Washington’s favorite political pastime – finger pointing – returned to full pre-9/11 glory this week with revelations the White House, a full month before the attacks, was briefed about fears Osama bin Laden’s gang of thugs might hijack airliners.
So the White House went into the all-to-typical defense mode of saying “we didn’t do nuttin’ wrong” and another old Washington game of “what did you know and when did you know it” began.
Publicity-hungry Democrats, frustrated over trying to find an issue that would stick against George W. Bush, jumped on the issue and immediately claimed this to be the biggest intelligence lapse since Pearl Harbor.
They were joined by more than a few opportunistic Republicans who demanded the White House tell all about the intelligence briefing.
Yes, things are back to normal in Disneyland on the Potomac. Mickey Mouse politics reigns supreme.
Many Americans have wondered how the United States, with all its intelligence-gathering resources, could be caught so flat-footed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
As it turns out, we weren’t so clueless as originally thought.
We had the clues. We just didn’t know what to do with them.
The Central Intelligence Agency knew bin Ladan was planning to hijack airplanes.
The FBI knew suspected terrorists were learning how to fly airplanes.
Various military intelligence agencies knew an attack on the U.S. was coming (they just didn’t know when or where).
Everybody knew something but – as it turns out – each of these intelligence experts did not know what others in their profession knew and no one was putting all these random bits of information together to see the whole picture.
The “we didn’t know” crowd at 1600 Pennsylvania say they never, ever, thought anyone would be bold enough to take a commercial airliner loaded with gas and people and crash it into a major building loaded with even more people.
And the “we would have known” crowd on the other side of the political fence see this as an excellent opportunity to mine political gold, saying things would have been different if the Supreme Court had just not put Bush in the White House.
If bin Laden’s cronies are planning another, even more devastating attack on this country in the near future, they can breathe a little easier. A country diverted by fighting with itself makes an easy target.
Instead of learning from our mistakes, we compound them by getting into a pissing contest.
Why not face the facts.
Our various intelligence agencies had the pieces of the puzzle.
We just didn’t have anyone smart enough to put the puzzle together.
That’s nothing new. America has a long, painful history of underestimating its enemies.
We get caught napping and then have to muster all our resolve to overcome an enemy who gets the jump on us by not playing by our rules.
But we can’t do that if we get bogged down in a blame game while the enemy is still at large.
We screwed up.
Time to learn from these mistakes and remember that this is war.
You win wars by overcoming your mistakes.
You lose wars by playing politics.