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An intelligence failure indeed! But whose intelligence?

by Kevin Powers, '05

Speculation suggests the president was completely aware that a surprise attack would transpire on that luminous morning. It was a day that brought both outrage and unity, a day no American will forget. But what did the administration know beforehand, and could the attacks have been prevented?

The president’s detractors claim that the attacks were allowed as a catalyst for military action that would have otherwise been rejected by the public. Even for those who decry this as shameless partisanship, the facts speak for themselves. Intelligence records provide credible evidence proving clear signs of an imminent assault.

The stonewalling demonstrated by the White House should also be cause for concern. It took almost three years for a public hearing, yet White House operatives continue to obstruct the investigation. The president went as far as to evoke Executive Privilege to prevent key testimony. Even though eventually growing pressure forced him to concede to the commission’s demands, the president still insisted all witnesses called shall “disclose, orally, to any of the members of the joint Congressional Committee.” The controversy would not end there.

The Clarke inquiry “regarding the manner in which certain Top Secret communications were handled” gave the president’s opponents ample ammunition, disclosing that specific threats were ignored and even suppressed. But even in light of the commission’s scrutiny and the mounting evidence, the arrogance demonstrated by this administration is astonishing. During testimony, one naval officer insinuated that it was the American people who were to blame, along with Congress. The nation was left vulnerable “because the Armed Forces were not as strong as they might have been had the country been unified and had the appropriations been larger for the Army and Navy.”

The administration’s tactic has been to place blame elsewhere for its own apparent failures, while taking credit for all success. No president or political party is superior to the common welfare of this nation’s citizens. It is our responsibility as voters to expel this icon of haughtiness from the White House.

It’s a shame all the men I speak of are dead, and unsurprizingly neither Presidents Roosevelt nor Truman are running for election this year.

Though the details of this story sound similar to the present congressional investigation of 9/11, it occurred over 60 years ago. The president who declared war in this case was Franklin Roosevelt, and it was the Democrats who were in control at the time. The Clarke Inquiry in this case was the investigation into the treatment of intelligence before the Pearl Harbor attacks lead by Colonel Carter W. Clarke in September of 1944. The naval officer who blamed the American people and Congress for the Japanese attack was head of Naval Intelligence, Admiral R.B. Inglis, a Roosevelt appointee. And it was Harry Truman, who became president after Roosevelt’s death, who blocked the testimony of critical government officials by issuing an executive order. The comparison is striking, but by no means should we assume that either Roosevelt or Truman is anymore culpable than Bush for the adversities of their time.

On December 7, 1941, the United States Naval installation at Pearl Harbor came under surprise attack by the Japanese. In a matter of hours nearly the entire Pacific fleet had been routed and 2,388 Americans killed. Following the attacks, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and just three days thereafter, Hitler’s Germany declared war on the United States. In less than a week, the United States was drawn into a war that spanned the world from the Pacific Rim to the steppes of Russia. World War II was arguably America’s greatest trial, but we came out victorious. Following the war’s end, several investigations were conducted to reveal the various failures and oversights that lead to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Not surprisingly, many of these investigation’s findings were shamefully politicized.

Roosevelt’s adversaries claimed that he not only knew of the plan to decimate the Pacific fleet, but that he lured the Japanese into attacking us. One particularly disturbing memo dated Oct. 7, 1940, lays out an eight-point plan to draw the Japanese into confrontation by such means as an oil embargo and aid to China. The message was prepared by Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum of Naval Intelligence and sent to Captains Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox; both trusted military advisors to President Roosevelt. The memo concludes ominously: “If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.”

On Nov. 24, 1941, a radio interception station at Kane‘ohe Bay captured the following message from Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to Admiral Chuichi Nagumo: “The task force … shall advance into Hawaiian waters, and … shall attack the main force of the United States fleet in Hawai‘i and deal it a mortal blow.” The traffic was ignored, but as damning as this evidence appears, is it sufficient to find Roosevelt to blame for Japanese treachery?

A president is confronted by countless ambiguous possibilities every day. To expect that every outcome to be positive is disingenuous at best. Exceptional leadership is defined at those moments in which the possibilities become reality, and ambiguity is met with clarity. Whether or not people agreed with his politics, most rational observers would credit President Roosevelt for the resolute leadership he demonstrated during the Second World War. When this country came under attack he was unyielding in his damnation of our enemies and acted decisively to confront the threat they posed.

President Bush, too, deserves our deference. The attacks on September 11 caught us all off guard, including the president. But since that day, who can say that he has not been principled in his actions and steady in his leadership? He has certainly left our enemies no doubt that he will refuse to acquiesce to their desires.

Like Roosevelt, Bush has his share of detractors, and that is to be expected. Nevertheless, history shall be the ultimate judge, and it will judge not only who was culpable in the 9/11 attack but also who was reasonable in their assessment of the president and who was motivated by political partisanship. Which will you be?







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