Bushites line up to ’embrace’ 9/11 recommendations (credit: Doug Mills/NYT)
The media was full of headlines yesterday seeming to trumpet George Bush’s decision to “embrace” the 9/11 Commission’s major findings regarding creation of a national intelligence director to oversee all of the nation’s intelligence operations. The Times headline was: Bush Endorses Naming a Chief on Intelligence. You’ll notice that my headline here doesn’t share that view. If you break out what Bush agreed to do and compare it with the recommendations he rejected, you’ll see that what Bush has really done is agree to create a shell, but refuse to fill it with substance. I’m also pleased to say that many media headlines today (including in the Times) reflect a chorus of criticism of the Bush statement. Philip Shenon’s headline today is Critics Say Bush’s Intelligence Chief Would Be Toothless.
So, yes we get an intelligence director (but only if Congress goes along with the proposal). But, no he or she does not get hiring and firing responsibilities, does not fully control the intelligence budget, does not fully control the agencies under his/her authority. Finally, Bush rejects the idea of bringing the intelligence budget into the light of day so that it would be forced to withstand public scrutiny as all other government agency budgets do. Elizabeth Bumiller’s report in yesterday’s Times, An Intelligence Chief Without Power, fleshes out the limitations of the Bush proposals.
So how much has Bush really embraced? What he announced yesterday is a start, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Everyone needs to keep his feet to the fire.
I’m taking bets how long Bush maintains his current position vis a vis the intelligence chief. I give him less than a week, probably only a few days before he gives in to most, if not all of the recommendations regarding the director and his authority.
But the real question is how hard will Bush push on getting this ratified by Congress? Will he use the political muscle at his command or will he act in a perfunctory way allowing him to say he’s for it without really doing anything to prove it? He has to carefully calculate how closely the American people are monitoring this debate. If he feels that the media and electorate will not let him abscond from this situation, then he’ll have to take serious action. But I have no doubt that politically and personally his heart isn’t in this fight. He opposed the creation of the Commission and opposed testifying before it (though he did both in the end). Given Bush’s deep misturst and hostility toward anything and anyone he cannot control polliticallly, he can’t want the Commission to succeed. But in the end, he may have no choice (at least that’s what I’m hoping).