In New York City’s fire department, fledgling firefighters who imagine themselves to be so brilliant they already know better than the seasoned veterans are known as IKEs.
“Why do you call me IKE?” one such newcomer at Ladder 3 in Manhattan asked the other day.
“IKE: I Know Everything,’” a veteran firefighter replied.
Fortunately, IKEs in the FDNY seldom get firefighters killed because truly knowledgeable veterans are usually there to straighten them out before their errors turn deadly.
Tragically, that seems not to have been the case in the Bush administration, whose many IKEs were known as neoconservatives.
If this week’s opinion piece by Kurt Eichenwald in The New York Times is correct, the Bush IKEs may have contributed to the death of 343 members of the FDNY, along with more than 2,500 other innocents.
The 9/11 commission has documented that President George W. Bush received and failed to act upon an Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing whose subject line read, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The Bush people have tried to characterize that warning as mere conjecture too uncorroborated to warrant action, even if it did prove to be catastrophically true.
Eichenwald now cites still unreleased presidential briefings prior to the one on Aug. 6. He reports that experienced analysts in the CIA had been warning since the early spring that Osama bin Laden was a serious threat and that terrorists “presently in the United States” were plotting attacks that were possibly “imminent.”
Rather than heed the warning and place the FBI and Customs on alert, the Bush administration reportedly listened to the nonsense of its neocon IKEs, who said they knew better, that bin Laden was really just mounting a “disinformation campaign” to distract the Untied States from the man they insisted was the real threat, Saddam Hussein.
The CIA veterans are said to have found themselves in the same dilemma that veterans in a firehouse would face if the brass were to decide that the IKEs did indeed know everything. The CIA veterans reportedly considered asking to transfer out but then realized they could not because there was nobody to take their place.
All the experienced CIA analysts could do was keep issuing warnings that the Bush administration reportedly continued to ignore. Word never reached those charged with watching our borders and keeping tabs on possible terrorists who get through. The FBI and Customs might otherwise have understood the significance of several potential tip-offs in the days before the attacks.
The result is starkly itemized in the names inscribed around the twin reflecting pools where grieving families gathered for the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Not listed are the names of the thousands more who perished after the Bush administration’s IKEs diverted our attention from the real perpetrators of the attacks and sent us into Iraq after Saddam Hussein, who was no true threat at all.
It was as if those in command at a fire scene had listened to a newbie who insisted that only one or two firefighters fight the blaze while the rest go across town to a building where there was not even a whiff of smoke.
With the diversion into Iraq came a betrayal of the unity that arose after the tower fell on 9/11, when the example of the firefighters and cops inspired us to answer evil with good and join together as we had not since Pearl Harbor.
We stood as one against a common enemy, but the IKEs of the Bush administration again said they knew better. They sent some of our finest, most dedicated young Americans into a fight that had nothing to do with bin Laden.
Just how little those Washington IKEs actually knew was spelled out with the banner behind that hung Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln as he announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq—eight years before they finally ended.
On this 11th anniversary of 9/11, we are finally out of Iraq. We soon will also be leaving Afghanistan, where a Marine base on Tuesday flew a flag in honor of fallen FDNY Captain Pat Brown of Ladder 3. He was a Marine in the Vietnam War, a never accomplished mission perpetuated by IKEs in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. He was called a baby killer when he returned home, and he became an uncommonly brave baby saver with the FDNY.
Brown was always quick to straighten out an IKE in the FDNY, but he could do nothing about the IKEs in Washington. I hate to think that the arrogance of those IKEs may have kept our professional protectors from preventing the attacks on 9/11.
Brown perished with 11 members of his company in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A number of us who loved him choked up at a memorial gathering at the firehouse on Tuesday, when the present captain of Ladder 3 spoke of the flag being flown in Brown’s honor in the faraway war zone.
FDNY chaplain Chris Kennan also said a few words, and he recalled the long recovery effort in the aftermath of the attack. He remembered aloud going down in the pit and joining the firefighters in digging for whatever was left of the dead.
“It was like descending into hell and seeing the face of God in you,” he told the firefighters now gathered in the quarters of Ladder 3.
The firefighters remained poised to show the face of God again, should an alarm summon them to risk all for the sake of others. But selfless is not the same thing as stupid. You can bet they are not about to listen to some IKE in a fire.
As Pat Brown would say even at the prospect of such a thing, “What are you, nuts?”