Richard Clarke in "Against All Enemies" paints a picture of wrong-headed leadership making bad judgment calls.  Given the Bush objectives, however, this can all be seen as good judgment, casting an entirely different light on 9/11: It worked, didn't it?  If the 9/11 Commission is to get to the heart of the matter, it cannot ignore this aspect.  

Condoleezza Rice protests vigorously that the Bush team was doing everything it could to attack Al Qaeda, and it is within this arena that Clarke's criticism is contained.  This is a debate about covering the dump to halt a plague of rats.  The homeowner 9/11 survivors are all for that, but they want to know how the rats got into their house to kill the baby, and no one wants to talk about that.  They put up a clamor and a study commission is created to find out.  The question still hangs: How did the rats get in?  

There is no mystery as to why the Bush team, to Clarke's dismay when he showed up for the first White House meeting after 9/11, was discussing not Al Qaeda, but Iraq.  Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld--even George W. Bush--announce it by their very presence.  You can read it in the National Security Strategy adopted September 20, 2002; or you can look pre-9/11 to the "Project for the New American Century" of September, 2000, issued as Bush was running for office--the Cheney-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld plan updated for early implementation.  It was born of the Reagan years when the U.S. faced a new era with no more Soviet threat to justify military build-up.  Wolfowitz authored the first version for Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush, who held it back because its "pre-emptive warfare" concept was considered unsaleable.  It was sitting there ticking for Bush Sr.'s second term, which didn't come about.    

Thus the unyielding direction of George W. Bush (called a "steady hand") was set in place by others well before his election in 2000.  Clarke has pointed out how Clinton was weakened by the Republican attack in the Monica Lewinsky affair; after missing bin Laden once with a barrage of million-dollar missiles, at the same time destroying a pharmaceuticals plant in Sudan, he was tagged with a "wag the dog" motive and caused to draw back.  Clarke says Clinton's team did its best to impress the incoming Bush people of the urgency to confront Al Qaeda.  

So why weren't they impressed?  Looking at Bush personally, one could attribute it to his ignorance in foreign affairs, coupled with stubbornness and lack of curiosity.  But that only made him the right person for the role he was asked to play.  Iraq had to be occupied during Bush's first term--no ifs, ands, or buts.  Afghanistan had to be tacked down with American military bases to protect the oil supplies that would be coming from the Caspian and west Asian areas that Russia and China were, and are, counting on as theirs.  He who controls world oil supply is the one left standing, who gets to shape other economies by control of the world oil price.  Iraq was the throne, being befouled by the doltish Saddam Hussein, an unqualified pretender.  The problem was time-critical: The U.S. had to be well and irrevocably invested in the area in Bush's first term.  Waiting for the United Nations to inspect would mean defeat.

  Even with the support of the Israel lobby, which knew Iraq was no serious threat but welcomed this first step toward neutralizing Iran, it would not be feasible to build the necessary groundwork in time without some event to strip the complacency from Congress and the American people.  Time was a-wasting.  When the Bush team was told so clearly and repeatedly that the U.S. was domestically vulnerable that year, it fit their program precisely.  If an administration believed in its heart that a sustainable future for America lay only in world dominance, achievable only by military action to secure distant oil reserves coveted by other potentially dominant powers, and this could be achieved in time only with the domestic support created by a spectacular attack on the U.S., should it concentrate its energies on preventing it?  Why, when a successful defense would defeat its main goal by appearing to prove the viability of isolationism--the standard American reflex?  

From the beginning, a shroud of secrecy has been placed over the events of that day.  Engineers were not allowed to save structural pieces of the twin towers for examination; the 47-story Building 7 collapsed late in the day, a collapse called "mysterious" by The New York Times, for which we still await an explanation; the public has not been allowed to view the government film of Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon, fueling a theory that it was not an aircraft but a missile; the FBI seized flight control records so that the public still cannot find out what caused the delays; supersonic F-15's and F-16's were ready on five minutes' notice to intercept the airliners, but none reached their targets in time, then we find that they flew at a minor  fraction of their maximum speed to reach them; the President, informed that the nation was under attack, went on chatting with the second-graders in Sarasota for ten minutes or more, while the interceptors went without an essential presidential order if they were to shoot down civilian aircraft.  "Lackadaisical" is a word applied by Clarke to Bush efforts to find Al Qaeda.  For Bush's 9/11 reaction, that word is inadequate.  When Republican commission member John Lehman said last week that he had seen no "smoking gun," it tells me the Commission has not yet done its main work.  

Magnifying doubts is the fact that no one has been disciplined, or even criticized by the administration, for the obvious failures.  As does Rice, all absolutely refuse to admit to any mistakes, making Clarke's apology a bitter pill.  Bush, Rumsfeld, and Rice have made flat declarations that they had no reason to believe that the U.S. would be attacked in the way that it was, with commercial aircraft--an assertion not credible when made by anyone who has read the December, 2002 report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry, or for anyone who was briefed by CIA Director George Tenet in the summer of 2001.  The anti-aircraft batteries on the roof of the White House were placed there after the foiled hijacking of a commercial airliner at National Airport some years ago, the White House its intended target.  

The administration initiated no investigation, but instead stonewalled every such proposal while declaring evidence secret.  When the 9/11 Commission was forced down its throat, it still resisted.  This is damning.  It indicates concern that some accused person in defending himself will open subjects or name others who will give testimony bound to be even more embarrassing to Bush than anything Clarke has brought out.  They wish to leave sleeping dogs lie, so use the know-nothing defense, as per Bush saying that had he known that the enemy was going to use airplanes in that manner he would have used "every resource, every asset, every power" to prevent it.  

Given his main objectives, that would have been illogical.  If he had done that, we would not be in Iraq today.  The U.S. would not have the permanent military bases now established along the oil pipeline routes from the Caspian area through Afghanistan, and in Iraq, ready for action in next-door Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.  Bush announced after 9/11 that we were entering a war of "indefinite duration."  Whatever an Iraqi "democracy" turns out to be, it will be required to accept U.S. control of its oil.  Pursuant to the National Security Strategy, no nation will have a veto power where U.S. interests are involved--with an unspoken corollary: where Israeli interests are involved.  If Iraq's infrastructure and its cultural treasures were destroyed by U.S. failure to guard them, diminishing its competence and its stature, and if its army was disbanded instead of being available for peace-keeping, and chaos ensued, this was not bad judgment in attaining the Bush goals.  If Israel's assassination of Shiek Yassin leads to more upheaval in the Middle East, this is not bad judgment.  It makes steerable dictatorial governments more likely, necessary to control enraged, poverty-dumbed people who pose no significant threat to U.S.-Israel hegemony.  The increase in terrorism that results will simply prove the wisdom of the policy of preemptive war, as with Israel's approach to Palestine.  More terrorists means a continuing need for a high level of military expenditures, and a rationale to convince Americans they must sacrifice their rights and their standard of living.  With this year's election safely in the barn, next on the Bush list for the evening news is Iran.  

If we are pursuing the objectives of The Project for the New American Century, this is progress.  If you prefer a United States that stands for justice, peace, and world cooperation and understanding, it is radically wrong-headed.  A defender of Bush policies has to believe that such a just and peaceful world is no longer a realistic objective in the 21st century.  The 9/11 Commission and the American voter this year both have a once-in-a-lifetime decision to make.