Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take-Aways from 9/11 Probe ; for One, American Citizens Must Also Act Differently

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Take-Aways from 9/11 Probe ; for One, American Citizens Must Also Act Differently

Article excerpt

Americans were well served by public inquiries of Bush and Clinton administration officials this week about their anti- terrorist actions before Sept. 11. This airing of decisions made - or not made - should help the nation make further adjustments to counter the danger that terrorism still poses.

The final report of the 10-member bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States isn't due until late July, but already its initial work has shown a need to refine the campaign against Al Qaeda and its related groups.

Assigning blame for pre-9/11 decisions may provide some solace to the families of victims. And finger-pointing with the hindsight of the attacks may serve a useful political purpose during an election year. Many voters could be swayed by the commission on whether Democrats or Republicans are better at counterterrorism. Both parties now have multiyear track records in that effort.

But the commission's primary role should be to present lessons still to be learned rather than simply to point out lapses of judgment. And its report could be useful to force both President Bush and John Kerry to be more specific on how they would fight terrorism over the next four years.

Cues from the public mood

What was made clear during the two days of hearings was how much both administrations took their cue for action from the public mood - reflected in Congress - toward the threat of terrorism. Americans need to realize how much their estimates of the threat, and their willingness to take risks and devote resources, influence government in this campaign.

The former counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, told the panel that persuading Congress and various agencies to take action was much easier after 9/11. "You know, unfortunately, this country takes body bags and requires body bags sometimes to make really tough decisions about money and about governmental arrangements."

He asked the panel to recommend "a change in the attitude of government about threats, that we be able to act on threats that we foresee, even if acting requires boldness and requires money and requires changing the way we do business; that we act on threats in the future before they happen. …

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