We've all had about enough of the 9/11 Commission by now. It didn't take long for the hearings to descend into transparent partisanship, but then what could we expect when the commission is comprised of career politicos, several of them auditioning for their next Washington gig? It's all come down to performance and TV face time. Sunday's New York Times confirms this suspicion, devoting a front-page piece to an analysis of the hearings' “Winners and Losers” (not surprisingly, John Ashcroft was scored a loser and Jamie Gorelick a winner).
It all could have been so different if the commission's creators had been capable of thinking beyond the Washington beltway for inspiration. America is home to more creative and successful people, in more areas of endeavor, than any country in the world. If the events of 9/11 really did change our society and the course of our history, surely the commission appointed to investigate it should be drawn from a broad range of American life. Instead, we mostly got lawyers.
So after suffering through another appearance from Richard Ben-Veniste on the evening news shows, I decided to name my own commission. Borrowing from Plato's organization of his ideal Republic, I focused on the areas of commerce, the military and philosophy.
Not all of my picks fall neatly into these categories. But I looked for people who, though they may have identifiable political leanings one way or another, have not spent most of their lives employed within a political party, and who are happy in their day jobs. An appointment to the commission, in other words, would be more of an interruption for them than an adventure.
I confined my list to living Americans, resisting the temptation to name a heavenly tribunal. (Imagine how pleasing it would be, for example, to watch John Adams wave the 1995 Justice Department memo at witness Jamie Gorelick and tell her, “Facts are stubborn things.”)
My fellow Americans, here is a 9/11 Commission That Might Have Been:
1) James Webb, author, Marine, attorney. A decorated Marine veteran in Vietnam, Webb wrote Fields of Fire, regarded by many as the best of all Vietnam novels. The book is a profound corrective to the cultural myths of the evil and deranged American soldier. Its unforgettable conclusion provides the most devastating critique of the antiwar movement one will ever need to read. Webb's Marine loyalties have never faded; when he served briefly as Navy Secretary under President Reagan, he appointed Al Gray as Marine Corps Commandant, a crucial event in the resurgence of the Corps after the difficulties of the post-Vietnam era. He is an independent thinker, a powerful critic of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, and a man who should be better known.
2) Richard Pipes, historian. The 9/11 Commission's mandate is “to provide a 'full and complete accounting' of the attacks of September 11, 2001 and recommendations as to how to prevent such attacks in the future.” It seems to me that having at least one historian would be helpful in that effort. Pipes is one of the great scholars of Soviet Communism (his landmark work is The Russian Revolution), and as the subtitle of his recent memoir suggests, he's also a “non-belonger.” He somehow managed to labor 40 years at Harvard despite having views of the Soviet Union that were, let's say, at odds with most of his colleagues. He also served in the 1970s as a member of the CIA's legendary Team B that formulated a more critical view of Soviet strengths and weaknesses and a more aggressive approach to combating them.
Pipes wouldn't worry about making the New York Times winner's list. After all, why should he start now?
3) Michael Novak, theologian/author. In another era, it might have been easy to choose actual men of the cloth to serve on this commission, but this is not a golden age for the anointed. Novak will do just fine, though. He seriously studied for and considered the Catholic priesthood, but decided against it in favor of a writing career. His most influential works identify a nexus between religious faith and its apparent adversary, capitalism:The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Business as a Calling. In the 1980s, at the height of the Central American wars, he wrote Will It Liberate? Questions About Liberation Theology — and it was about time that someone asked them.
Novak would bring that same searching spirit to the commission, with an eye toward the higher things. One theologian is far preferable to yet another K Street lawyer.
4) Bill Joy, entrepreneur/scientist. The cofounder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, Joy was instrumental in the creation and coding of both the Unix operating system and the Java programming language. He's also a philosopher of sorts whose 2000 article, “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us,” has become legendary for its deeply pessimistic take on where technology is taking human society. In it, he wrote: “The 21st-century technologies — genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) — are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups.” Sound familiar? An entrepreneur who has been at the forefront of seminal developments in American business and technology, Joy is also a skeptic who says things like, “Clean water would do more to alleviate disease than high tech medicine.”
The 9/11 Commission includes no entrepreneurs, scientists, or philosophers. Joy gives us a bit of all three.
5) Lawrence Summers, President, Harvard University. A former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, Summers has earned the respect of many — and the hatred of some, like Cornel West — for his refusal to buckle to academic trendiness. He stepped on PC orthodoxy when he had the nerve to criticize West, a bloviating Leftist poseur masquerading as a scholar. He stood up against campus anti-Semitism and is pushing a back-to-basics academic approach. One Harvard professor said of Summers, “I don't think he is the kind of person who is equipped to deal with all of the touchy, delicate issues that come up here.”
On the contrary, he's just what Harvard needs, and he'd be a good commissioner, too.
6) Samantha Power, author/professor. Power is a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the author of “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, an indictment of the United States' role in tolerating international genocide throughout the 20th century, right up through Rwanda and Bosnia. Incidentally, her familiarity with Rwanda and the role Richard Clarke played in working to prevent American intervention would have made for an interesting confrontation when Clarke appeared before the committee.
Given her willingness to hold administrations of left and right up to withering scrutiny on human rights issues, I see no reason why Power would do any less on the events of 9/11.
7) Heather Mac Donald, Contributing Editor, City Journal. Over the last decade or so, Mac Donald has done some of the best writing on urban issues, including welfare reform, homelessness, policing, education, and more recently racial profiling and homeland security. She has written more myth-breaking articles in that span of time than most journalists write in a lifetime, and she does it with a ruthless empiricism. She's also a non-practicing attorney, which doesn't hurt to have in reserve.
Mac Donald would ask uncomfortable questions, just as she does in her writing. She's also a New Yorker, and there ought to be at least one on this commission.
8) John Shalikashvili, Army General, Ret. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Bill Clinton from 1993 until his retirement from the Army in 1997, General Shalikashvili is now a Visiting Professor at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation. He was the first foreign-born Chairman – his family got out of Poland in 1944 – and the first draftee. He's
Along with Webb, Shalikashvili would give the commission two members from Plato's guardian class, which is hardly excessive.
9) Brian Lamb, journalist and founder, C-Span. Brian Lamb founded one of the great public service institutions in American life almost entirely on his own initiative, so in a real sense he is equal parts entrepreneur and journalist. But as a journalist, most recognizably as host of C-Span's Book Notes, he has attained something truly rare: the respect and admiration of almost everyone on all sides of the political spectrum. When he says, “I love to listen to different viewpoints,” he means it — the network he built is proof.
Because Lamb is so respected, and so professionally trained in asking questions and moderating discussions, I've appointed him my co-chair of the commission. In this capacity he will share duties with…
10) Donald Trump, entrepreneur. I know what you're thinking — nine distinguished people and then I blow it by selecting this tacky, egomaniacal blowhard? Trump's greatest creations are monuments to bad taste and narcissism. But I picked him for two reasons.
First, Trump has always made enormous demands on those from whom he expects results. He is not averse to running full-page ads in New York newspapers, as he did after the Central Park jogger rape, expressing outrage and demanding justice. Sure he's a show-off, but at least you know he has a pulse — I'm not so sure about some of the current commissioners. Trump's most insufferable personal qualities could end up serving the goals of my commission. He drives hard and usually gets where he is going.
Second, Trump will perform a crucial service for the American people. It will fall to him to pronounce the words that have reverberated across the country in prime time the last few months, but that not a single witness or commissioner has heard:
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