Friday, July 23, 2004

Feeling Is Not Being

The 9/11 Commission Report has been released. It looks like a gripping thriller, doesn't it? I'll have to hurry and get my paper copy before the thing flies off the shelves. In all seriousness, I'm not going to read it, you're not going to read it, and you won't find housewives reading it by the pool while their kids swim, nor will the thing be likely to sell to a population more concerned about Stephen King's milestone 600th novel. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against Stephen King, and everything against someone who would read this report for pleasure. Now it's just a matter of choosing which source to believe for a meaningful summary of the contents.

There's something the commission suggested, a major change to the federal bureaucracy that came out before the report was released, that bothers me more than a little. One of the problems the commission found with intelligence before 9/11, a problem that prevented us from recognizing that an attack was coming (and we had plenty of signs), was lack of comminication among different branches of intelligence. Pieces of vital information got lost in the bureaucracy.

The solution? Well, that's not fair, so here's a better question: part of the solution? Well, the commission suggests that we create a new executive department in charge of intelligence. Let me guide you through that and connect the dots. The solution to a bureaucracy that is so large and inefficient that it prevents meaningful communication among departments is to expand that bureaucracy, create more metaphorical desks on which to place vital bits of information, information that would then have an even greater chance of being lost or ignored. We already created a Department of Homeland Security, and royally screwed over Pennsylvania in the process.* When this department was created, I could not help but be baffled. We seem to have a department for everything, and the bureaucracy is inefficient. It costs more to get less done. We could have done, and still could do, without the Department of Education, and there we were creating another department. And, in the face of direct attacks on the inefficiency of bureaucracy, the commission is suggesting more bureaucracy. I have to think this is the big government mentality coming through, where more government, and more money spent on government, just has to be better.

Some might say that this suggestion is better than nothing, since the new department can coordinate intelligence throughout the government. I contend that the new department is worse than nothing, a palliative at a time when we need a cure, and meaningless gesture that will keep us feeling safe and secure without being any safer or more secure. Right after the commission's work is the best time to address the serious lapses in national security that led to 9/11, and now is the time when Congress will be most likely to act decisively. The more time that passes, the more unlikely change is to be made. What the commission suggests is weak and ineffective and does little to solve the real problems with intelligence, but it will make millions of Americans, and hundreds of Congressmen, feel better. If anyone later cries out that we need more change, more streamlining, the reply will simply be that we already implemented those changes. If we do nothing now, we will find more receptive ears in the future, for no one will have even pretended to correct the problem; however, if we do something, even if that something is really empty, we only entrench bureaucracy even further and make it even more difficult for real change ever to take place.

When will the next attack come? I think this question is more relevant than asking whether the next attack will come, given the lessons we still haven't learned from 9/11, and our continuing feeble domestic response to international terrorism, as weak in some ways as President Bush's response abroad is strong.

If he loses the next election, even our foreign policy may be nothing more than a palliative, as it was for eight years in the 1990s, when the seeds of 9/11 were being sown while being largely ignored by the executive.


*instead of assisting the campaign of his successor, he was instead absent, probably a big reason Ed Rendell won the election. Thanks again, Tom.


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