Friday, May 17, 2002

The Politics of War

There were a number of people on the radio today, Howard Fineman among them, arguing that Vice President Cheney should not "threaten" Democratic members of Congress regarding a Congressional inquiry into the Intelligence breakdown that enabled, at least partially, the 11th of September. You can read some of what Cheney said by clicking here. (For some reason, his speech last night has still not been posted on the VP's web-page).

Cynically, the exact opposite is true. Cheney's supposed "threats" would presumably increase the likelihood of hearings, which would greatly increase the likelihood that the Democrats would embarrass themselves and do damage to the War effort. Which in turn would further alienate, if that's possible, the roughly 60% of the American electorate that already believes the Democratic Party is already too squishy on the War on Terrorism.

But Cheney wasn't being cynical. He was just pissed and rightly so. The last thing on earth this country needs right now is some Congressional circus of an investigation into why our Intelligence Community didn't "catch" the 11th of September. We already know the answer: we didn't have good sources. We already know the solution: get better sources.

This is not to say that there shouldn't be a serious investigation of what happened and why. There should be and it should be modeled after the Challenger Commission that investigated the explosion of the Space Shuttle. In the case of 9/11, someone like James Schlesinger should be asked to head up a 6- or 8-person panel of top Intelligence experts to review every facet of how we gather, sort and colate information regarding our national security. This Commission review should take as much time as necessary to think through every angle of technological interoperability, agency cooperation and coordination, Departmental/Military integration, etcetera. And then it should deliver a report to the President and the Congress that says: here's what we found out about the systemic failure and here's what we think you need to do to fix it.

And it's the Democrats who should be making the case for a 9/11 Intelligence Commission inquiry, loudly and persistently. Such a proposal would (a) make them look serious, (b) help the country and (c) be embraced by civilians and officers throughout the Intelligence/National Security Community. It's important that something like the Challenger Commission be empaneled and empowered to look at every facet of Intelligence gathering.

But, of course, that's not what the Democrats are doing. They're using this non-news story to try to stir up their base and leave the impression that Bush was reading comic books in Crawford while Al Qaeda advanced. "What did he know and when did he know it" was their idiot's mantra yesterday.

Cheney's warning to the Democrats is sound political advice. Playing politics with the War on Terror isn't just stupid, it's wrong. And it isn't just wrong, it's evil.