September 08, 2006


9/11 Commissioner John Lehman had some interesting takes on the controversy. "The larger truth," he told us, "is that neither administration fully grasped what the threat was. Partially it was inadequate intelligence but you can't blame it all on the inadequate intelligence -- there was, I think, a very naÔve view held by some in the Clinton administration, mainly Albright and Janet Reno that force was counterproductive."

Lehman, a Republican, told us that the campaign against the film by the Clinton officials misses the point. "I think what they're trying to do is to take the fact the specific scenes portrayed were fictional and to try to refute the underlying reality that the Clinton administration just didn't get it. And by the way before 9-11 neither did the Bush administration."

Yes, and that's why I've never been too critical of the Clinton Administration, or the pre-9/11 Bush Administration. Hindsight is 20-20, but not many people took the threat of Islamist terror seriously enough before the World Trade Center attacks, and I certainly didn't. As I noted a while back:

Before 9/11 -- and what we learned afterward -- I agreed with the basic strategy of trying to contain Islamist terror until it collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity. That was before I realized how widespread it was, and how thoroughly intertwined with hostile states it was. I don't fault the Clinton people for not catching on before I did.

But I do fault the people who are peddling the absurd story that Clinton had this terror thing under control until Bush screwed it up. That's partisan twaddle, and a real disservice in time of war.

By making a big noise over this film, the Clinton people are implicitly disavowing the "pass" they've enjoyed, and in the process inviting more, rather than less, scrutiny of that Administration's antiterror record, which strikes me as very unwise, politically.

UPDATE: James Lileks has it right:

Just so you know: 9/11 reset the clock for me. All hands went to midnight. Iím interested in what people did after that date, and if the movie shows that before the attack one side lacked feck and the other was feck-deficient, I don't worry about it. It's like revisiting Congressional debates about Hawaiian harbor security in November 1941. Y'all get a pass. The Etch-A-Sketch's turned over. Now: what have you said lately?


Jay Reding has further thoughts.

MORE: ShrinkWrapped doesn't like Democratic officeholders' threats against ABC: "Not only is there is no awareness that the campaign they are running against the Disney Corporation is dangerous but they revel in their ability to use all the forces at their command to intimidate a media outlet. If Republicans did this, the howls of outrage would know no bounds, yet the Democrats, champions of civil liberties as they fancy themselves to be, propose censorship without a trace of irony."

This is generating more blowback elsewhere: "This is exactly the sort of behavior that forces me to vote Republican even when I disagree with half their platform. Hopefully, the American people still believe the First Amendment should be upheld by both parties, and will act accordingly in November."

STILL MORE: Reader Susan Voss notes that Peggy Noonan was ahead of the curve, writing in 1998:

Maybe, of course, I'm wrong. But I think of the friend who lives on Park Avenue who turned to me once and said, out of nowhere, "If ever something bad is going to happen to the city, I pray each day that God will give me a sign. That He will let me see a rat stand up on the sidewalk. So I'll know to gather the kids and go." I absorbed this and, two years later, just a month ago, poured out my fears to a former high official of the United States government. His face turned grim. I apologized for being morbid. He said no, he thinks the same thing. He thinks it will happen in the next year and a half. I was surprised, and more surprised when he said that an acquaintance, a former arms expert for another country, thinks it will happen in a matter of months.

So now I have frightened you. But we must not sit around and be depressed. "Don't cry," Jimmy Cagney once said. "There's enough water in the goulash already."

We must take the time to do some things. We must press government officials to face the big, terrible thing. They know it could happen tomorrow; they just haven't focused on it because there's no Armageddon constituency. We should press for more from our foreign intelligence and our defense systems, and press local, state, and federal leaders to become more serious about civil defense and emergency management.

Not enough people were thinking this way, obviously.