Find out more about the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks by visiting my 9/11 page, Hell Yes, They Knew. Includes events leading up to the attacks, a minute-by-minute timeline, and subsequent events, including information about the 9/11 investigative commission.
"[W]hen September 11 happened, the White House was totally unprepared. But what is worse is that more and more evidence suggested that when it did happen, George W. Bush and his advisors saw it almost as an opportunity as much as a tragedy. It gave the cover they needed to advance their longstanding agenda against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. ...At the very least, as a cynical French general once remarked, 'It is worse than a crime -- it is a blunder!'" -- Ian Williams
"Terrorism is the war of the poor, and War is the terrorism of the rich." -- Sir Peter Ustinov
"George W. Bush's slogan seems to be, 'The only thing we have to fear is the loss of fear itself." -- E.J. Dionne
"The so-called War on Terror was always just an expedient reason for the unilateral use of military power to achieve global dominance." -- Jim Lobe, Alternet
"I never want to suggest that, you know, there's a silver lining to 9/11 -- my God, 3,000-plus people perished -- but I will say that, were it not for 9/11, I don't even think my book would have been published." -- Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today, speaking to CNN's Glenn Beck
"Bush does not seem to understand that he is not only the president of the United States, he is the president of the free world. ...He cannot give up the role without causing chaos." -- Andrew Greeley, Chicago Tribune, April 18, 2003, quoted by Michael Scheuer, who points out how unconstitutional such an assumption is
"You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord." -- Jerry Falwell
Note: This section relies heavily on material from former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer's 2004 book Imperial Hubris, though it is augmented with other material. Although I do not agree with many of Scheuer's conclusions and much of his ideology, his vast array of knowledge and the inferences he draws from that information is invaluable and must be considered an essential ingredient of any informed debate on the subject of Islamic fundamentalism and the terrorism growing out of it.
In the preface to his book, Scheuer notes that the following conclusions can be drawn from a clear-headed analysis of the current situation in Iraq and in the US's global war on terrorism.
Scheuer writes that this horrific reality happened on the watches of both Republican and Democratic presidents, going back farther than the 1945 inception of Israel as a nation carved out of the territory of unwilling Arab nations, and has been exacerbated by the policies of the Bush administration and the mindset in America's intelligence bureaus that uncomfortable or politically incorrect information must be buried rather than examined, and the messengers of such information must be discredited and punished.
Scheuer writes, "To obscure threats they do not want to act against; to preserve the false facade of 'seamless' intelligence-community cooperation and disguise the incompetence and dereliction of some agencies; to avoid national security debates that would focus on such politically sensitive issues as religion, Israel, and Saudi perfidy, and -- most of all -- to avoid taking risks that could limit careers, post-government employment, or political aspirations; many US intelligence community leaders ensured that most officers who recognized the extent of the threat bin Laden posed before 11 September 2001 were banished to language training, jobs entailing no bin Laden-related work, or excluded from meetings that might afford a chance to present information honestly. After 11 September, these leaders likewise failed to systematically identify and employ the scores of experienced officers who would have brought applicable, in-depth knowledge to the war against bin Laden." He quotes author and former Army officer Ralph Peters in saying, "The motto of our vast intelligence establishment is 'Play it safe.' The mindset may protect careers but does little for our country." Elsewhere in his book, he notes that US policy makers confuse and conflate bin Laden's precisely worded and specific grievances with the West with the late Ayatollah Khomeini's more generalized damnation of America for its "decadence, debauchery, and secularism." The two may both be towering figures in the history of modern Islamic resistance to the West, but they are quite different in belief, style, approach, and agendas. Bin Laden may find Khomeini's rhetoric of calling the US "the Great Satan" useful, but it does not drive his beliefs nor his actions. -- Michael Scheuer
"In the context of the ideas bin Laden shares with his brethren, the military actions of al-Qaeda and its allies are acts of war, not terrorism; they are part of a defensive jihad sanctioned by the revealed word of God, as contained in the Koran, and the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammed, the Sunnah. These attacks are meant to advance bin Laden's clear, focused, limited, and widely popular foreign policy goals: the end of US aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state; the removal of US and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands; the end of US support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India; the end of US protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera; and the conservation of the Muslim world's energy resources and their sale at higher prices. To secure these goals, bin Laden will make stronger attacks in the United States -- complemented elsewhere by attacks by al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups allied with it or unconnected to it -- to try to destroy America's resolve to maintain the policies that maintain Israel, apostate Muslim rulers, infidel garrisons in the Prophet's birthplace, and low oil prices for US consumers. Bin Laden is out to drastically alter US and Western policies towards the Islamic world, not necessarily to destroy America, much less its freedoms and liberties. He is a practical warrior, not an apocalyptic terrorist in search of Armageddon. Should US policies not change, the war between America and the Islamists will go on for the foreseeable future. No one can predict how much damage will be cause by America's blind adherence to failed and counterproductive policies, or by the lack of moral courage now visible in the thirty-plus-year failure of US politicians to review Middle East policy and move America to energy self-sufficiency and alternative fuels."
