He produced a detailed report – both detailed analysis and a compelling story that changed Americans’ understanding of the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people, and the terrorist threat. Its 41 separate recommendations led to specific changes in the structure of government, the creation of a director of national intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center.
But the pandemic is a very different circumstance – not a low-key one-day event but a crisis that unfolded over months, affecting the entire world and not just the United States. The American response has been overwhelmingly led by state and local governments; September 11 produced a largely federal response. Despite the publication of thousands of newspaper articles and even books examining what went wrong, huge questions remain unanswered.
Could intelligence officials have worked more closely with epidemiologists to track the virus as it took hold and do the same with future emerging infections? Could the mass lockdowns of last spring have been avoided, or at least limited to inflict less damage on the economy? How are state and local governments coordinating with Washington in a crisis that affects the whole country?
“This is very important,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global public health expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who also serves as an advisor to the planning group. “This is the greatest national trauma we have experienced since World War II. Six hundred thousand people died. Our institutions have failed astoundingly and our politics have failed and our public health system has been chaotic. We have to accept all of this. “
Supporters of the commission idea now feel they have a critical window. The Trump presidency is a thing of the past, and the 2024 election is far enough away to prevent the effort from getting drawn into presidential politics. A commission set up this year could submit a report in 2023, after the midterm elections.
There are differing views on how such a panel would be structured. Mr Menendez says he needs the Imprimatur of Congress, with the leaders of both parties and the president appointing members, as was the case with the 9/11 panel, which was chaired by Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey; and Lee H. Hamilton, a Democrat and former congressman from Indiana. Mr Menendez’s bill calls for a 10-member commission that would include at least one economic policy expert, one public health expert and a former governor appointed by each party.
Mr Zelikow said he believed the panel should be non-partisan – as opposed to bipartisan – and argued that the 9/11 model would not work in such a highly polarized climate. He fears that Congressional leaders will appoint people who are more invested in protecting their own parties than in the truth, which “would not help America heal” and would only “damage the faith more. and confidence in American governance ”. But, he said, the effort requires “congressional buy-in.”