Jewish World Review April 22, 2004 / 1 Iyar, 5764

Stanley Crouch

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Democracy's price — and blessing | All the gab in Washington about who let us down when it came to protecting the nation from al-Qaeda means nothing. But the quarreling is symbolic of the fact that democratic countries have problems that dictators and totalitarian regimes do not.

Democratic governments have to be elected and re-elected. That is why there is so much hot potato being played down in Washington right now.

Democrats pretend Al Gore would have done a better job if he were in office now, while Republicans pretend the Bush White House has done the best job that could be done. Quite simply, neither the Clinton nor the Bush administrations knew the real dimensions of the terrorist threat, so events would have turned out pretty much the same no matter who was elected in November 2000.

In terms of national security, there was too much of a mess in the way of doing the kind of job that was necessary in the months before 9/11.

The lines of authority had been filled with bureaucratic land mines and circular tunnels. The FBI was fouled up by the wall between criminal and domestic intelligence that Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke of so bitterly, but it was a wall erected because of the agency's dark history of stepping on the rights of individuals. You usually get what you pay for, but sometimes somebody else pays, like those who died on 9/11.

What was needed was the problem-solving system Motorola used to take over much of the world's cell phone market: When something went wrong in the workplace, or when something was discovered that could improve production, it moved from the factory floor to the decision-makers' cubicles within one day.

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That is the opposite of what the U.S. intelligence agency had in place, which is why the important dots were never connected. A woman FBI agent saw something strange about a few Muslim immigrants, but couldn't get the information to the cubicles of decision.

We were not ready for war. But democracies rarely are, particularly in this era when it's hard to identify the enemy, especially if that enemy is from another culture.

Also, democratic countries try too hard to make up for the bigoted low points in their histories. Since the West once looked upon everybody else as somehow less human, we bend too far backward in times of emergency, fearing charges of racism or profiling.

Dictators and totalitarian regimes don't have these problems. They merely act. They lose no sleep over international image, the domestic press or the thoughts of the people. We have to go through all kinds of red tape to get on the beam, which is our virtue - and our shortcoming.

Currently, we are victimized by partisan finger-pointing. But we are waking up to the smell of the smoke.

Our efforts, however, must never sink down to the kind of barbaric hysteria expressed by the kidnappings and murders of hostages in Iraq. We can count on the fact that as we get it together, the soldiers of jihad will make it clear to the entire planet exactly who they are and why they must be crushed.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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