September 11 Report Reflects Damage Control

Peter Hudis

An analysis of the September 11 Commission Report – Editors

The reports of the Senate Intelligence Committee and September 11 Commission, issued in July, reflect concern in ruling class circles over public outrage over the war in Iraq as well a desire on the part of the political establishment to steer such opposition into manageable channels.

Both reports contain a wealth of damning information concerning Bush’s rationale for going to war against Iraq. The Senate Intelligence Committee Report found that Bush’s assertion of Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction were unfounded and that his claims of a connection between Hussein’s regime and Al-Qaeda were at best “tenuous.” Moreover, it concluded that Iraq did not pose a serious threat to either regional stability or U.S. interests, as Bush had long insisted.

The report of the September 11 Commission had less to say about the Iraq war, though it also found “no connection” between Al Qaeda and Hussein. It noted that initial claims concerning a connection between them were based on testimony from a captured Al Qaeda operative who soon retracted his statements. Of the handful of reported contacts between Al Qaeda and Hussein’s regime, the report concluded: “To date we have seen no evidence that these or the other earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.”

The September 11 report did not comment on the Iraq war itself, choosing not to discuss Bush’s claim that it was a “central front” in the war against terror.

Both reports focused on “intelligence failures” as the reason why the Bush administration failed to anticipate both the September 11 attacks and the difficulties the U.S. would face in occupying Iraq. While the CIA and other intelligence agencies bear the brunt of criticism in both reports, the Bush administration is not totally let off the hook. The September 11 Commission found that the White House rarely pressured the FBI and CIA for details and never raised doubts about their intelligence reports–even though it was suggested months before September 11 that Al Qaeda may be preparing to use U.S. jetliners to launch a suicide terrorist attack.

BENDING INTELLIGENCE TO RULERS’ NEEDS

Yet clearly the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies are the fall-guys in both reports. Both go out of their way not to address the question of whether the intelligence agencies were pressured to tell Bush what he wanted to hear. As THE NEW YORK TIMES reported on July 25, “Under an agreement between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate report on prewar intelligence on Iraq did not address in any detail the question of how the Bush administration used that intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. It focused primarily on intelligence agencies” (“Behind 9/11: Old Miscues and New Twists,” by Donald E. Sanger and Douglas Jehl).

Likewise, the September 11 Commission steered clear of suggesting changes in U.S. foreign policy. It never mentions Bush’s 2002 “National Security Strategy” that calls for preemptive war and limits itself to suggesting that “in addition” to military acts the U.S. should place more emphasis “on diplomacy and political actions…The government must define what its message is, what it stands for.”

The biggest recommendation of the September 11 Commission is to “overhaul intelligence gathering” by creating a cabinet-level director controlling all 15 federal intelligence agencies. This follows the procedure used to overhaul the Pentagon in the mid-1980s, when it formed a joint operational command. The report did not discuss how civil liberties would be affected by this change.

Kerry immediately endorsed the conclusions of the September 11 report, while also saying little about civil liberties. Bush has been slower in his response, in part because implementing its suggestions will undermine the power of his National Security Council, but it is likely that he will endorse its basic recommendations relatively soon.

What is striking is the degree of unanimity expressed by Democrats and Republicans on both commissions. As Thomas H. Kean, head of the September 11 Commission put it, “We have been unified by a sense of history, by our friendship, and by our responsibility to the American people.”

SINGLE WORLD DOMINATION

Such unanimity may conceal splits within establishment circles. Significant sections of the U.S. ruling class are worried that Bush’s over-reaching on Iraq and domestic surveillance threatens to undo their two-decade effort to forge a national consensus based on acceptance of the U.S. drive for single world domination. Yet it is precisely their concern that the American people may come to reject, not just the Iraq war but the entire political and economic policies on which it was based that has leaders of the two political parties rushing to seal off and coopt the opposition by focusing on “intelligence failures” rather than the internal political and economic dynamics that drive U.S. policy.

We witnessed this approach at the Democratic convention, where Kerry draped himself in the garb of a tried and true military leader in a way that would have made even Reagan blush. While much of the ruling class is worried about Bush, they are even more worried that opposition to his policies may lead masses of people to question the entire system on which their power is based. In this sense, the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, September 11 Commission, and Democratic convention are as much about containing challenges to the status quo as opposing Bush.

Given this situation, it is urgent to develop an independent pole of opposition that speaks to the growing dissatisfaction of workers, women, youth, and minorities by showing that a fundamental alternative to capitalist society can arise in our lifetime. That task begins by showing that another world is possible by conceptually developing a vision of a new, human society to replace the present one.

Originally appeared as an unsigned editorial in News & Letters, August-September 2004

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