An ounce of prevention...: The debate over whether we could have prevented 9/11 is I suppose necessary and may prove useful, but at the moment it just seems like a forum for the politicians and book-sellers to get in the limelight. Clarke would have been more interesting to hear if he sad all this right away rather than when he's selling his book. Let's face it, most of America had no idea who he was until "60 Minutes". The fact is that the intelligence agencies had no shortage of information on a variety of proposed attacks on our country. I bet you they heard "chatter" on using a giant (ACME) slingshot to fling giant balloons of paint at the White House. Anyway, you can only move on what you believe is an imminent or highly likely threat.
Speaking of which, imagine if Bush had authorized the bombing of Afghanistan prior to 9/11. Even if you buy into Kerrey's argument about not needing Congressional approval, there is little question that Bush would have been lynched for it. What is most interesting about 9/11 from a looking-back view point is how much we have changed.
I was watching a re-run of "Executive Decision" which is a decent action flick starring, among others, Kurt Russell, Steven Segal (blessedly, briefly), Halle Berre, John Leguizamo, and Oliver Platt. The premise is that a bunch of militant A-rabs have taken over a jumbo jet and have a bomb. Either they get to land in D.C. or they blow up the plane (this is what I remember anyway).
The director shows several shots of the White House biting its nails on how to deal with the problem. The most obvious is of course to slide a stealth fighter up underneat the plane, then telescope this collapsible tube up to a conveniently-placed hatch, which allows the special ops soldiers and technicians to climb up into the plane (all at 30,000 feet mind you), but sadly, Segal gets literally blown away as the punk Air Force pilot can't keep the plane steady. Anyway, if these boys can't do the job, then the only remaining option is to have the F-14s shoot the plane down before it gets over land. One of the top admin guys says something like: "400 American lives. If we shoot them down, we'll be slaughtered in the election." It struck me how odd that sounded to me.
Nowadays, the fighter jets wouldn't even have the opportunity to bring down the air liner as you'd have a mob on the plane fighting the terrorists hand-to-hand. If by chance they couldn't get control, you can be sure they'd bring the plane down in the ocean. Moreover, I don't think any President or his staff would quibble for too long over the political expediency of bringing down the plane - the order would be issued and that would be that.
This is what 9/11 has done to my, and I expect many others', mind-sets - we're hardened now to the reality that we need to fight, and that the cost may be great, but the cost of not fighting is greater.