ABC’s The Path to 9/11 is a brilliant dramatization that blends documentary aspects with the kind of storytelling that makes complex events and movements understandable.
How does one tie together diverse attacks and events into an understanding of the 9/11 terrorist attack? The Path to 9/11 does it through the use of visual imagery, action and amazingly sparse dialogue to represent well known events and complicated issues underlying those events.
One sees brilliance and courageous dedication on the part of ordinary people.
Some like Ishtiak, the Pakistani informant who helped the CIA capture terrorist mastermind Ramzi Yousef, risk life and family because they believe that terrorist targeting of innocents is neither true to Islam or to Jihad. The divisions and struggle within Islam about whether moderates or terrorists best represent Islam is touched upon here.
Other "ordinary people" show insight and initiative just doing their job--like border patrol agent Diana Dean who spotted Ahmed Ressem on his way to blow up LAX.
One sees the dedication, courage and determination of many FBI, CIA and other security/police agents in tracking down terrorists and foiling their plans. FBI agent John O'Neill and Philippine police (who find Yousef's laptop) are representative.
One also sees the wavering at high levels of government by officials concerned both to protect civil liberties and to avoid costly political mistakes. Madeline Albright is shown explaining why Pakistani officials were tipped off on an attempt to take out Bin Laden in Afghanistan by the use of missile attack. The Clinton administration didn’t want Pakistan to think the missiles were coming from India and provoke a military response against India. The fallout was that someone in Pakistan tipped Bin Laden off, and he got away before the missiles hit.
Janet Reno’s Waco fiasco provoked a conservative response at high government levels to avoid risk taking in dealing with violent groups. President Clinton faced domestic criticism and foreign outrage for the bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.
The lesson that high government officials learned was that action should only come when there was certainty--which all too often meant either not to act or to act too late.
The Path to 9/11 raises an immensely important political issue. If we only support those who make no mistakes, how will we ever encourage and sustain a generation of leaders who can take on and win the kinds of global challenges that the WWII generation faced and won or the Cold War generations faced and won?
The rise of unrelenting criticism and hatred of the other party’s leadership when they make mistakes is an infection in the body politic that will destroy initiative and intelligence in government service. Not to mention democracy itself as innovative thinking that does not immediately succeed is politically punished and snuffed out.