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The Kissinger Commission
( Editorial ) 559 words
In naming Henry Kissinger to direct a comprehensive
examination of the government's failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks,
President Bush has selected a consummate Washington insider. Mr.
Kissinger obviously has a keen intellect and vast experience in national
security matters. Unfortunately, his affinity for power and the
commercial interests he has cultivated since leaving government may make
him less than the staunchly independent figure that is needed for this
critical post. Indeed, it is tempting to wonder if the choice of Mr.
Kissinger is not a clever maneuver by the White House to contain an
investigation it long opposed.
It seems improbable to expect Mr. Kissinger to report unflinchingly on
the conduct of the government, including that of Mr. Bush. He would have
to challenge the established order and risk sundering old friendships and
The Kissinger commission, in theory, should provide the definitive
account of how a raft of government agencies -- including the White
House, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation --
left the nation so vulnerable to terrorist attack. That final reckoning
is overdue and so far absent from the narrower inquiries done by Congress
and individual agencies. It is essential to ensuring that past mistakes
are not repeated.
The new inquiry will be undone if the 10-member panel is hesitant to
call government organizations and officials to account. There can be no
place for the kind of political calculation and court flattery that Mr.
Kissinger practiced so assiduously during his tenure as Richard Nixon's
national security adviser and secretary of state. Nor is there any
tolerance for the kind of cynicism that Mr. Kissinger applied to the
prosecution of the Vietnam War.
The commission will be made up of five Republicans and five Democrats.
Choosing its remaining members and staff director wisely will also be
vital to its success. They must be fiercely independent and unafraid to
challenge some of Washington's most powerful institutions. We were mildly
encouraged to hear Mr. Kissinger say that he would ''accept no
restrictions'' on the commission's work. To deliver on that promise, Mr.
Kissinger must start by severing all ties to Kissinger Associates, the
lucrative consulting business he has built up during the past two
decades. As a consultant, Mr. Kissinger offered not just his own foreign
policy expertise, but his famously easy access to the powerful and well
Not long after Mr. Bush announced the appointment of Mr. Kissinger on
Wednesday, Democratic Congressional leaders picked one of their brethren,
former Senator George Mitchell, to serve as vice chairman. Like Mr.
Kissinger, Mr. Mitchell has great experience and an understanding of how
the world works -- and is not known for rocking established institutions.
The commission offers both men a chance for the kind of
career-crowning legacy that many public personages dream of. But that
would require rising above Washington's usual hedging and horse-trading.
If they succeed, they could help the nation recover from the grievous
wounds of Sept. 11 and make sure the country is never so vulnerable
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