Footnote judo and its aftermath

Last night I finally finished reading the 9/11 Commission Report. The award for the most unlikely government-agency acronym goes to the Defense Department’s tactical intelligence and related activities program, also known as TIARA (p. 412). To the end, the report practices footnote judo at the level of art. An inventory of dismaying statistics about the social, political, and economic conditions in the Arab world, for example, is sourced to a memo that was prepared by “sherpas” for the high poobahs of the G-8 but leaked to the newspapser Al-Hayat (563 n 26). A stern warning that “the enemy is not just ‘terrorism,’ some generic evil” cites a White House press release as an example of how not to think (562 n 2).

It’s tempting to add to my ongoing index, to wit:

secrecy impedes alerts 258, 359; impedes military planning 351; impedes management 410; impedes budgeting 416
Or to fill out my list of Iraq-UBL links, real and imagined:
Bush think Iraq responsible for 9/11 attacks 334
Rumsfeld wants, on afternoon of 9/11, to hit Iraq 335
Clarke finds no link 559 n 60
Wolfowitz thinks that Ramzi Yousef was Iraqi and that Iraq was behind 1993 attack on WTC, and can’t understand why the CIA hasn’t investigated his theories 336
All bets are off if Iraq becomes a failed state 367

I was anticipating that the last few chapters would be a little slow; policy recommendations aren’t usually considered to be as compelling as disaster narratives. And I admit that chapter 11, “Foresight−And Hindsight,” is a bit, well, abstract. But in fact the chapters on what to do and how to do it were nearly as riveting as the rest. It’s concerning that we need a commission to recommend to us that we look into this thing called the Geneva Convention (380). And it’s fascinating that the commission feels obliged to recommend that “the U.S. government must decide what the message is, what it stands for” (376). It makes me wonder whether propaganda has gotten a bad name it does not deserve. Maybe having a message, and worrying about compromising it, imposes a kind of discipline−a kind of operational morality−that is otherwise difficult for an entity as diffuse as the American empire to achieve.

The big questions about the recommendations are, I suppose, Will they work? And: Are we creating a monster? On the first, I wonder whether, before we restructure another sector of the government, we ought first to understand clearly why and how the Homeland Security department has failed. Presumably the fact that it reports to 88 different Congressional committees and subcommittees has something to do with it (421). On the second question, as the Democrats rush to outflank Bush on the issues of strength and security, it would be worthwhile to deliberate. But my sense, from the sheer messiness with which information about terror leaks out of the intelligence services as now configured, is that we should err on the side of competence.