Muslims' belief in the war on the West as a defensive jihad ties directly into the individual Muslim's relationship with God and with Islamic history. American scholar James Turner Johnson writes that the model for such a defensive jihad "is the medieval hero Saladin, who though only a regional commander (not a caliph) organized and led a successful defense against the armies of the second Crusade." Though bin Laden is not a leading clerical figure, his stated belief that Islam is under attack by America, and his call for other Muslims to identify the threat and do their duty for God and their brethren in response, transcend any question of religious authority: as Scheuer writes, "It is the attack by infidels on Muslims that triggers the jihad, not the call or directive of a suitably educated leader. Bin Laden's call to arms against America is directly in line with Islamic teachings and doctrine. Muslims around the world are not responding because it is bin Laden issuing the call, but because bin Laden makes convincing arguments that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended.
Bin Laden is not, as simplistically characterized by Bush and others, calling for the indiscriminate destruction of all things American. Muslims, including bin Laden, are not so offended by Western mores and sensibilities that they wish to destroy Western culture outright. They do not wish to stop Americans from voting, from speaking their minds, or from praying to a Christian god. Former US ambassador to Turkey and Pakistan Robert Spiers says, "Robotic repetition of 'because they hate freedom' do not do as an explanation." Worse, Scheuer says the "conclusion is errant and potentially fatal nonsense." The instances of Muslim terrorists striking at outposts of Western culture are isolated and have little to do with the defensive jihad espoused by millions of Muslims around the world. "[B]y and large," Scheuer writes, "Muslims take the world as it comes, and although they may be more offended by some aspects of modernity than the members of other confessions -- perhaps even more than me -- there is no record of a Muslim leader urging his brethren to wage jihad to destroy participatory democracy, the National Association of Credit Unions, or the coed Ivy League universities. Many Muslims may not particularly like what and who the rest of us are, but those things seldom if ever make them hate us enough to attack us."
What inspires so many Muslims to take up arms of one sort or another against America is the fact that, in their eyes, "the things they most love and value -- God, Islam, atheir brethren, and Muslim lands -- are being attacked by America." The 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was not merely a hateful, behind-the-back strike at American civilians, as is widely perceived by Americans and others, but to them a counterattack justified by American attacks against Islam in many different areas in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. A few Muslims strike back on their own; many more join al-Qaeda or other, similar organizations; hundreds of thousands more support these organizations with their time, money, prayers, or at least blind eyes to their activities. "Part of bin Laden's genius is that he recognized early on the difference between issues Muslims find offensive about America and the West, and those they find intolerable and life threatening. The difference, that is, that moves large numbers of people from demonstrating with placards to demolishing with plastic explosives. And in the movement-causing category fall, almost exclusively, US political, military, and economic policies toward the Islamic world."
Bin Laden cut his teeth on Islamic defensive jihad in Afghanistan, fighting the Soviets with the assistance of the American CIA. He and his comrades did not fight the Soviets because they were atheists and communists, "but because they were atheists and communists who had invaded and occupied a Muslim land, had arbitrarily killed more than a million Muslim men, women, and children, had driven three-plus million more into exile, and clearly sought to eradicate Islam from the country." Bin Laden and his fellow mujahadeen learned powerful lessons from their victories in Afghanistan, and are now applying those lessons to another oppressor -- America and the West. Worse for the Americans, they, unlike the Soviets, have yet to learn that the Muslim insurgents are not attacking their way of life, but are fighting because of the actions perpetuated against them and their way of life. "[T]hat cold, hard perception of their Islamic enemy's motivation is the only thing we should copy from the Soviet Union."
The Islamists see the following as the heart of their grievances against American policies and actions. Note that the following list is an articulation of Muslim perceptions, not necessarily a statement of reality.
