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ASKING presidential leaders The right Question
by Burt Hall
April 1, 2004

[This article is a follow-up to the families of 9/11 by Burt Hall. The main/primary article called: 9-11 and a Lack of Presidential Leadership is also posted on our website.]


Whether a particular response would have actually prevented 9-11 is the wrong question to ask. People can have opinions on this, but no one can be sure what eventually would have happened. To answer that question either way could be self-serving and misleading. Also, it encourages the use of 20/20 retrospective, something the decision maker did not have at the time.

The right question

The correct question is: Put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker at the time. What would a reasonable and prudent person have done in the same situation -- irrespective of whether that action would or would not have prevented 9-11? For example:

1) What should either or both administrations have done when confronted with a declaration of war, a series of very damaging attacks on the United States -- and the certainty that such attacks would continue?

2) What action should have been taken once responsibility for the USS Cole was confirmed?

3) What should have been done when a bipartisan anti-terrorism commission advised the White House of an impending catastrophe and urged that the government be reorganized to cope with it?

4) What preventive measures should have been taken, both inside and outside government, when warnings from around the world intensified (e.g. Israel intelligence, "Large-scale terrorist attacks imminent on highly visible targets on U.S. soil")? And, should this kind of information have been shared with the American people?

The initial steps in responding to the above situations would have been just the first shot. They could have escalated and led to measures that would have reduced the nation's vulnerability. That is the basis on which our leaders should be judged not necessarily whether the actions they took would have prevented 9-11. The latter is more the subject of your recommendations.

These kinds of questions could be posed to National Security Advisor Rice, as well. Her speech on national security, that was to be delivered on the same day as 9-11, confirms much of Clarke's testimony and would be a fruitful basis for questions.

In the end, the measures taken should have shown a government in action anxious to protect its people. That's all we can expect -- but no less.

Posted: April 12, 2004


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