens, US soil, and US property. The outline that emerges is one of a dagger pointing straight at the heart of the Nation. Even Homer Simpson could see this one, but not our President or his predecessors.
If these attacks on US citizens and US property were not an explicit enough warning for our leaders, consider the Year 2000 report of the National Commission on Terrorism, which predicted that there would be a Pearl Harbor scale terrorist attack on these United States, and took the FBI to task because it "suffers from bureaucratic and cultural obstacles in obtaining terrorism information," The same report noted that US counter-terrorism efforts were impaired by previous policy decisions that had made it difficult for the CIA to employ "the services of clandestine informants." Of course, the President did act on these grave warnings, but only after several thousand of his fellow citizens had gotten his attention by losing their lives in spectacular fashion in September 2001. No, notwithstanding these storm warnings, our skipper sailed straight on into the teeth of the Typhoon without a pause, and without any apparent care for the clear and present danger of a terrorist attack of major proportion on our greatest city. This was no sucker punch; these terrorists all but telegraphed their cowardly blow.
Every officer who has commanded a navy ship at sea knows the danger posed by another vessel that presents with a steady bearing and a decreasing range. You have to do something decisive early on in order to avoid the terrible collision that will otherwise result. We handed over the ship of state to Mr. Bush about 233 days before the tragedy of September 11, 2001. If he or his subordinates made any significant course changes on their watch to prevent the ensuing disaster, we have no convincing evidence of it. In fact, they steamed straight on into the danger, just as their predecessors had done. As the skipper you cannot say that you just followed the course laid down by the Captain you relieved. It is your watch, sir, the instant you take command. The most junior officer knows that it matters not how detailed your standing orders are, or how specific your night order book may be. Nor does it matter that you were fast asleep in your bunk when the impact occurred. If your ship collides with another on 9-11-01, you will likely be relieved of command on 9-12-01, and presumably replaced by a competent officer. That is what true accountability is about, sir.
So why do we put up with this President who failed in his most basic duty to the Nation? After all, we nearly impeached his predecessor on account of an incident that had nothing to do with his responsibilities as the Chief Executive, and that was in fact just a sordid little indiscretion with a single female resulting in no loss of life and no damage to property (unless you count a few stains on a blue dress). I confess that I have no answer to this question. Indeed, neither do you find redemption for this breach of the public trust when you examine the actions that were taken by our Leader post 9-11 to close the barn door. These actions have been in their most generous interpretation, remarkably ineffective, and, with the exception of the initial success in Afghanistan, have just hardened the enemy while distancing us from our former allies and destroying US credibility around the world.
I would have applauded the President had he offered to resign on 9-12. I might have forgiven this President if he had stepped to the microphone when he emerged after 9-11, and told the Nation that he was in charge of National Security and Homeland Defense and that he had not taken the proper precautions to prevent the disaster, but in future he would do a better job. I would have waited to see how he attacked one of the root causes of the intelligence failure that virtually everyone agrees led to 9-11; the lack of coordination between the various intelligence bureaucracies. This is a classic turf problem, and needs to be solved (as do all turf problems) by what is essentially an arbitrary executive decision. The President needed to look at the competing fiefdoms of the CIA, FBI, DIA, and other federal agencies with intelligence capabilities, and choose one of them to be held accountable for anti-terrorism. Once a single individual in a single agency is identified, with clear responsibility for the function assigned, Mr. President, you know who to fire when and if the job doesn't get done. We fire you, you fire him or her; take your choice.
Instead, our Noble Leader passed on the tough choices, and created in their place an entire new department of government with a new cabinet post, leaving virtually intact the intelligence turf plots of the CIA, FBI, DIA, etc. So, now we have been blessed with yet another bureaucratic layer within which to disperse responsibility, obscure accountability, fragment authority, and dissipate resources. We have gained another intelligence center, in another agency, to investigate when the next disaster befalls us. The Congress, of course, went along for the ride; who among them can afford to appear before the electorate as opposed to the Sacred Cow of Homeland Security? It is the perfect political solution. Congratulations, Mr. President. Say, if you don't do Homeland Security, and you don't do windows, just what is it that you do for the six figure salary we pay you and that nice house you get to live in?
How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.
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