The current furor over whether President Bush or other members of his administration knew or didn't know before last September 11th about certain indicators of a possible terrorist attack is, we suspect, misplaced an example of the 20/20 clarity of hindsight. The fact is ... if you put together the vague particulars of a CIA briefing here, a National Security Council report there, and an FBI agent's educated hunch over there, you could connect the dots and still see nothing more than some reason for a heightened sense of vigilance.
In other words, if Bush had been given all these documents at once and had the compelling passages been underscored and accompanied by swelling orchestra chords, there still would not have been enough explicit evidence on hand to justify anybody's saying "Bush Knew!" (as a New York newspaper so brazenly headlined its first-day story about these ex post facto disclosures).
If Bush "knew," from evidence such as this, the proximate dimensions of what was going to happen, even the whens and wheres of it, he would be simultaneously a worse figure in American history than Benedict Arnold the worst ever, in fact and the most clairvoyant head of state ever to rule over empire or republic since this world began.
But none of this is the point, which is: What can we do about it now? What we can do is exactly what a bipartisan chorus in Congress is calling for disclosure of the various shreds of intelligence we had on hand at the time, in tandem with a full-court investigation of the way in which our national intelligence apparatus has been operating (or failing to operate). The point of all this is not to affix blame but to make the necessary corrections for error so that a country at war and a peculiarly difficult war at that can make the necessary dispositions.
We don't want to be caught flat-footed next time. That's the bottom line, and that's why Vice President Cheney or anyone else in a position of national authority should relax their opposition to such a process. Let's find out what's wrong and fix it. The stakes are too high not to.
Before the catastrophic events of last September, the most alarming event for us news junkies locally was the appearance last July at the penultimate moment of decision for an already dazed and confused legislature of an aroused crowd at the Tennessee state Capitol. Apologists for the crowd deny that it was a mob; apologists for the legislature deny that it influenced their failure, for the third straight year, to solve the state's fiscal crisis.
Both sets of apologists are wrong: The crowd shouted, shoved, broke glass, and fatally disrupted the state Senate's intended deliberations. The cowed legislators tucked tail, raided yet another reserve fund, and went home. Senator Mark Norris of Collierville, a respected income-tax opponent, used the M-word without quibble last year and said that the mob which it was prevented a conservative solution to the state's budget problem. Others would say it impeded prospects for tax reform.
Whatever the case, it is clear that the demonstrators achieved their end. They shut down the process of representative government. It used to be the conservatives among us who argued that we were a republic, not a democracy, and that mass action was no substitute for reasoned deliberation. Would that, like Norris, they did so again.