The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

by Dr. Wunmi Akintide

As far as I am concerned for America to get to the bottom of the 911 Investigation, this distinguished panel of prudent and objective Americans from both sides of the isle, has to be able and willing to pick a needle from a hay stack of how the 911 tragedy could possibly have been neutralized or preempted. Did the Bush Administration or the one before it ignore warnings or do enough to nip the tragedy in the bud? What eternal vigilance entails in all its ramifications, I guess will have to be defined or reframed by the Commission and what else should have been done, before, and not after the fact, to ensure that the very leader of the Free World, and the shining City on the hill does, never again, have to confront the same kind of embarrassment and humiliation that America had faced on 9/11, 2001. Very few would ever have believed that Osama Bin Laden as one mortal was capable of pulling off such a terrible scoop against America. I personally believe that Osama Bin Laden really gave America a wake-up call the type very few people could have envisaged or imagined at any point in America history. I must say, however, that the whole world surely has a stake in America as God’s gift to the world and as the new Canaan as I I often depose in all of my previous articles in this column. I am writing this article because I strongly believe that all of us Christians and Muslims alike, Jews and Gentiles, voodoo worshippers and nonbelievers alike, all have an obligation to assist the Panel in every way we can to get at the bottom of this investigation, and to make the 9/11 tragedy the very last in our history.

My take on the investigation should therefore not be seen or dismissed with the wave of a hand as an attempt by a dye-in-the-wool Democrat or some third world commentator to join in the blame game against the current Administration in America. I am saying this because 911 in my humble opinion, in recognition of its impact on America’s invincibility as a nation protected by the two mighty oceans and its awesome power and influence around the world, ought not to be subject to partisan politics at all. I first heard the news of the attack from my sick Bed at the Obafemi Awolowo Teaching Hospital at Ile Ife Nigeria. I had gone home to Nigeria in May 2001 on what I had thought was going to a short vacation. I suddenly got sick, and had to be hospitalized for a few months at the Teaching Hospital.

I was lying on my bed weighing the various options open to me to either remain in the hospital or take the next available flight back to the US for treatment when I heard the news and saw on the cover page of Daily Times. the World Trade Center Towers, a complex where I had worked as a staff of the New York State Department of Labor before my posting to the Branch Office at 50 Park Place, next door to the Twin Towers in the Financial District of Manhattan. I saw the two Towers totally engulfed by fire following the mighty collision. My emotions got the better part of me in a split second. I thought I could easily have been one of the victims because I had my Chase Bank Account in the World Trade Center Branch and I frequent the Twin Towers every single day for shopping or for Lunch and World Trade Center station was always my last stop on the train, as I reported for work everyday between 8.30 and 9 am. You would have thought the Twin Towers were my father’s house. I wept because I knew and I said so loud and clear to the amazement and to total concurrence of the other patients in my Ward, that the whole world has been hit, and that America and the world would never be the same again. On the morning of 9/11 the whole world stood shoulder to shoulder with America not because they had thought George Bush was a Winston Churchill reincarnated but because they all believed the War on terror had all of a sudden become the 3rd World War to be led by America again. But the moment George Bush had started confusing, rationalizing and equating the unnecessary War in Iraq with the War on Terrorism and doing so with blatant arrogance and lack of imaginative leadership, the whole world started having second thoughts which have all but produced the stalemate or quagmire America now faces in Iraq, and could soon be facing in the most volatile part of the world. 911 was clearly a huge disappointment, but it was also a huge opportunity to build a world consensus on Terrorism that George Bush may have squandered.

The sentiments I expressed on my sick bed at Ife may have been a Freudian slip from a sick old man. But guess what? It was the truth. I had thought and believed the 911 Commission would have been set in motion within a few weeks or months of the tragic event. That such a thing did not happen sooner and that the President had quibbled before finally agreeing to set up the Commission, could be part of the guilty conscience and lethargy that the 911 Commission must now figure out for America. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat I can tell you there is plenty of blame to go around. The first problem of George Bush, however, was the fact that the cataclysm had occurred under his watch as President, and there is no wishing that fact away, and the President has to live with that reality or nightmare for the rest of his life, like Harry Truman had to live with the fact that Pearl Harbor, and “the Day in infamy” had occurred under his watch.

