December 3, 2002
of the media are politely calling it an inspired choice. But does
anybody really think we will learn anything we didn’t already know
from the commission to be headed by Henry Kissinger to look into
the intelligence and enforcement failures that led up to the terrorist
attacks of September 11?
that matter, does anybody believe the commission won’t be fairly
active in trying to prevent too much information leaking out to
the general public that was so badly served by the government that
was supposed to be protecting it?
THE FACTS THAT FIT?
right, President Bush delivered a public admonition to the commission
– whose formation he originally resisted – to "follow all the
facts, wherever they lead." But the appointment of the 79-year-old
Kissinger, who has begun to look and sound like a caricature of
himself in recent media appearances, virtually assures that the
commission is unlikely to shake up the government’s intelligence
community, let alone to recommend anything resembling serious reconsideration
of U.S. foreign policy.
wasn’t expecting much from the commission anyway. But putting Henry
the K in charge of it is really a shame. The intelligence services
and U.S. policy could use at least some minor questioning if it’s
too much to hope for a major jolt to the posteriors.
is unquestionably intelligent and experienced. But he has put his
abilities at the service of the U.S. powers-that-be almost his entire
life. While he has offered a mild demurrer from time to time when
asked about current U.S. policy – especially when it was being run
by the Democratic branch of the Government Party – he is the quintessential
Washington insider, so much a fixture of the foreign policy establishment
as to be almost its embodiment.
when some critics of the apparently forthcoming war on Iraq were
claiming Kissinger as a fellow-traveler, a closer reading of his
statements showed that he was questioning tactics, not strategy.
With Kissinger it’s never whether there ought to be an American
empire, but marginal questions about whether this or that mission
can actually be accomplished, or whether the most efficacious means
have been chosen.
is intelligent enough and informed enough to know that winning in
Iraq might not be easy – especially insofar as the definition of
"winning" is still so ill-defined – but he’s not about
to break ranks in a definitive way. He’s made and continues to make
a nice living and a nice reputation as a courtier in the imperial
palace, and that’s simply the path he has chosen.
probably wouldn’t go so far as to call Kissinger a proven war criminal,
as Christopher Hitchens, who has been relatively establishmentarian
since the 9/11 attacks, did in Slate recently. But there’s
little question that his attitude about power is that it should
be used – preferably intelligently and to a good purpose as defined
by his current conception of American interests, but used fairly
often. The idea of cutting back on U.S. interests and commitments
– except as a tactical maneuver or as a concession to facts on the
ground that make decisive use of power impractical for the moment
– simply doesn’t seem to be in his line of vision.
a little surprised that there hasn’t been more noise about the likelihood
of serious conflicts of interest that would prevent a genuinely
candid assessment of U.S. failures. Many of the news stories announcing
his appointment did mention that Kissinger and Associates has business
relationships with major U.S. corporations, such as H.J. Heinz,
Arco, Merck, American Express and J.P. Morgan-Chase. Few mentioned
his long-standing ties to countries like Saudi Arabia and China.
how likely is it that a commission headed by this man will recommend
a serious restructuring of the American relationship with Saudi
Arabia, or note that China might have long-term interests that are
not necessarily in harmony with American interests or ideals? Pretty
commission could have used a knowledgeable outsider with little
or nothing to lose and no particular personal interests at stake.
It is, after all, investigating the most massive and catastrophic
failure of the U.S. government to perform its most important and
justifiable task – protecting the American people from foreign adversaries
and enemies – in recent memory.
said, I confess that I have had a hard time coming up with possible
candidates. Leaving aside the fantasy that this president might
have appointed someone like the Cato Institute’s Ted Carpenter or
the IPS’s Sanho Tree, not many come to mind. The closest I came
to a feasible candidate from whom there might have been a possibility
of something other than power-justifying boilerplate was former
Secretary of State George Shultz. He has shown a modicum of independence
on the drug war and he is ensconced at Stanford’s Hoover Institution
rather than running a consulting firm. But he might have been reluctant
to do the kind of fearless, thoroughgoing inquiry the scope of the
failure really demands.
