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Taking the long view: comparing the 9-11 Commission and the Warren Commission


I seem alone among my colleagues in comparing the 9-11 Commission, formerly known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, and the Warren Commission, formerly known as the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, yet I find it instructive in comparing the two in terms of the tenor of the times in terms of the relationship between government and its citizens, the scope of information considered, how the commissions operated, how data was declassified and progressively shared, how the conclusions were released, and how those conclusions were received.

From my viewpoint, I find the current commission to be light-years ahead of the earlier one in terms of balancing public and private interests, presenting data in 'bite-sized' morsels that can be discussed, reasonably validated, "sniff-tested, and assimilated.  Thus it is all the more surprising to me that some significant portion of the US electorate continues to believe in an al Qaeda-Iraqi linkage despite the information now coming to light.  From what I can determine from CNN newscasts, this belief may be part of the rationale of the Vice President's continued pursuit of the pre-war Iraqi-al Qaeda operational cooperation.

In reading today's two 9-11 Commission reports, Overview of the Enemy and Outline of the 9/11 Plot, I was further startled to learn that we knew effectively all of the data "somewhere" but could not assemble it (except it would seem under the duress of a commission review), how ignorant we were of al Qaeda's capacity to plan and operate worldwide, and how flexible was their organization in the face of vast internal disagreements as to targets, timing, and staffing that would have derailed or surfaced the plan of a lesser organization. I am left to conclude that our hubris is extraordinary to the point of being dangerous.  No wonder that elements of the Chinese military feel that we are a 'beatable' adversary with an over reliance on C4IR tools.

Thinking of how our government reached this impasse, I found it instructive to review the comments made this morning by the nonpartisan Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change.  This reading is ever more poignant when one reads Chinese sources that refer to a US "unipolar" diplomatic approach in contrast to the Chinese "multipolar" approach contained in its "Peaceful Rise" diplomatic initiative that seeks to "advance without upsetting existing orders."  Both are worth a read. The contrast could not be more great.

Staff Statement No. 15: Overview of the Enemy
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
16 June, 2004

Staff Statement No. 16: Outline of the 9/11 Plot
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
16 June, 2004

Bush's Unsupported Assertion
Wednesday, Jun 16, 2004; 10:32 AM
White House Briefing
By Dan Froomkin

Retired Diplomats, Military Commanders Fault Bush's Leadership
Administration Unable to Handle Global Leadership, Former Ambassadors, Generals Say
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2004; 3:32 PM

'Peaceful rising' seeks to allay 'China threat'
By Bruce Klingner
Mar 12, 2004
Asia Times

CHINA'S PERCEPTIONS OF THE USA: The View from Open Sources
U.S.-China Commission
Dr. Michael Pillsbury
October 19, 2001

Gordon Housworth

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