Monday, March 29, 2004

20/20 Hindsight and Political Myopia... The skinny on 9/11 is that no one in their right mind would have believed for a second that terrorists were capable of doing what they did. It was not the standard modus operandi, which was hijack and make demands. The idea may have floated through people's minds, but no one ever thought it possible. It's a matter of cultural perspective, in some cases, a Westerner very often cannot get into the mindset of a non-Western cutlure that believes suicide is a valid military tactic. If you don't think so, just remember what kind of troubles the military had with kamikazes in the Second World War. They were unprepared for it. The idea that mulitple attacks of that mature were in the offing was also beyond the scope of reasonable thought: it would have required a lot of time and preparation, and the thinking is, something like that could not be kept a secret forever. We would have heard about it.

The same thinking was in play at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were incapable of attacking us across 4,000 miles of ocean. They would adhere to the traditional laws and customs of war and declare their intent first. Readiness would take a back seat until it was really, really required. Conventional thinking killed 2,400 on Dec. 7th, 1941. Conventional thinking killed 3,000 on September 11th, 2001. Scapegoats were found in Kimmel and Short, but the problem was institutional and political, and only exacerbated by human error. The same can be said for September 11th.

And just like Dec. 7th, September 11th was a wake up call, and it will have effects that go way beyond the dead and the injured. Japan suffered under the effect of atomic weapons, Islam will suffer too although not in the same way. FDR was in charge at the time of Pearl Harbor and the criticisms then are the same we're hearing today: someone should have known, did FDR have warning, what did Chruchill know and why didn't he tell us? FDR "let" Pearl Harbor be attacked so that he could get us into a war to save the British Empire, etc, etc, etc. If anyone seriously studied the history and events surrounding Pearl Harbor (and they have been studied, exhaustively) one would come to the reasonable conclusion that, yes, there was enough information, and no, the mechanisms to make use of it did not exist. Bureacracy, inertia, lack of communications, and limited technology led to that somewhat-preventable disaster. The main key was an underestimation of the enemy. That system changed and the one we work with now will also change. In that case, 3,000 dead wil not have died in vain because we will have better tools to save thousands more. That's small consolation after the fact, but it is solace nonetheless.

It was found that prior to December 7, 1941 that the main problems were government interference in the most minute of military affairs, American isolationism, compartmentalizing of information, restrictions on the ditribution of information, and overt racism where the Japanese were concerned. Sloppy staff work, adherance to stifling bureacratic form and institutional distrust put the U.S. Pacific Feelt at risk, and got it sunk at anchor. Admiral Kimmel did not receive formal notification that he was under attack until two hours after the bombs started falling, and that message was sent by Western Union Telegram because the military channels were unmanned. General Marshall, the highest-ranking military leader at the time, was out riding his horse and could not be contacted. The Japanese diplomats that were supposed to deliver the declaration of war thirty minutes prior to the attack had to rely on an even slower method of communication and did not get their instructions from Tokyo deciphered in time, and so, the formal declaration of war occurred several hours after the attack. We were fortunate in that the Japanese did not complete the job --- they were just as shortsighted, and just as hamstrung.

With all the technology we have today, it makes the situation much better, but does not guarentee that another Pearl Harbor or September 11th will never happen again. The FBI and CIA had information on the hijackers, but were unable to share it with one another due to Congressional actions. The DIA and NSA had picked up signal intelligence but could not share it with law enforcement or military officials. The INS was so fucked up as to issue an entry visa to one of the hijackers 6 months after he crashed into an empty field in Pennsylvania. Legal mechanisms in place to protect the rights of the accused prevented the FBI from getting a search warrant for the laptop of one potential hijacker which subsequently turned out to have information about the attack and a list of contacts on it.

Who is to blame for what happened on September 11th? GW BUsh gets the lion share because it happened on his watch. That might be unfair --- you have to consider he was on the job only 8 months, and his staff appointments were held up by Al Gore's temper tantrum in the courts --- but that's politics. Eight years of a Clinton administration that dealt with terrorism as a law enforcement issue (unless it was it's own terrorism, i.e. Waco) rather than a militarey one is also to blame. A Clinton White House that could make a decision on what kind of dog the President should have to make him look more "folksy" to the press, couldn't make a decision as to how to retaliate for the first bombing of the Trade Center, embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole, and thus encouraged even more such attacks. Ronald Reagan's pullout from Lebanon can also be cited, as well as the ever-present spectre of Vietnam that pervaded the country in the 1970's and 1980's which made our political leaders wary, with exceptions, of utilizing American force where necessary, can also be thrown in. There's enough to go around.

Now the problem becomes utilizing the lesson correctly. Instead it's being used politically, but then again, politicians do that with any issue, so why shoudl this be different? You would, howver, think someone would realize that continuing to play politics with this is another way to get more people killed

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