It makes little sense trying to endlessly debate who was right or wrong. But how could the commission do justice to their terms of reference without getting into the blame game one way or the other at a time the Nation is getting ready for the 4 year ritual of reevaluating our President and deciding whether or not to rehire him which is the beauty of Democracy to begin with. Here was a President who came to office touting his resolve, discipline unflappability and doggedness, as a leader who is going to be totally different from the man he had succeeded. He had assured Americans and the world he was going to be in touch, and be in charge, always be in control and always be a straight shooter who will never lie to the nation. Did he deliver on that promise? It depends on who you ask That is going to be a major part of what the 911 Commission is going to have to find out in due course. But for the purpose of this article, I am going to focus like a laser beam on the PDB (Presidential Daily Briefings) and how the intelligence reports emanating from them were treated or responded to by the man in the Oval Office. That, in my judgment, is very central to what the 911 investigation is all about. If the President and his Administration had painstakingly shaken every available trees of intelligence, and if the President had paid more attention to every word and statement in his daily briefing as he should and, as eloquently argued by Dick Clark in his book and evidence before the Commission, 9/11 might possibly have been averted or nipped in the bud like the plans to strike during the Millennium celebrations which would have offered another soft target. President Clinton, regardless of his huge distraction by the Monica Luwenski highly exaggerated scandal by the Republicans was just too proactive for the Terrorists to ignore. I have to disagree with those who argue that the quagmire was a time bomb waiting to detonate, and that nothing could have been done to stop it. A simple letter of warning from the FBI or CIA temporarily closing down all Flight or Aviation Training Schools in the country and a red alert to all Airports in the country, and a special security readiness around the Pentagon and some of the soft targets in the past could possibly have made a difference, because what all terrorists like all coup makers around the world, feared the most is any slight or little awareness their plan or some elements of it might have been leaked to or picked up by their target. I am able to say with authority because I come from a country where coups and coup-making have become part of our culture. Another was just averted only two weeks ago because of a foolhardy telephone call to a secured line of Mr. President by one of the suspects. For once, President Obasanjo may have proved he is probably a little smarter than President Bush in the way and manner he has reacted to a development that could possibly have produced another coup too many in Nigeria.

The last one week in particular has been a harrowing experience for George Bush regardless of any positive spin, the spin masters in the White House and the Republican Party and Media may have been putting on, all week long, and even up until now. It would not have been so tragic if the news from the fiasco or quagmire in Iraq have been less traumatic for the Leader of the Free World who before now has wanted to be seen as a War time President in the mold of a Winston Churchill, with a steady hand and a strong back bone. George the Second was really trying to prove to the World, he really meant what he had said when he had told the United Nations last year he was going to restore the tainted glory of the organization and to nudge them into action against their own better judgment, because he had wanted to prove he was a different kettle of fish from his predecessor in that office, and even from his own father.

It now seems to me from the unfolding events in Iraq, the Middle East and else where around the world, that the President may have overplayed his hands in his so-called policy of preemptive strike which says if any nation is not with America, that nation should consider herself as against America, and should be ready to face the wrath of America any time. The President would now appear to have gotten the first taste of his own medicine when France, Germany, Russia and China, to mention a few, had refused to dance to his tune, and had stood their ground calling the bluff of the President, so to speak, and getting away with it. The junior Bush who is decidedly an eaglet or a pony in Foreign Affairs and Geo Politics, I am afraid, may have to go back to the senior Bush for basic lessons on how to wield American power in the World of today. The senior Bush, much to his own credit and wisdom, was able to build a winning coalition in the Gulf War in 1991. He, instinctively, knew what his son did not fully appreciate or understand, that any nation may have a power like a Lion, what is not so kosher or prudent, is wanting to use or flaunt that power like a Lion. In President Bush’s mindset, he probably believes it is the destiny of America to lead the world, and the destiny of the rest of the world to just follow. A more diplomatic and prudent President would have realized it was a wrong statement to make because neither Russia nor China nor the whole of Europe with similar stake in the war on Terrorism, is happy with the fact that they have, all of a sudden become a second or third fiddle in the hands of America. Even Banana Republics in the third world which are too financially and militarily crippled to challenge America in any way, are also not happy with such an insensitive use of the bully pulpit by the current occupant of the White House. Believe me.

