President Bush fought feverishly to prevent an investigation of the missteps on the part of the United States government that may have left this country open to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The president preferred to blame the whole affair on "evil" and leave it at that.
When an independent commission was charged with studying issues related to the 9/11 attacks, Bush did everything in his power to make its job more difficult.
He first sought to put former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in charge of the commission, knowing that Kissinger was a master of covering up presidential wrongdoing. When the suggestion that Kissinger chair the commission was greeted with a combination of horror and belly laughs, Bush and his aides went about the business of assuring that the commission was stacked with loyal Republicans. He thought they would keep the investigation from going anywhere interesting - say, toward the question of whether U.S. aid to Muslim fundamentalists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s might have contributed to the rise of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.
Unfortunately for Bush, the Republican co-chair of the commission, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, was a man of honor who really did want to conduct a serious review of the basic questions that had arisen as a result of the attacks. Kean demanded more of the administration than Bush wanted to give - including testimony from key aides and documents that the White House gave up only reluctantly and under increasingly public pressure. Kean was able to pressure the White House to cooperate because he forged a bipartisan consensus on the commission, proving the old theory that in unity there is strength.
Unfortunately for America, however, Kean's emphasis on unity meant that the final report produced by the commission was a tepid document that will have little long-term impact. In seeking unanimous support for the report and its commission, Kean and commission co-chair Lee Hamilton bartered away their ability to hold the Clinton or Bush administrations accountable, or to really sort out the relative responsibility of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In these overly partisan times, it was perhaps too much to ask that the commission put the pursuit of truth ahead of politics. But the sad reality is that Kean, Hamilton and the rest of the commissioners produced a compromised report that will soon be forgotten.
That is not to say that the report does not include some good suggestions for reform: Intelligence gathering operations should be better organized. And, even more importantly, Congress should be far more aggressive in monitoring the activities of intelligence agencies and the White House. If the report tells America anything, it is that there is a need for oversight by the legislative chamber.Americans who read the report closely will also note that it confirms, once and for all we hope, that there was no collaborative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida. They may also note that Iran, not Iraq, seems to have given aide and comfort to the terrorists - suggesting that President Bush launched his war against the wrong target.
What makes the report of the 9/11 commission so disappointing, however, is its failure to make such points explicitly. Kean and the other commissioners chose to write a politically correct report that could be spun by Republicans and Democrats with equal abandon, rather than a consequential document that could have answered fundamental questions and steered the country toward a wiser course.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times