Attorney General John Ashcroft had made clear that he wanted to charge terror suspects for “spitting on the sidewalk” if needed, just as Robert F. Kennedy had done with organized crime figures in the 1960’s. For nearly two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Chertoff was the Bush administration’s point man in that campaign.
Mr. Chertoff now takes on a new and equally daunting challenge as President Bush’s selection to lead the Department of Homeland Security, a federal behemoth operating 22 agencies and 180,000 employees. If confirmed by the Senate, he will give up a lifetime appointment as a federal appellate judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which he joined in 2003 after leaving the Justice Department.
In naming Mr. Chertoff to replace Tom Ridge as secretary of homeland security, Mr. Bush called him “a key leader in the war on terror” and said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, “he understood immediately that the strategy in the war on terror is to prevent attacks before they occur.”
I am and always will be an agnostic on the usefulness of terror-attack prevention. Sure, the right man at the top might make some difference, and the creation of the DoHS probably didn’t hurt. But what we need most is a streamlined bureaucracy (cough), smart agents in the field overseas (cough, cough, and thank you Bill Clinton), and luck. The first two items, even perfected, mean little when luck runs out.
And we’ve had a string of good luck running more than three years now. Yikes.
Unless and until we find out Chertoff has been spending his weekends date raping passed out debutantes, he looks like he’s probably the right man for the job. At least until our luck runs out.