Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Lehman's Big Mistake: What Bedevils Us

Last Sunday former Reagan Secretary of the Navy and current 9/11 Commission commissioner made an a major error. Not that Mr. Lehman had malicious intent, quite the contrary. What Mr. Lehman did was attempt to counter a highly partisan commissioner, Richard Ben-Viniste on Meet the Press, by overstating the case about a Saddam Fedayeen lieutenant with alleged ties to 9/11. Something Mr. Lehman must have immediately picked up on because he almost immediately began to equivicate his initial statement shortly after making it. But Ben-Viniste being the Watergate prosecutor that he was, quickly picked up on the speculation and rendered a challenge to come forward with all known information to the 9/11 Commission.

We are in a polarizing, highly charged political environment where any speculation is only viewed in favorable or unfavorable terms, as it relates to promoting one candidate or the other. Add to this environment the very nature of terrorism and terrorism state sponsorhip, where the shared goals is secrecy and subterfuge, and you have a volatile cocktail. Add to this cocktail the see-saw battle over the caus belli for going to war in Iraq. While President Bush listed five major reasons for the Iraq invasion, the two which get the most play are weapons of mass destruction and the nexus between Saddam Iraq and terrorism, principally al Qaeda.

The reality is that there are few absolutes with terrorism other than the atrocities committed by terrorists and the tragedy they reap on victims and their loved ones. This situation authomatically tilts the field towards the positions of those who demand absolute fact instead of circumstantial evidence. Peter Bergen, acclaimed author and terrorism journalist, stated that he initially supported the war in Iraq but that over time there was insufficient facts for him to maintain that position. Dutifully, he pointed to the absence of WMD in Iraq and his view that there is inadequate facts to support a nexus between Saddam and al Qaeda. However, with WMD and the alleged nexus between Saddam and al Qaeda, it may take years before unrefutable evidence is forthcoming on either matter.

But Lehman's comment on Meet the Press was probably unwelcome news for the Bush White House. People by know have pretty much made their decisions either for or against the war based upon the information that has been generated since May 2003, when 'major' hostilities ended. Anything less than an outright admission by Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussan (or both) would sway the 'Bush lied" crowd. So, more Lehman type conjecture only serves to deepen their skepticism. Those who like President Bush have validated the need for preemptive war would only find the Lehman speculation as reassurance, even if not verified by absolute facts. But it is the undecideds who are most exposed to speculative comments. And such statements require the Bush administration to intercede either to shoot down the speculation or provide verifiable evidence.

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