Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Being the 9/11 junkie that I am, I have of course been watching the public hearings that the official 9/11 Commision has been holding. Yesterday I was off the whole day because of car problems, so I was able to watch Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright live on C-Span; Today I watched the evening C-Span reruns with George Tenet, Sandy Berger, and, with special interest, drama queen Richard Clarke on his taxpayer-funded book tour appearance. I must give the guy credit for what might be the single best line I've ever heard from someone who has just been caught in an enormous lie. The reference is to the 2002 briefing in which he specifically reported that the Clinton administration had given no special warnings about Al Qaeda terrorism, something he insists they did in his charming new book. His response?

"No, I don't think what I said was inconsistent with what I said in my book. It's really just a matter of tone."

I have to remember that one. "Ed, I thought you told me were picking up the check?"

"Oh no, not at all," Ed laughs drolly, "you mistook my tone."

My bigger problem with the whole 9/11 Commission business is that the process has degenerated into the usual Washington rock-em sock-em robot politics, with Democrats (especially that loathsome Richard Ben-Veniste) attempting to "pin" 9/11 on the Bush administration, while Republicans do the reverse with the Clinton administration. It's really, really unpleasant to watch, especially for someone like me who is--if you will--a 9/11 purist who only wants to learn more about how it happened. Instead we get tortured, mangled circumlocutions from Albright and Berger to the effect that the U.S.S. Cole bombing meant that action against al Qaeda was immediately necessary...right after they left office.

But I digress. The thing that is most vile about this whole business is the idea that there is "blame" being debated at all. The question of "blame" really doesn't seem very mysterious: I blame the people who did it. The idea of "blaming" a presidential administration, or even the intelligence agencies who admittedly screwed up horribly, is distasteful in the sense that it diminishes the responsibility of the killers. Those, I don't let off the hook.

What this--the need to "blame" someone local for "allowing" something "on his watch"--comes from is a particularly modern delusion. It's the idea that the purpose of government is to keep everyone in a protective cocoon, a playpen. Anything bad that happens is the fault of the government's protective mechanism, as if it were a natural disaster.

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