This column on the Sept. 11 commission is weak and misleading even for E.J. Dionne. Dionne begins by observing that “many and perhaps most members of the commission believe that the attacks on the World Trade Center could have been prevented if the federal government had acted on information it had in its possession before the planes struck.” From this, he concludes that the commission poses a major problem for President Bush. But it has long been obvious that 9/11 could likely have been prevented if the FBI had acted on information that suspicious individuals were taking flight school lessons. It was this sort of evidence of a breakdown in communication that provided the rationale (or pretext) for forming the commission in the first place.
The real issue is whether Bush administration officials, as opposed to FBI functionaries, failed to take action that would likely have prevented 9/11. Dionne provides no evidence that many or most commission members believe that they so failed. Of course, it is quite possible that many or most Democratic members chose to believe they did. However, given the admission of their star witness, Richard Clarke, that nothing he recommended would have prevented the attacks, any such belief is baseless.
Dionne thinks that the questions posed by Democratic members to Condoleezza Rice show the weakness in the “conventional wisdom” that the administration is not accountable for failing to prevent 9/11. But the questions he cites are mostly about why more high level meetings weren’t held. If Dionne expects to see the Democrats gain mileage from this sort of inquiry, he’s likely to be disappointed.
Dionne’s final piece of support for his wishful view that the commission poses a major threat is Senator Mitch McConnell’s statement that “the commission has become a political casualty of the political hunting season.” To Dionne, this shows that the shrewd McConnell is worried about the commission. But, by the same reasoning, one could argue that Dionne’s column shows he is worried that McConnell’s view is spot-on. Dionne should be. Polls have shown that Richard Clarke, who put on a great show, was not widely viewed as testifying in good faith. I don’t see how that likes of Richard Ben-Viniste, Jamie Gorelick, and Tim Roemer are going to be viewed more favorably. Even Dionne admits that, in the end, the commission will divide based on party affiliation. When that happens, or more likely long before, the commssion will be seen for what, unfortunately, it is — a hopelessly partisan body with virtually no credibility.
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