After the 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster, when the CIA tried to invade Cuba and failed, President John Kennedy took personal responsibility and ordered an independent investigation. The incompetent invasion actually had been planned during the Eisenhower administration, so JFK could easily blamed the mess on his predecessor.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt established an investigative commission chaired by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts, a Republican, who had been the prosecutor for the notorious Teapot Dome scandal.
President Bush is not going to assume responsibility for the World Trade Center catastrophe. His political allies blame President Clinton (as they are blaming him three years later for the current recession). Moreover, Mr. Bush continues to stonewall attempts to set up an independent investigation of what went wrong and to sit on the 900-page report a joint congressional committee prepared. The committee was chaired by a Democratic senator and a Republican representative.
The White House excuse for this cover-up is that discussion about what went wrong in the months before the destruction of the World Trade Center would interfere with the "war" on terrorism.
There are several things wrong with this argument.
First, if there is not something to hide, why not release the report?
Second, FDR and JFK had real wars to fight, the former against imperial Japan, the latter a Cold War against communism.
Third, the phrase "war on terrorism" is a metaphor (just like the "war on drugs," "the war on AIDS," the "war on hunger," the "war on poverty") for a struggle against international criminals. It is a very useful political label for a President who wants to be re-elected as a wartime leader.
The metaphor conceals what is different in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism as compared to the war against imperial Japan. Admitting the mistakes the administration made in July and August of 1991 will not give aid and comfort to anyone, and certainly not to al-Qaida. To refuse to do so is a cover-up.
Instead, the President continues to respond to terror with his cowboy rhetoric. We will get Osama bin Laden. We will get the Mullah Omar. We will get the terrorists who blew the hole in the USS Cole. We will get the anthrax killer. We will get Saddam Hussein and his sons.
Most recently, we will get the killers who attacked the compounds in Saudi Arabia and bring them to American justice.
The latter will be quite a trick since the killers were suicide bombers and Mr. Bush will have to bring them back from the dead to haul them into court.
No one seems to notice that we have not found bin Laden or the Mullah. The Cole terrorists escaped from a jail in Yemen, undoubtedly with the help of some elements in the Yemeni government. We have not found -- or perhaps not arrested -- the anthrax killer. Saddam is hiding somewhere, probably in a bunker in Baghad with his sons. Thirty of his top aides are still on the loose.
The people Mr. Bush proposed to smoke out are still free. Moreover, some of the CIA officials who dropped the ball in the summer of 1991 have been promoted. Yet the media who were so eager to pry into the private life of President Clinton seem disinclined to uncover the real story of what happened during that summer and whether the same people who dropped the ball then are still dropping it.
Nor have they paid any attention to the President's claim out there on the USS Abraham Lincoln that al-Qaida was on the run.
It would appear after the explosions in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and the threats in Kenya that they are not on the run at all. It would also appear that if one continues to believe Mr. Bush's rhetoric, one is accepting as true statements that might be less than true.
Finally, it is high time that someone in this country remembers FDR and JFK and wants to know what is really happening. What's the President trying to hide?