The unfolding events all around the world and the rising consensus of the World against America’s arrogance under George Bush seems to be winning from all we can see today. The United Nations is made up of 192 independent countries at my last count, and most of them are scared to death about this bully in the block who now takes the position that the strong and the weaker nations can only coexist now at the whim and caprices of the stronger nations. The weaker nations are now going to have to swallow their pride and their erstwhile notion of sovereignty and equality, and to start doing what they are told by the stronger nations or be bullied to submission by force. That, most reasonable people, will agree is very scary, and it informs the litany of problems and resentment that America may be facing in the whole world today. The only Nation that appears ready to toe the line at the moment, there may be a few others, is an outlawed and ostracized country named Libya and its aging and sick leader Moamar Ghadafi who is now looking for some legacy, and has suddenly realized if he did not respond to the juggernaut’s warnings, he stands the chance of suffering the same fate with the Butcher of Baghdad and the world famous spider man.

That Moamar is surrendering today before his country is bombed into shreds does not mean he is happy to be doing what he is doing. He is doing so under duress and probably because he knows, what Saddam Hussein never mastered, that he who fights and runs away lives to do another fight. when the prospect for victory may have drastically changed or improved. If America falls flat on her face today, God forbid, Moamar Ghadafi and Libya would be among the first Nations to thumb her nose at America. It is nice that Libya is on the run today. It is only on the run not out of Love and conviction but purely out of fear, intimidation and painful necessity and compulsion. Such a strategy may have worked in the Animal Kingdom or in the old colonial mindset Globalization has changed all of that in today’s reality. Both weak and strong countries need one another today more than ever before as George Bush may have found out in Iraq. Nations draw nations to their side not through Machiavellian tactics, not by fear and intimidation but through moral and peaceful means and some modicum of empathy and humility. The conservatives may not agree with this conclusion, and they are wrong, totally wrong, I might add.

America under George Bush, has become a captive in a way because its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness if you ask me. What do I mean by that? Among America’s greatest strength is her openness, her transparency, her concept or the notion of accountability and the supremacy of the Rule of Law and the power of the Media. America is by far the greatest country on Earth when you consider the aggregate of those attributes. I have listed here. It is the combination of those attributes that have made it possible for Education to germinate and blossom in this society, and for little people like me or many others in this country to feel free to openly express an opinion such as this, and not expect the CIA or the FBI to start bugging our phones or eavesdropping on every conversation we make. Nothing is hidden in America. if the secret does not come out today, it could come back tomorrow or even several years later to haunt the offender. That is why you often hear of the Public demanding that officials must give evidence under oath. When you have things to hide or when you yourself can pick holes on what you say or depose, you get scared there may have been people with the truth who could later emerge from no where to contradict what you may have said before, thus forcing you to admit you may have lied under oath, and therefore become a perjurer or a cover-up victim or offender- all of which are considered serious offenses that can easily send you to jail in America, regardless of who you are, and any transient positions of power you may hold.

Only in America do things like that happen at regular intervals. Spiro Agnew the Vice President almost went to jail for violations and infractions that official like him in much of the world, and more so in the third world, could easily have swept under the carpet. Richard Nixon for eavesdropping on his opponents just to be better prepared to neutralize their campaign strategy against him, was not only impeached, but was disgraced out of office and forced to resign. Only in America.

