This lively and gossipy inside story of the 9/11 Commission's deliberations gains much of its dramatic force from the prominent role of the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow. Zelikow, a historian, clearly was not universally loved and was conflicted by his ties to then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, but in the end the benefits of having a first-rate historian at the helm outweighed the costs. The lamentable performance of John Ashcroft as attorney general in addressing the terrorist threat and then dealing with the commission provides another strong theme. On the large and nagging question of why the United States was caught napping by al Qaeda, Shenon gives little comfort to conspiracy theorists. The real issue of government culpability has to do with whether the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations could have done more to deal with Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11.
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