An Alternate Reality

Late this afternoon I drove from Berkeley to south San Jose, a two-hour journey along crowded but fast-moving freeways. Usually I'll spend a long drive contemplating the future or just letting my brain hop from one topic to the next: Honda Accord as isolation chamber. Today I cut on the radio. NPR was broadcasting Senate hearings on 9-11.

Deja vu. Senate hearings are an old dance form. Al Pacino and Robert Duvall in the Godfather captured them perfectly. The McCarthy Hearings were better live tango than Uncle Miltie ("Senator, have you no common decency?"). The propaganda & innuendo of the House Unamerican Activities Committee waltzed through my school and countless others (Operation Abolition -- Watch the lefties ride the spray of the firehose down the steps of San Francisco City Hall). The Watergate shuffle kept me glued to the tube for the better part of a summer (bonus points: John Dean lived in the same block in Alexandria as my parents at the time).

When Rummy came on today to go through the motions, the image of Robert McNamara kept popping into my head. In Fog of War, McNamara says that when they ask you a question, you don't answer it. Instead, you answer the question you wish they'd asked. I smiled as a senator told Rumsfeld that his answer was great but it didn't address the question he'd been asked.

The central theme of today's inquiry, and I'm cutting a few corners here, boils down to "Does shit happen?" A senator would ask whether we shouldn't have figured that bad guys might hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings. No, not necessarily, would come the reply. You can't be ready for everything. The smart-ass senator would suggest that maybe if we'd declared war on Al Quaida, that would have focused our attention. How so? asked the intel guys, noting that while always alert to avoiding "collateral damage," we've been trying to off Osama for years. Declaring war on a decentralized organization that flies no flag wouldn't have helped. Yeah, but maybe we'd have assessed "actionable intelligence" more liberally. I'm certainly not an apologist for Rummy, but the Senate's Monday-morning quarterbacking is so far from reality, it makes me ill.

Hey, you guys inside the Beltway, the world is unpredictable. Get over it. Sometimes there's no one to blame. As I mentioned, shit happens. Q.E.D. Deal with it. Let's work on improving the situation. Or is that too bi-partisan?

Coming up next: Religion. (Just fooling.)

Posted by Jay Cross at March 23, 2004 08:52 PM | TrackBack

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