Just imagine all the humiliation unleashed on Bill Clinton for lying just to protect his family and perhaps his job for what most Third World Leaders would never have gotten in trouble for. A President in Nigeria who dates an intern and take him to bed, at any place of his choosing, would have had top of the chart albums and lyrics waxed in praise of his manhood and potency as an “Agba” man In America look what a similar infraction nearly did to one of the best Presidents of this country? I am sure our current President and all of his predecessors in office would be simply amazed that America could have paid that much of an attention to a President flirting with a student working in his office. As a matter of fact, if it were in Nigeria, Monica would have ended up becoming First Lady because the President would simply have gone ahead to formalize the relationship and to just promote her with pomp and pageantry and with the whole nation applauding his smart move every step of the way. I guess when you are in Rome, you behave like a Roman. Nigeria is a long, long way from America and our value system is totally different.

Who knows, Mel Gibson might one day in the future reenact for us this period in the presidency of George Bush by producing a movie titled the Passion of George Bush. I see some distant echoes of what Jesus went through in his last 12 hours before crucifixion to what George Bush may be going through, behind closed doors, in the White House, over his decision to go to War in Iraq. It is hard when all you are doing as President is whitewashing what you have done, and putting the best face on it knowing fully well you were wrong or you have failed to do a few things you should have done in the nick of time, and feeling embarrassed to say “I am sorry. I was wrong not to have asked more questions or “shaken the tree” more forcefully, in the words of Dick Clark. When you are President of the United States the bucks stop at your Desk. Does it not? Harry Truman had the courage to say that in the good old days. I thought George Bush who is a human being like the rest of us should have learnt something from the great Harry Truman.

What goes around comes around. Didn’t this President tell the nation he, unlike Bill Clinton, was going to be forthright with America, and tell it straight without varnishing or polishing it or exaggerating things to increase his credibility? As much as I appreciate certain attributes in George Bush like his resolve and doggedness. even though I am a democrat, I am disappointed he has never fully delivered on what he has promised the Nation. He says one thing and goes ahead to do the exact opposite most of the time. Until Iraq became his major albatross, the President seemed to have gotten away with a lot of those lies and double talk because his Damage control machine was superb. He has been painting John Kerry black for what he himself has described as Kerry’s flip-flopping on issues. But nine chances out of ten, he nearly always misrepresents Kerry He himself has become the Flip-flopper-in-chief, but he has often found some sneaky ways to cleverly and neatly cover his trail while blackmailing John Kerry with millions of dollars in sheer propaganda money.

Here was a President who had taken the easy way out of a combat experience in Vietnam now telling the world and the nation that John Kerry with all his service to the nation in the same war, is a cartoon character who is not fit to be a Commander-in-chief in times of War. What a statement? But the truth is that a cross-section of the nation and the Media appears to be buying the cheap and false blackmail. Unbelievable! I will be the first to admit that it takes some expertise for George Bush to be able to do that and get away with it quite often. He had done it first against Ann Richards the lady he defeated to become the Governor of Texas. He had done it against Al Gore telling the nation that Al Gore did not feel comfortable in his own skin and that seems to have resonated with the voters in some swing states that had helped to deliver the Electoral College victory to Bush over Al Gore in 2000. Al Gore was a policy wong who could rehearse off head, all the statistics he had needed to use to make a big impression in the debates. George Bush had so cleverly underrated his own ability to face up to Al Gore, thereby raising too much expectations on Al Gore that all George Bush needed to do to win the debate was just to show up and not commit some silly mistakes. He had laid ambush for Al gore with help from the Republican media so much so, that the whole Debate was Gore versus Gore. George Bush had merely gone there to be an observer or at best a biased cheer leader. The Republican propaganda had succeeded in cleverly breaking up Al Gore and Bill Clinton apart saying that Bill Clinton appearing with Al Gore at any of the Campaigns was going to cost Al Gore many swing votes. It was all a smoking mirror, but Al Gore had swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker, keeping his distance from the man who would all have given him the winning edge in Arkansas and Florida and even possibly in Tennessee. I took off my hat for George Bush when it comes to laying ambush for opponents. John Kerry, if he must win, must be fully ready to confront George Bush who is going to be even more deadly this time around because he does not want to go down in history as another American President who had won the presidency by not winning.

