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Continental Divide


For much of the past few months, whenever I have to think about the divisions created and maintained by this country’s invasion of Iraq, I’ve returned, again and again, to the emotions generated by 9/11. It resonates across the country. But the further you get from Manhattan, the lower the echo.
Today, the blogosphere provides even more grist for that mill.
Scott Rosenberg, from right here in San Francisco, wrote last week about former national security advisor Richard Clarke’s public apology for 9/11. The apology, says Rosenberg, is long overdue and most welcome.

Because Clarke’s words exposed a deep emotional vacuum in the Bush administration’s handling of 9/11. Bush and his team won widespread acclaim for their bullhorn-toting, Bible-waving, smart-bomb-dropping reaction to the terror attacks. And each of those responses had its place, and accomplished something in the long process of coming to terms with the death and destruction of that day. But the Bush approach, with its macho swagger punctuated by interludes of lower-lip-biting moments of silence for our collective loss, has never fully satisfied the national psyche.
Over the weekend, Jeff Jarvis, writing from New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center bombing site – he was at the towers when they were bombed – takes Rosenberg to task.
I know those feelings well; my life has not been and will not be the same since surviving that day. I feel those feelings. And that’s why I object to Clarke exploiting them to make his rhetorical brownie points: I’ll apologize on behalf of the entire frigging U.S. government to make them look bad and me look good and you feel good. Crap.
I think Jarvis is wrong. I don’t think a professional bureaucrat like Clarke is trying to exploit anyone’s emotions. I find his testimony, what I’ve seen of it, sincere and credible. I don’t expect that Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will do as well as Clarke did and I suspect that’s the main reason the 9/11 Commission insisted on her testifying in public and under oath. It’s the only way to stop the partisan sniping Clarke is taking from the administration, sniping that’s part of the very “macho swagger” Rosenberg rightly decries.
The commission’s demand speaks as much to Clarke’s credibility with guys like former Sen. Bob Kerrey – one of the few people who has seen most of the intelligence on this – and Commission co-chair Tom Kean, an old-line East Coast Republican just like former President George H.W. Bush. The Bush people are in trouble with Kean who is proving to be less of a political hack then they might have liked. It’s worth remembering that this isn’t the only commission out there. A special inquiry into the failure of U.S. intelligence on the so-called weapons of mass destruction is also hard at work.
Here’s the real failure of leadership on the part of the administration, failure that ultimately may disappoint guys like Jarvis, looking for a clear solution to a complicated and ugly state of world affairs. Was 9/11 an act of war? By whom?
I’m not being silly here. Terrorism isn’t state-based. It may never be over. This contest may last generations. War, on the other hand, is an act of aggression by one state against another. When it’s over, governments exchange treaties. We are faced with the work of madmen, there is no question about that. But there may never be any treaties, any agreements, anything that ressembles a peace process.
This is possibly the most pressing – and the most poorly addressed or articulated — issue before us in this election cycle. The difference of opinion on what to do about this is profound as Jarvis and Rosenberg’s comments demonstrate. But the president’s failure to speak to this state of affairs should trouble every reader, regardless of party affiliation. It is, after all, in uniting people that causes are won.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 1:13 PM | Permalink

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