After opening the war on terrorism to political examination, Democrats run the risk of exposing their own party, including former Democrat presidents, to culpability in any intelligence failures. John R. Bolton, now undersecretary of state for arms control, noted in a May 16, 1999 column in The Washington Times: "(President) Clinton has consistently mismanaged what should have been, for any administration, the primary obligation of stewardship for the country's intelligence capabilities. … From the start, the president himself has never shown much interest in intelligence matters. He is the first president in memory not to receive morning briefings directly from the Central Intelligence Agency along with his daily copy of the written ‘President's Daily Brief.' Even today, CIA briefers rarely see (President Clinton) personally."
Did this indifference to intelligence lead to the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and the mistaken 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, not to mention our "surprise" over India's nuclear testing in 1998? Did it make 9/11 inevitable? Inquiring congressional minds will want to know.
A 1997 essay for Studies in Intelligence by Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Russ Travers offered a balanced critique of the decline in American intelligence gathering. In his commentary, presciently titled "The Coming Intelligence Failure," Travers found fault in the executive and legislative branches, as well as the intelligence community.
In the executive branch, Travers suggested that U.S. national security policy had been more reactive than anticipatory: "Any attempt to program resources according to consumer needs is a recipe for getting whipsawed from crisis to crisis and cannot be sustained." Congress also "will bear some responsibility for our forthcoming intelligence failure," wrote Travers, four years before 9/11. He cited the congressional push for a division of labor in the intelligence community has "significantly diminished competitive analysis (of data) within the community and should, therefore, be seen as an acceptance of increased risk." Travers added, "By operating under the premise that we can divide intelligence analysis into military, economic and political subcomponents and then parcel out discrete responsibilities to various agencies, we are sowing the seeds for inevitable mistakes." This "artificial distinction" had not existed before, Travers noted, and "we are setting ourselves up to do bad political, economic and military analysis; by implication, support to all our consumers is going to get worse."
Further, "a combination of bureaucratic politics and self-inflicted wounds within the intelligence community will prove to be critical factors responsible for our failure," Travers wrote.
These are some of the areas where any investigation of intelligence failures should focus. To suggest, as some Democrats are, that President Bush put thousands of lives at risk by ignoring specific and credible evidence of an imminent attack on the United States by Islamic extremists flies in the face of the character and moral strength an overwhelming majority of Americans have come to admire in this man, especially since 9/11.
If Democrats want to pursue such a strategy, Republicans should not stand in their way. It might return the Senate to Republican control and probably widen the GOP majority in the House.