I see the PDB, the Presidential Daily Briefings as the key to finding out what exactly went wrong that 9/11 could not be stopped or preempted. Here are the facts in a nutshell. First of all, we now know from George Tenet that it took the CIA more than 10 years to discover that Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization existed. That in of itself should be seen as one of the silver bullet or the smoking guns that Condoleeza Rice had abrasively argued, did not exist. Equally disturbing was that CIA Director George Tenet had reportedly sent a memo to his top aides in 1998 declaring War on Al Qaeda, but most of them have now told the Commission’s staff, they were unaware of the directive. The CIA had learned in mid-1990s of plots to hijack planes and fly them into the Eiffel Tower and the Agency’s headquarters in McClean, Virginia, but never sounded alarms. Finally, Tenet was briefed on the FBI’s August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui at a Minnesota flight school — though senior FBI top brass were not told until after 9/11 in a memo titled “Islamic Extremist Leans to Fly.” There were just too many errors of omission, silence and judgment in the six months preceding 9/11. Period. The Administration should have jumped right on some of these observations, but they did not. That was the silver bullet right there for all eyes to see.

I dare say again that the major players in the Bush Administration in particular were too laid back, conceited and indifferent, abrasive and pedantic on Intelligence reports alleging some clandestine moves of Al Qaeda operatives who have already entered the United States or were about to. How more specific can an intelligence report get? Are they expecting the operatives to tell them precisely where they are going to strike America? Armed robbers with less clandestine motives don’t do that, talk less of terrorists whose main goal is to kill and maim and to destroy, and to do so under cover of darkness and a heavy dose of surprise and subterfuge. I think the propensity to appear so professional and competent which is the impression you get from listening to either Tenet, Rumsveld, Dick Cheney, and Condoleeza Rice and even the President, despite their apparent indifference and tardiness on taking follow-up action, cannot but be seen as a striking downside that the Commission has to be concerned about in their report. Digging deeper and trying to connect all the dots to reach a conclusion to preempt the ultimate goal of the terrorists is what I think a good Intelligence gathering is all about. You may or may not agree with me, but that is my belief. Somebody has to take responsibility. Citing structural problem as the culprit is begging the question. There were a lot of human errors that must never again be repeated.

I am a layman in this field, but common sense tells me the FBI and the CIA should have done a lot more than they did, and the President should have asked more probing questions and not take the position that nothing on Earth could have been done to stop Osama Bin Laden, I cannot help but draw some analogy between King Herod of Egypt and President Bush. Faced with the same kind of terrible and unspecific intelligence option, King Herod had wickedly ordered that all babies born around the same time with Jesus should all be killed because he was faced with a strikingly similar problem to the one that President Bush had faced in his first eight months in office. You might condemn the Herod’s approach or solution as probably too draconian and wicked which it is, but Herod’s goal was not to take chances on his ultimate goal to get rid of a little baby that he had reason to believe was going destabilize his Kingdom and possibly render him irrelevant. If President Bush had taken the same tack before 9/11, there is a possibility, the second plane that hit the second Tower in New York would have been taken out, for sure, if the World Trade Center as a possible target had been earlier on defended, like some of the American strategic monuments and landmarks are now being defended 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year in the aftermath of 9/11.

I think the 9/11 Commission has their work cut out for them. I am optimistic, however, they are going to succeed because America is the most resourceful country in the world, with the best military, the best infrastructure, the best Education and the best man power resources that money can buy. You listen to some of the members of the Commission or some of the comments from Americans from both sides of the isle, and you shake your head. You listen to Richard Lugar, Joseph Biding to mention a few and so many others, and you know this country has got it made. There is no other country like it, and it is a joy to be a part of this wonderful experiment in God’s own creation. God Bless America.

I rest my case.

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1 comment

Anonymous December 22, 2005 - 11:05 pm

This man is one of the brightest individuals still living whom I have had the privlege of reading his thoughts.

I say, God bless him and keep him always!

John Garner — USA


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