Thursday, May 16

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Smell Blood

Congressman Dick Gephardt (D-Mo) is calling for an open Congressional hearing on the FBI intelligence warnings about the possibility of Islamist terrorists hijacking planes before September 11th. According to Gephardt, "the way to do better is to understand what happened in the past. Was there a failure of intelligence? Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way? These are things we need to find out." Agreed. I think that Professor Reynolds was exactly right when he expressed the following, similar sentiment: "I have no confidence, at this point, that the intelligence system is being given the shakeup it needs to do the job it faces. I'd very much like to be wrong in this, and it's possible that behind the wall of secrecy everything is being done right. It's also possible that we have the same "top men" working on this as were featured at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I'm sorry to say that I know which way to bet." Certainly, a thorough evaluation of the FBI's intelligence gathering and disseminating procedures is long overdue and the recent revelations are a suitable occasion for reviewing the Bureau's relationship with the ultimate decisionmakers in the White House. I only wish that I had more confidence that Gephardt's inquiry will not degenerate into pre-presidential nomination posturing. Unfortunately, my pessimism is not relieved by the news that Senator John Edwards (D-NC)--never shy about wearing his ambition on his sleeve--has already jumped into the fray, opining on Good Morning America that "there should have been bells and whistles going off." It is amazing how just a couple of sessions on the Intelligence Committee can turn a senatorial greenhorn into Jack Ryan.

If my fears are confirmed and the hearings prove little more than cover for a stealth attack on President Bush or a forum for Democratic grandstanding, it will be doubly unfortunate. Not only will the nation be subjected to self-aggrandizing Monday-morning quarterbacking masquerading as civic duty, but a real opportunity to rectify what problems may exist in the American intelligence community will slip by. Washington--sometimes for good, more usually for ill--has the attention span of a gnat raised by MTV veejays; a chance to review an agency or a difficult issue comes around once a decade at most. If the opportunity for meaningful change is missed, there is almost no hope of getting anyone to revisit the problem unless another national crisis implicates the agency. In this case, that would be the worst imaginable scenario.