Should the Democrats be describing 9/11
    as completely unforseeable?

I’m quite willing to believe that the security deficiencies at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant weren’t really the responsibility of the Governor of Vermont, and that Howard Dean as governor paid what seemed at the time a prudent amount of attention to the problem. Thus the AP story criticizing Dean on nuclear security may be misleading.

It’s certainly the case that most of us adjusted our priorities after 9/11, moving security against terrorism higher, and in that sense it’s surely right to say that 9/11 was an unexpected event. From that it follows that it is not not legitimate to judge pre-9/11 actions by post-9/11 standards.

All that said, it was surely unfortunate for Gov. Dean’s spokesman to tell the Associated Press that “no one could have predicted what could have happened on a terrible day in September 2001.” Actually, we now know that much of what happened, even down to the use of airplanes as guided missiles, was predictable, and indeed predicted.

That the Governor of Vermont was unaware of the threat was surely pardonable; that the President of the United States seemed unaware of it was less pardonable, and a constitutes a legitimate issue for his opponent to make against him in 2004. It seems likely that Gov. Kean of the 9/11 Commission will provide valuable ammunition for such a critique. That’s why some of us regard it as essential to nominate at the top of the ticket someone who can credibly make the national security issue against the incumbent.

For the Dean campaign to pre-emptively forgo the use of that perfectly legitimate issue by describing the events of 9/11 as absolutely unpredictable seems to be terrible mistake. Or perhaps it’s simply another instance of that campaign’s willingness to take actions to help ensure the Governor’s nomination that have the predictable consequence of helping to ensure the President’s re-election.

Wouldn’t you expect the self-proclaimed “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” to do what it can to make a Democratic victory in November more, rather than less, likely?

Update Unsurprisingly, Glenn Reynolds has already picked up on this. It’s now officially available as ammunition for the right wing. Of course, Glenn has himself argued that 9/11 was predictable and that bureaucratic heads should roll for not having predicted it. But apparently he holds to the old English principle that the King can do no wrong, and that every crime and misfeasance is to be blamed on his ministers.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: