Posted on Sun, May 19, 2002. The Miami Herald.
Bush brothers have crucial lapses
Is that ominous drumbeat the sound of scandal about to envelop the Bush brothers?
Shouldn't it be?
George, the president, is searching for an innocuous spin on revelations his administration had intelligence prior to Sept. 11 that Osama bin Laden was contemplating skyjackings.
Jeb, Florida's governor, is taking a national pummeling over the disappearance of a 5-year-old girl who was supposed to be in the state's care.
George's possible lapse -- dare anyone say? -- may have contributed to the deaths of 3,000 civilians. Jeb's fumble may have led to Florida's losing track of 400 children who could be dead or lost to prostitution, drugs or worse on the streets.
Kind of makes all the furor over semen stains on a blue dress seem a little out of proportion, doesn't it?
A lot of Floridians like the Bush brothers, and many surely will accuse me of partisan motivations in raising such questions. That might be a reasonable charge if I were making an issue of, say, the Bush brothers' business dealings or family problems -- matters of questionable relevance to the public policy debate.
The current crises go beyond politics. We're talking about civilians who shouldn't be dead, and children who shouldn't be missing. No leader deserves a courtesy pass on such matters.
President Bush said Friday that although intelligence agencies had received information that bin Laden may have been plotting hijackings, he had no warning jetliners would be flown into buildings on Sept. 11.
That's an astonishing line of defense. It's like learning suspicious characters were plotting to acquire weapons, yet not raising an alarm since there was no indication when and how they would be used.
When is a skyjacking ever not a major crisis? The link with bin Laden should have been particularly worrisome; he surely had a hand in the December 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet, which forced India to release three imprisoned terrorists as ransom -- one of whom was later implicated in the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.
CAUSE FOR ALARM
Wasn't there cause enough to begin monitoring the unusual number of Arab foreigners attending U.S. flight schools? To warn commercial airlines of the heightened hijack risk, and alert them to watch for unusual movements of Arab nationals boarding flights? Might that have given authorities at least a chance to notice that five Arab men being watched by the FBI had booked passage on the same flight -- and that 19 had booked four concurrent flights?
Having perfect hindsight is easy; perhaps nothing could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. But it shouldn't take perfect intuition to act on a credible threat.
Meanwhile, Kathleen Kearney, Gov. Bush's secretary of the Department of Children & Families, is under fire for her insistence that Rilya Wilson's disappearance is an isolated case. Experts testifying this month before a special Bush-created task force asserted the agency is shot through with cases of unmonitored, unaccounted-for and abused children.
This comes after Bush's privatization experiment sustained a withering blow when a contractor hired to ease the state's backlog of open child abuse cases was caught closing cases without investigating them.
Finding the truth in each unfolding crisis shouldn't be a political exercise; the people of Florida and the United States should settle for nothing less than full disclosure.
One blatantly partisan observation, however, is worth considering: Given that the Bush boys seem no better at averting major crises than their father, who waffled on ''No new taxes'' and allowed Iraq's Saddam Hussein to live to menace another day, is it possible we've prematurely anointed the Bush family as America's new political dynasty?
© 2001 miamiherald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.