Unfortunately I don't own a television set. But ABC's Path 9/11 is certain to raise the stakes in one of the biggest memetic battles of the War on Terror: who to blame for the attack on Manhattan. In a broad sense, a fairly large part of the public has already concluded it's America's fault, as put forward by Ward Churchill's Justice of Roosting Chickens. But for those unwilling to accept the "little Eichmanns" theory of guilt, there is apparently enough grist in the coming miniseries to make everyone unhappy. For example, the Frontpage advance preview describes this scene:
One astonishing sequence in "The Path to 9/11" shows the CIA and the Northern Alliance surrounding Bin Laden’s house in Afghanistan. They're on the verge of capturing Bin Laden, but they need final approval from the Clinton administration in order to go ahead. They phone Clinton, but he and his senior staff refuse to give authorization for the capture of Bin Laden, for fear of political fall-out if the mission should go wrong and civilians are harmed. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in essence tells the team in Afghanistan that if they want to capture Bin Laden, they'll have to go ahead and do it on their own without any official authorization. That way, their necks will be on the line - and not his. The astonished CIA agent on the ground in Afghanistan repeatedly asks Berger if this is really what the administration wants. Berger refuses to answer, and then finally just hangs up on the agent. The CIA team and the Northern Alliance, just a few feet from capturing Bin Laden, have to abandon the entire mission. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda shortly thereafter bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing over 225 men, women, and children, and wounding over 4000. The episode is a perfect example of Clinton-era irresponsibility and incompetence. (More follows)
The objection to such scenes of course is that it's "only TV". And the natural rebuttal is "it's on TV". Michael Barone at US News takes a magnifier to the scene described above.
One gripping scene shows Massoud's forces--and CIA agents surrounding bin Laden's encampments and then being called back when National Security Adviser Sandy Berger refuses to give a go-ahead for the operation. That scene, according to 9/11 commission Chairman Thomas Kean, an adviser to the film, is a conflation of a number of events; during the question period, commission member Richard Ben-Veniste, perhaps the most partisan member of the commission, said that it misrepresented what actually happened. But, as Kean pointed out, the Clinton administration did decline a number of opportunities to get bin Laden.
And yes, the show is a dramatized re-enactment.
The film was shot with 16-millimeter cameras and is edited in an edgy style suggesting hand-held cameras. The fascinating footage of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan was actually shot in Morocco; most of the rest of the film was shot in Toronto, with some scenes shot in Washington and New York.
But if recent events are any yardstick, pulling back just as the enemy was on the ropes has been the story of modern public life. Everyone is accused of missing the boat -- whether the voyage is described as the opportunity to 'engage' Syria, destroy Hezbollah, 'reconcile' with Iran or stop Bin Laden -- we're all left at the dock and the ship of history sails on.