I have little patience for the current partisan bickering over who's to blame for letting the 9/11 atrocities occur, a debate right now at fever pitch.
My view, which I expressed in a bitter piece on Sept. 11, 2001 itself (and which appeared in the Wall Street Journal the next day as well as in the National Review Online on the very afternoon of 9/11) was that
The tactical blame falls on the U.S. government, which has grievously failed in its topmost duty to protect American citizens from harm. Specialists on terrorism have been aware for years of this dereliction of duty; now the whole world knows it. Despite a steady beat of major, organized terrorist incidents over 18 years (since the car bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983), Washington has not taken the issue seriously.
I purposefully used these neutral formulations ("U.S. government," "Washington") rather than blame Democrats or Republicans because I felt then and do now that the blame was bipartisan. Further, it had much to do with the permanent bureaucracy. Beyond that, it resulted from a societal negligence. Here is how I put it a few weeks later, noting the many deaths that took place at the hands of the jihad against America:
The sad fact is, 22 years and 600 dead did not get the country's attention. Americans blithely ignored those specialists on militant Islam and terrorism who pleaded for vigilance and warned of horrors to come. This national obliviousness explains how Americans found themselves so embarrassingly unprepared for the events of September 11.
(I now count not 600 but 800 dead.) And here is how I put it in April 2002, reviewing the 22 prior years:
although Americans were repeatedly attacked, they barely responded. One can hardly blame the militant Islamic groups and governments for concluding that the United States was weak, demoralized and ripe for attack. The population was feckless, distracted and complacent, the government incompetent.
The country as a whole was unprepared before 9/11 and it serves no good purpose to score partisan points. Far more constructive than these stale and dishonest debates would be seriously to address the U.S. government and people's overly euphemistic and timid, sometimes myopic and inconsistent responses to the internal threats they face, even now. (For a personal account of one such experience, see my article, "The U.S. Institute of Peace Stumbles.") (March 26, 2004)
April 13, 2004 update: I like the way Attorney General John Ashcroft pointedly described U.S. government capabilities pre-9/11:
the simple fact of September 11 is this: we did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies. Our agents were isolated by government-imposed walls, handcuffed by government-imposed restrictions, and starved for basic information technology. The old national intelligence system in place on September 11 was destined to fail.