Action on 9/11 panel’s suggestions can’t wait

Nearly three years after Sept. 11, 2001, a bipartisan commission has completed its painstaking study of the terrorist strikes and the government’s failure to prevent them.

The panel of five Republicans and five Democrats issued its report without dissent – a remarkable show of unity in these polarized political times. Indeed, as has been the case throughout history, unity is required to defeat a determined enemy.

The commission’s recommendations, from the creation of a national intelligence director to changing the way Congress oversees national security, are the best and most objective we’re likely to get. The American people should demand that Congress and the Bush administration begin acting on them immediately, without political gamesmanship.

In its report, the commission writes, “We call on the American people to remember how we all felt on 9/11, to remember not only the unspeakable horror but how we came together as a nation – one nation. Unity of purpose and unity of effort are the way we will defeat this enemy and make America safer for our children and grandchildren.”

In addition to unity, urgency is required. As has been repeated time and again, we are at war against the terrorists. There is little doubt that al-Qaida operatives are planning more attacks inside our borders, perhaps before the presidential election. For any member of Congress to argue that there isn’t time left this year to consider well-reasoned reforms that will make America safer shows willful negligence. If a special session of Congress is required to deal with these recommendations, that’s what should take place.

The 9/11 commission, in declining to assign specific blame to any single department or administration, wisely took a solution-oriented approach to its report, modeling the kind of unity that Congress and the president should follow. That doesn’t mean the commission’s recommendations should be rubber-stamped, but they should be treated with deference. Those who oppose particular recommendations must be prepared to offer better suggestions, because the status quo clearly isn’t good enough.

Waiting until after the election to take up the commission’s work would allow institutional resistance to gain momentum. Such resistance can be expected from the Pentagon and CIA, which would lose authority over intelligence, and from certain congressional leaders who could lose powerful committee positions.

That would represent business as usual. That’s just what the 9/11 commission’s report seeks to overcome.

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