Posted April 24 8:03pm
by Ludmila Kafanov
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Despite mounting evidence showing that pre-9/11 terror warnings were urgently communicated to the highest government officials, partisanship within the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks threatens to undercut findings and their impact on the upcoming election may be slim.
“It’s useful to have hearings about this and it’s a useful process to find out what went wrong,” said Bryan O’Keefe, a George Washington University senior majoring in political communication. “I just question the timing of it and think that with [the commission] being so partisan they probably would have come out with more useful findings had it not been done during an election year.”
“I think the commission has a couple of people that are really weighted on one side or the other, which is healthy for any kind of debate, and I think everyone on that commission has done a pretty good job,” said Sean Aday, assistant professor of media and public affairs at GW. “But with what’s coming out of the hearings, people are seeing the word “failure” at the exact same moment as they’re seeing everything going to hell in Iraq. The confluence of those events, even for people just paying scant attention, creates a negative knee-jerk reaction that I don’t think is helpful at all for Bush.”
The political frenzy that sent Democrats and Republicans scrambling to point fingers was prompted by the book and sworn testimony of Richard A. Clarke. Clarke revealed that the Bush administration did not take the terrorism threat seriously and that after 9/11 they failed to focus the military on al Qaeda in Afghanistan, instead embarking on an Iraq agenda existent before the attacks. Clarke’s apology to the families of the 9/11 victims reflected poorly on President George W. Bush, who refused to follow suit.
Next came the testimony of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, whose calm and poised delivery failed to restore the administration’s faltering image. Rice said that intelligence was too vague to merit specific action, yet her argument was somewhat undercut by a sharp exchange with commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste that revealed the title of the previously classified August 6 memo: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the U.S.”
On the offensive was Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in his testimony blamed the Clinton era for failing to create effective collaboration between the FBI and CIA. Hours earlier, former acting director of the FBI Thomas Pickard criticized before the commission the attorney general’s lack of interest in terrorism. Ashcroft also suffered criticism for pre-9/11 attempts to cut funding for counterterrorism in the months leading up to the attacks.
Ashcroft unleashed a political frenzy of his own by presenting a recently declassified document written by commissioner Jamie S. Gorelick that outlined communication restrictions between CIA and FBI agents. Ashcroft’s remarks have caused some Republicans to call for Gorelick’s resignation.
Though Washington is abuzz over the hearings, it remains to be determined whether the nation is equally intrigued. Recent polls indicate that the country is divided in their support for Bush, and interviews fail to show any significant damage to Bush’s reelection campaign. “What sticks out in my mind was the insane show of partisanship on the commission,” said Brian Weiss, a GW sophomore majoring in journalism. “Unfortunately I don’t think American’s are savvy enough to understand what the hearings mean. I feel like suddenly our leadership is as corrupt as some have been claiming for years, and if people were really paying attention, that sentiment would be represented by now in the polls.”
Rachel Gould, a GW junior majoring in journalism said she didn’t think the hearings significantly damage Bush’s chances of reelection.
“I think the President’s consistent refusal to answer questions from the press combined with the recent testimony will do nothing to help his reputation,” said Gould. “The information revealed was definitely pertinent, though not entirely damaging. There was evidence the attack could have been prevented, but it was not concrete in the least.”
“I don’t think any of this is playing out in mainstream America or in swing states or any of that,” O’Keefe said. “I think most people don’t believe that the President knew about 9/11 beforehand and I don’t think that there was a whole lot he could have done to stop it.”
Aday said that though the hearings themselves may not negatively impact public opinion, they hold more of a threat for the White House when combined with escalating violence and casualties in Iraq.
“I think [the hearings] have had a negative impact on Bush,” Aday said. “What all of these polls are showing is that the public is essentially tied on Bush. You’re talking about an administration running a war president who is getting hammered on the war and national security from every direction in a two week period. There’s no way that it hasn’t hurt him.”
This article appeared in the April 22, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.