Thursday's hearing before the 9/11 commission,
Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security
adviser, gave a triumphal presentation. She was
a spectacular witness.
was a tough critic of some of her answers and
assertions, though I believe I was at least as
tough with the national security adviser for President
Clinton. At the beginning and end of every criticism
I have made in this process, I have also offered
this disclaimer: anyone who was in Congress, as
I was during the critical years leading up to
Sept. 11, 2001, must accept some of the blame
for the catastrophe. It was a collective failure.
things about that failure are clear to me at this
point in our investigation. The first is that
9/11 could have been prevented, and the second
is that our current strategy against terrorism
is deeply flawed. In particular, our military
and political tactics in Iraq are creating the
conditions for civil war there and giving Al Qaeda
a powerful rationale to recruit young people to
declare jihad on the United States.
case for the first conclusion begins with this
fact: On 9/11, 19 men defeated every defense mechanism
the United States had placed in their way. They
succeeded in murdering 3,000 men and women whose
only crime was going to work that morning. And
they succeeded at a time of heightened alert -
long after we recognized that Al Qaeda was capable
of sophisticated military operations.
the attack occurred after President Clinton had
let pass opportunities to arrest or kill Al Qaeda's
leadership when the threat was much smaller. It
occurred after President Bush and Ms. Rice were
told on Jan. 25, 2001, that Al Qaeda was in the
United States, and after President Bush was told
on Aug. 6, 2001, that "70 F.B.I. field investigations
were open against Al Qaeda" and that the "F.B.I.
had found patterns of suspicious activities in
the U.S. consistent with preparation for hijacking."
again I know that President Clinton, President
Bush and Ms. Rice all faced difficult challenges
in the years and months before 9/11; I do not
know if I would have handled things differently
had I been in their shoes. It has been difficult
for all of us to understand and accept the idea
that a non-state actor like Osama bin Laden, in
conjunction with Al Qaeda, could be a more serious
strategic threat to us than the nation-states
we grew up fearing.
this recognition does not absolve me of my obligation
to ask those who were responsible for our national
security at the time what they did to protect
us against this terrorist threat.
episode strikes me as particularly important.
On July 5, 2001, Ms. Rice asked Richard Clarke,
then the administration's counterterrorism chief,
to help domestic agencies prepare against an attack.
Five days later an F.B.I. field agent in Phoenix
recommended that the agency investigate whether
Qaeda operatives were training at American flight
schools. He speculated that Mr. bin Laden's followers
might be trying to infiltrate the civil aviation
system as pilots, security guards or other personnel.
Rice did not receive this information, a failure
for which she blames the structure of government.
And, while I am not blaming her, I have not seen
the kind of urgent follow-up after this July 5
meeting that anyone who has worked in government
knows is needed to make things happen. I have
not found evidence that federal agencies were
directed clearly, forcefully and unambiguously
to tell the president everything they were doing
to eliminate Qaeda cells in the United States.
second conclusion about the president's terrorism
strategy has three parts. First, I believe President
Bush's overall vision for the war on terrorism
is wrong. - military and civilian alike.
the importance of this distinction is that it
forces us to face the Muslim world squarely and
to make an effort to understand it. It also allows
us to insist that we be judged on our merits -
and not on the hate-filled myths of the street.
Absent an effort to establish a dialogue that
permits respectful criticism and disagreement,
the war on terrorism will surely fail. The violence
against us will continue.
a dialogue does not require us to cease our forceful
and at times deadly pursuit of those who have
declared war on us. Quite the contrary. It would
enable us to gather Muslim allies in a cause that
will bring as much benefit to them as it does
to us. That's why President Bush was right to
go to a Washington mosque shortly after Sept.
11. His visit - and his words of assurance that
ours was not a war against Islam but against a
much smaller group that has perverted the teachings
of the Koran - earned the sympathy of much of
the Muslim world.
the sympathy wasn't universal, that some in the
Arab world thought the murder of 3,000 innocents
was justified, caused many Americans to question
whether the effort to be fair was well placed.
It was - and we would be advised to make the effort
we should swallow our pride and appeal to the
United Nations for help in Iraq. We should begin
by ceding joint authority to the United Nations
to help us make the decisions about how to transfer
power to a legitimate government in Iraq. Until
recently I have not supported such a move. But
I do now. Rather than sending in more American
forces or extending the stay of those already
there, we need an international occupation that
includes Muslim and Arab forces.
is not on our side in Iraq. We do not need a little
more of the same thing. We need a lot more of
something completely different.
Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 commission and a
former Democratic senator from Nebraska, is president
of New School University.
Posted: April 12, 2004