01/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Buck Stops Somewhere: Mumbai Vs. 9/11

According to The New York Times, one hundred and eighty-eight people were killed during the three day siege of Mumbai. The Indian home minister, Shivraj Patil, resigned to take "moral responsibility" for their deaths and the destruction of the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi hotels. Patil was the "top domestic security official" in India, and according to the Times, he "resigned in disgrace on Sunday for the failure to thwart or quickly contain the horrific terrorist attacks."

On September 11, 2001, almost three thousand Americans died, and two of the largest buildings in America were destroyed. No federal officials resigned. Who was Patil's counterpart in the United States? Well, Bob Mueller was head of the FBI at the time, but he'd been on the job less than a month. Louis Freeh, Clinton's lame duck FBI director, had already resigned (in June), so that while the 9/11 plot was being hatched there, nobody was minding the store -- George Bush had no one filling the role of "top domestic security official."

What about George Tenet? The CIA certainly had some responsibility for failing to inform the FBI of the arrival of the previously identified terrorists. He took no responsibility whatsoever, and stayed around long enough to mislead us all with "weapons of mass destruction" and "yellow cake uranium." After he resigned, in July, 2004, President Bush gave him a medal.

The only guy I know who left the government was Richard Clarke, who resigned in disgust, as chief counter-terrorism adviser, in 2003, because Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet had failed to heed the warnings he gave them about Al-Qaeda as early as January, 2001. So the guy who got it right resigns, and the people who failed to "thwart or quickly contain the horrific terrorist attacks" on 9/11 kept their jobs. No one in the administration even suggested that he or she had to take "moral responsibility" for three thousand deaths and the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Patil is no hero, the Times of India describes his as having "an over-bearing arrogance, a sort of know-all smugness that makes you reach for a brass stand. It was compounded by the fact that he did not, in fact, know enough, and, in his self-absorbed manner, always considered himself to be a perfectly reasonable fellow." But even he had enough of a sense of decency to take public responsibility and resign his office.

In the United States, we set up a bipartisan commission, ten refused to release its report for five years, and wind up with a report pointing fingers of blame at everyone and no one, and holding no one accountable, and nobody resigns.

It was Harry Truman who had a sign on his desk that read, "The buck stops here." In Mumbai, the buck stopped with Shivraj Patil. On 9/11, the buck was passed to nobody.