April 08, 2004

Wouldn't a Non-Partisan Commission Be Preferable?

I believe that the 9/11 Commission is, by and large, taking its responsibility seriously. That, of course, doesn't preclude a little partisan political theater taking place at the same time, and this aspect of their work is very troubling. What the hell is with the applause from the peanut gallery, i.e., the nuts, when Richard Ben-Veniste treats Dr. Condoleeza Rice in a hostile manner, asking a series of leading, somewhat disjointed questions and then demanding a one-word response when that would be clearly insufficient to address his long list of assumptions and "known" facts? This seems more like a game of "gotcha" than an attempt to discern the fine differences between the interpretation of events. What exactly does this have to do with an objective inquiry?

Why is it that whenever the 9/11 Commission is described in political terms it is called bi-partisan? Wouldn't it be preferable that the 9/11 Commission be non-partisan? To a real, independent commision interested in process improvement with respect to national security, the softballs lobbed to Dr. Rice by those who are trying to make it easy for her are just as offensive as the hostility generated by those explicitly trying to point fingers. When the transcript comes out, you can easily determine who the Democrats are and who the Republicans are on the 9/11 Commission just from the text. It is a farce that this is the best we can do when it comes to trying to defend ourselves. I realize objectivity is a pipe dream, but it's still worth asking and trying to push towards an ideal even if we can't completely achieve it.

Oh well, here's a few more semi-random thoughts inspired while watching Dr. Rice's testimony this morning.

One of the contributing factors to the US's ability to prepare and respond to 9/11 was the delay in the transition from one administration to the other. The loss of at least a month in transfering responsibilities and personnel rippled for a long time. No, I don't believe that had Al Gore stuck with his concession that 9/11 would have been prevented. As I said, this was an additional aggravation rather than a causative event. But in a time of war, can we afford an impact of this nature in the future? I worry about this since I have read that John Kerry is already plotting to have lawyers ready to challenge ballots at polling places all over the US. Regardless of who wins, does John Kerry believe that these partisan legal challenges in close elections serve the people or not?

The War on Terrorism is going to go on for a long, long time. Most of us have already figured this out, but apparently not all have yet. Why would we bother to set up a Department of Homeland Security if we can dismantle it in two, four, or even eight years? It would seem to be a cliche that everything has changed, but we still hear an awful lot of business as usual from the Democratic Party this year.

The tertiary, if not secondary, purpose of having Dr. Rice testify is to try and damage her standing in the eyes of America. Oh yeah, Hillary is worried.

If I understood Dr. Rice's testimony correctly, it seemed to me that the PDD that RB-V kept referring to was in response to a request from President Bush to report what was known about Osama bin Laden and potential attacks on the US, whereas RB-V is treating it as a warning generated by troopers and staffers that the President and his NSC staff ignored. If I'm right about this PBD, then RB-V's willful attempt to mischaracterize this document and impugn the motives of the President's NSC staff should have him thrown off the 9/11 Commission.

Bob Kerrey is a decent man with a principled position different than mine. I welcome his tough questions, though I think he was grandstanding a little with his mini-rant on Iraq. Everything he said could have been said to Dr. Rice in private, but it seems more important to have it said to the television audience, his protestation that the message was for the President's National Security Advisor notwithstanding. After Bob Kerrey's session I have little faith that the 9/11 Commission's report will be of much value, other than to partisan pundits on both sides.

Now I'm ranting... it bugs the hell out of me every time I hear someone suggest that we (disregarding who "we" are for the moment) could have, nay, should have, prevented 9/11. Aside from some minor INS violations, what exactly could we have done to stop 9/11 from happening? The box cutters the terrorists had were not illegal at the time. Imagine the hue and cry had we arrested 19 Muslims that morning before they boarded their respective flights. What would we have arrested them for prior to them standing up and actually taking the planes over that morning, flying while Muslim? Conspiracies are damn hard to uncover and prevent beforehand. Even if the Clinton administration had taken much stronger direct action against terrorism beginning in 1993, the idea that we could always prevent terrorist acts is just nonsense. Can you imagine the hue and cry if the US had taken out the Taliban in August 2001? Aside from the usual suspects wielding their puppets for peace and screaming "No Blood for Oil!", the terrorist acts of 9/11 would have been called blowback and President BVush would have been accused of causing them by attacking the Muslim world. Don't think so? Have you forgotten Madrid already?

Our government and our society was not ready to deal with terrorism before 9/11. That's a fact. Another fact is that a significant portion of our society is still not ready to deal with terrorism, and so the rest of us will have to continue to carry the burden and take the heat on their behalf as well as ours.

I have a good background with process improvement. One of the key aspects of implementing any process improvement plan is to avoid blaming individuals and preventing the use of information gathered as a hammer to beat people with. Process improvement cannot work if people are afraid of it and spend more time engaging in CYA activities to shift blame and prevent their being blamed for problems instead of working towards a common goal of getting better. Another key aspect of process improvement is that it is about getting better, not about getting perfect. Unfortunately, everything I've heard this morning violates both of these principles of process improvement, primarily because there seems to be more interest in scoring political points than actually improving the process. I'm fairly disgusted by this.

I wish Dr. Rice had more time available, but only if the time could be used constructively. I don't think these kinds of televised hearings are terribly useful, but it's hard to imagine it being any other way. And now we get to hear and read everyone spin the last two and one-half hours in entirely predictable ways, looking for inconsistent minutae or lauding key catch-phrases. Oh, joy.

Posted by Charles Austin at April 8, 2004 11:36 AM

I quite enjoyed watching Ms. Rice testify. My admiration for her only increased. Even better was a version of her testimony that was split-screen with both she and the panel member visible simultaneously.

I particularly enjoyed watching her slap Bob Kerrey with his own quote about Saddan and the U.S.S. Cole (after his little dramatic beginning).

Posted by: Bill W at 03:00 PM

I agree with you on the sad nature of the partisan nature of the commission. But you say that you "don't think these kinds of televised hearings are terribly useful, but it's hard to imagine it being any other way." I disagree. There is another way. These hearings could be closed. Their findings could be open, but the question and answer grandstanding to a television audience was put forth with the audience in mind. The puffed-up egos would doubtlessly continue to hold sway, but Ben-Veniste and Kerrey, and the Navy undersec (I've forgotten his name) would have been curtailed by a private hearing. I have more thoughts on this at my website here (http://thisliberal.com/archives/000192.html).

Posted by: Nathan Cardon at 01:26 AM