Look forward in terrorism war

The contrast couldn't have been more clear, or more ominous. As a gallery of bureaucrats and 9-11 victims' families watched, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice did her best to put into context the state of intelligence information and the White House's response two years ago in the months leading up to terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, half a world away, American and coalition troops faced a raging battle on two fronts against insurgents in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq, and horrified Japanese citizens saw pictures of two aid workers and a journalist who have been held captive by terrorists.

It's not about looking back; it's about looking forward. It's not a political battle; it's a war.

What we learned from Rice's testimony before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is that there was more specific information given to President Bush about al-Qaida cells in the United States, about "chatter" of a spectacular attack and about possible hijackings than had previously been revealed.

These are politically damaging revelations, although they go more to the criticism that this administration simply will not give up information to the public without a fight.

The bottom line is that, even with the 20-20 vision of hindsight, no one has come up with a single, specific suggestion of something Bush should have done that would have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks.

If there is a recommendation along these lines forthcoming from the commission, it likely will be that Bush should have acted sooner or with more decisiveness or aggressiveness against al-Qaida.

Such a suggestion moves the debate forward to the war today in Iraq, where the U.S. military must again go on the offensive against Shiite militias.

The biggest mistake now would be to think the war in Iraq is anywhere near conclusion. The second biggest mistake would be to think that hearings by politicians in Washington, D.C., are going to win or lose it.


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