Inside the Capitol

Sunday, July 25, 2004

9/11 Commission Report

SANTA FE – Now that we have a best-selling report of the 9/11 Commission, what do we do? Well, first we must consider that the problems and solutions identified by the commission may not be exactly on target. But they should get discussions going.
First, we must make ourselves look at realities. It sounds good to say that terrorists want to destroy us and our freedoms. But it is patently obvious they don’t have the power to destroy us and they can’t destroy our freedoms. Only we can do that – by letting our government trample our Bill of Rights, which as we previously have mentioned, has happened before in history.
The terrorists want to change some of our policies in the Middle East. We’d be smart to first consider whether some of those policies might be altered a little without destroying anything we hold dear. It could be very much to both sides’ mutual benefit and eliminate much grief for us.
We also must ameliorate the thinking that, by golly, we’re the world’s only superpower and we can do whatever we like. On the other end of the spectrum, we can’t say the world’s problems are really our fault, so we must apologize and change our ways. The solution lies somewhere in between.
The commission’s identification of a problem with coordination of intelligence should meet with universal agreement. In reality, we’ve always had that problem. We got caught by surprise when we shouldn’t have at Pearl Harbor, the Berlin blockade, Korea and on down the line.
President Truman and Congress tried to remedy that lack of coordination in 1947 by establishing the Central Intelligence Agency with oversight of all intelligence, but J. Edgar Hoover and military brass saw to it that it wouldn’t work. Adding the National Security Council and then the National Reconnaissance Office didn’t help much either. So laying on more bureaucracy may not help.
My friend Dave Clary, from Roswell, proposes an interesting alternative. Instead of adding to the permanent bureaucracy, how about borrowing from what we’ve already learned from handling some other emergencies and disasters. Establish task forces to deal with specific problems.
The war on terrorism is too diffuse to attack with one new agency, because we have several disparate problems. Gather the agencies that need to address al-Qaida activities, or terrorism finances, etc. and appoint an incident commander, as we do for forest fires, National Transportation Safety Board investigations or major crime problems. That “fire boss” has total authority and answers for the outcome.
It is unfortunate timing that Congress is beginning a series of recesses right now for national conventions and the election. Commission member and former Sen. Bob Kerrey has suggested a special session of Congress following the November elections to consider 9/11 follow up measures. That makes sense from a political standpoint. Maybe it also will give members of Congress an opportunity to listen to constituents and carefully consider options.
Many are calling for immediate action and charging that it will be the fault of Congress if disaster strikes again before Congress acts. But haste usually doesn’t produce good decisions. We can be sure the Bush administration is taking steps to insure better coordination of intelligence and maybe it is even working on some new solutions.
And the exaggerated warnings that a future attack may wipe us all out? That’s ridiculous. Mankind hasn’t quite figured out how to do that to each other yet. Despite the numbers we kill in wars, natural disasters and epidemics still rule. World War I killed some 20 million but the worldwide flu epidemic the following year killed as many as 80 million.
So now we wrestle with 9/11. Let the discussion be serious and thorough. Politicians tend to have complicated answers to simple problems and simple answers to complicated ones. Let’s hope they think this one through carefully.


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