IT BIG TIME
better or worse, we’ll probably have to rely on independent critics,
probably without the backing of a major think-tank, let alone a
pile of taxpayers’ money, to do genuinely critical inquiries. Fortunately,
there are plenty of leads.
joint congressional committee did undertake some preliminary investigative
work. (In fact, the committee’s development of information about
just how extensive the tragic failure had been prior to 9/11 probably
convinced the Bush administration to drop its opposition to an "independent"
commission, knowing it could finesse inquiry by appointing someone
like Kissinger to sweep most of the inconvenient revelations under
the rug.) Its work deserves more publicity and expanded inquiries.
example, it has become reasonably clear that despite a certain amount
of knowledge about the possibility of terrorists using planes as
weapons, the intelligence community did little or no analysis of
this type of threat. Why not? Was it simply bureaucratic lassitude,
or were there other reasons?
CIA warned as early as 1998 that bin Laden and al-Qaida might pose
a significant threat to U.S. interests. But there was no significant
shift of resources or personnel into counterterrorism efforts either
by the FBI or the CIA, despite some increased funding? Why not?
Was this simply bureaucratic inertia following good intentions,
or were the 1998 warnings simply a cover-your-butt-in-case-it-happened
publicity stunt about potential problems which the intelligence
people never had any intention of taking really seriously?
the most serious and least likely to be corrected problem seems
to have been fragmentation of effort. Large blocks of information
about potential terrorist attacks on U.S. soil seem to have been
available. There was "chatter" about using airplanes at
least as early as 1994. But bits and pieces of information were
held by the 14 known agencies laughingly called the "intelligence
community," and little or none of it was shared. So nobody
could put the big picture together.
these agencies have traditionally been intensely jealous of their
turf and suspicious of their supposed "partners" in other
agencies. They have been infighting for decades. Despite some brave
efforts by former company men to give them credit, it is likely
that the Soviet Union broke apart due to its internal contradictions
and the surge of events rather than to anything the CIA or any other
U.S. spy agency did to weaken the Evil Empire.
creation of the vaunted Department of Homeland Security is unlikely
to be the least bit helpful in this regard, despite brave promises
shouted into the wind that they’re going to coordinate and get things
right this time. They might even make the problems worse. If any
of the overgrown bureaucratic mess was to be reformed, it should
have been done before the agencies were folded into a new super-agency.
Now the new head honcho will have a vested interest in protecting
these agencies just as they are, and helping them grow, preferably
without too much accountability or serious questions about whether
they are actually accomplishing anything.
there’s the question of Saudi Arabia. Whether or not the little
princess turns out to have knowingly given money to people who were
known to have terrorist sympathies, there’s little question that
the Saudi regime (more like a family business than a government)
has aided and abetted extremism and to some extent terrorism in
numerous indirect and direct ways.
has noted that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. The Saudi
regime has also financed a vast international network to promote
its state religion, Wahabbism, a brand of Islamic extremism that
breeds terrorists and justifies their actions.
Saud family has financed this reprehensible doctrine for a number
of reasons, including keeping potential extremists in Saudi Arabia
who might be less than entranced with the way the House of Saud
spends oil money, under control by keeping them close. Now its actions
have bitten the United States – not directly or purposely, perhaps
– in ways that in a sane world would virtually demand a rethinking
of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. We don’t need to go as far as the
neocons and lust for a war to acknowledge that reconsideration is
most U.S. policymakers, from Dick Cheney to Colin Powell, have a
cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia, for a number of reasons. They
have an interest in selling this financier of Wahabbism as a "moderate"
Arab state. In part it’s because of the oil, of course. Most of
our foreign policy establishment believes – or claims to believe
– that by dominating the international extortion and price-fixing
ring known as OPEC, the Saudis are contributing to world stability.
And plenty of people in positions of influence in the United States
have benefited handsomely by serving Saudi interests.
the U.S.-Saudi relationship could use a fresh look. But Dr. Kissinger
is hardly the man to lead the charge.
is he the man to critique the larger policy of "benevolent
intervention" and overseas military outposts that has done
so much to create resentment, blowback and enemies around the world.
Dubya’s perspective, then Henry the K was close to the ideal choice
to lead this commission. Its staff (perhaps, as usual, more important
than the principals) will no doubt develop lots of information,
perhaps even some we hadn’t known before. But it won’t tease out
any of the more interesting implications. It will be up to outside
critics to mine the reports for interesting nuggets and the true
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