Waking up with your socks on
Nora Ephron faults Bill Clinton for not pulling up his socks during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox. Except for the hosiery malfunction, however, she thinks that Clinton still had a chance to hit the ball out of the park.
What surprised me most about the Clinton meltdown yesterday was that no one told him to pull up his socks. This is a man who never goes anywhere without staff, lots of staff. Was there no one there to see that his pants were hiked up too high and his socks were pulled down too low and the flesh on his legs was showing? ...
Clinton should simply have answered Wallace's question. He should have said that he went after Bin Laden and that if Al Gore had been elected (which he was) we probably would have killed him and 9/11 would never have happened. And then Clinton should have moved on to his real subject, which is not rescuing his legacy from his self-inflicted wounds, but helping elect a Democratic Congress in 2006.
That's the hypothetical syllogism accepted on both sides of the aisle, the premise underpinning the many excellent documentaries and books detailing the days leading up to September 11. If we had killed Bin Laden then 9/11 would never have happened. On one level that has to be true in the specific sense that if Mohammed Atta's team had been arrested then they could not have carried out their plan to strike the twin towers. But in the more general sense the hypothetical fails. It is probably not true to say if we had killed Bin Laden then radical Islamic terrorism would never have happened. Before the September 11 it was already on the march, striking at two US embassies in Africa and nearly sinking the USS Cole. Perhaps the World Trade Center might still be standing but the drumbeat would have continued until some sufficiently horrible event, perhaps the gassing of the New York City subways, perhaps a dirty bomb -- until something -- got America's attention. Killing Bin Laden would probably have put the alarm clock on snooze but eventually it would have rung again.
Some retrospectives of the attack on Pearl Harbor have argued that the carnage on battleship row was ultimately a blessing in disguise. Many of the ships were salvageable in the shallow water. Some sailors were even cut out of the hulls of capsized warships. The US was forced to rely on aircraft carriers, because the Battle Fleet was hors de combat. And that was better in the long run. While this type of analysis is always dangerous, it often contains the ghost of a valid point. And that point is that on September 11, as at Pearl Harbor, America lay asleep but got lucky. But to think that the problem was only bin Laden is to suggest that America is still asleep. Let's hope it stays lucky.