Challenging God's Word
Scheuer makes it very clear that he does not support or apologize for the Muslims who are attacking American interests. In fact, he calls throughout his book for an increased military response against Islamic terrorism, far beyond anything authorized by Bush or Congress. His critiques of American policy are based on what he believes are the ignorance, political manipulation, and shallow thinking that have characterized America's response to Islamic terrorism since the 1980s. -- Michael Scheuer
Ironically, and tragically, the perception of America as the implacable enemy of Islam is a relatively new one. In years past, America has been seen by the world's Muslims as a defender of other cultures and other societies. Franklin Roosevelt helped dismantle the oppressive British Empire. Dwight Eisenhower stopped what Muslims saw as a brazen, racist Anglo-French-Israeli land grab at Suez. Ronald Reagan defied the Soviets and armed the Afghan mujahedeen, and oversaw the collapse of the USSR, who had held Muslim client states in thrall for decades. That perception has been radically altered, a change primarily begun during the first Bush presidency, accelerated under Clinton, and brought to a head under George W. Bush. Now America is the supporter of Arab tyrants in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim nations, and the supporter of Israel against the Palestinians (a perception dramatically increased by the younger Bush's abandonment of the Clinton-era attempts at bipartisan reconciliation). What may be worse is the Muslim perception that America is no longer an enemy of Western imperialism, but now its strongest proponent, bringing what Muslims in the Middle East think of as outright colonialism to the oil-rich Muslim countries of the region. Scheuer writes, "The answer to [what went wrong is] the actions of the United States, as heir to the British Empire in the Muslim world, are what is wrong." Bin Laden wrote in October 2002 to Americans, "God is my witness, the yough of Islam are preparing things that will fill your hearts with fear. They will target key sectors of your economy until you stop your injustice and aggression or until the more short-lived of us die."
"Whether it is true or not that America can take steps to make bin Laden and his fellow jihadists lay down their arms and go home to their families, it is true that such an end is desired by bin Laden and other terrorists. If they can achieve their specific aims, they will stop fighting. Whether or not America will be willing to give them enough concessions to make them disarm, or whether America can afford to do so, is another question." -- Michael Scheuer
Scheuer writes that one of the consistent failings of US intelligence and Bush officials has been to ignore the writings and speeches of bin Laden, or to mock their content without attempting to understand them. The reverse is also true: the words of American religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have a tremendous impact on Muslims, many of whom believe that American "clerics" hold the same positions of political power and influence as their own clerics and imams. Thus, when American televangelist Kenneth Copeland says it is a "magnificent thing" to allow Israel to destroy Palestinian settlements, many Muslims take such pronouncements as quasi-official statements of American foreign policy, and act accordingly. "Thus, words we dismiss or ridicule, nurture Muslim hatred to an extent we have not begun to recognize." Robertson's characterization of Muslims' treatment of Jews as "worse [than] Adolf Hitler"'s, Falwell's smear of the Prophet Mohammed as a "terrorist," Jimmy Swaggart's prayer that "God blesses those who bless Israel and damns those who damn it," and Franklin Graham's terming Islam as a "wicked religion" and contrasting Christianity and Islam as "different as lightness and darknessm" ring throughout the Muslim world. Scheuer writes, "As a result, words that are innocuous to Americans are interpreted as Christian-Judeo attacks on the things Muslims love most." The Bush administration's explicit embrace of rightist Dominionist doctrine and evangelical Christianity goes even farther to cement the Muslim impression that American religious leaders are spokesmen for US foreign policy. -- Michael Scheuer
Al-Qaeda is perhaps the most misunderstood organization in American thought. Undoubtedly the organization is worth the castigation, revilement, and hatred it and its actions have spawned in this country, but to mock it as a group of ignorant "ragheads" chasing each other around the Hindu Kush with bombs strapped to their bellies, or almost as bad, to paint it as a clot of fumbleheaded idiots brainwashed by the Svengali-like bin Laden into performing heinous acts that they barely understand, is to seriously, perhaps fatally, underestimate them. The organization is, of course, an umbrella group of more or less affiliated smaller organizations, with similar if not identical goals, coordinated but not necessarily led by Osama bin Laden from his headquarters somewhere in Pakistan's northwestern mountains. The organization was born in the anti-Soviet mujahedeen of 1980s Afghanistan, as delineated elsewhere in these pages, and for years has operated almost unchecked even as the forces of the world's most powerful nations have brought their attentions and their militaries to bear on rooting them out, arresting them, or killing them.
To better understand al-Qaeda, and to better defeat it, it must be understood that the organization is not a "terrorist" operation per se, but an insurgency that reaches into over a dozen countries; while its membership itself is small, the number of Muslim sympathizers it boasts may reach into the hundreds of thousands and perhaps beyond. The organization itself has long understood that to survive, it must be decentralized. It is broken apart into small, semi-independent units scattered throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries, making it that much more difficult to locate and eradicate. The organization also understands that it will suffer losses, both in its "foot soldiers" and its senior leadership; capturing fifty soldiers or assassinating a leader -- including bin Laden -- will not destroy its effectiveness. In early 2004, the then-director of the CIA, George Tenet, warned the Senate that al-Qaeda is just as capable of carrying out a potent strike against US targets as it was on September 11. Its interest in securing chemical, biological, and even nuclear weaponry to be used against American targets is long established, and the potential for such a devastating attack remains constant.
Scheuer writes that one reason al-Qaeda has been so successful for so long is because the US has insisted on defining it as a terrorist organization and not an insurgency, and therefore has treated it more as a law-enforcement problem than a group to be countered by military, diplomatic, and economic means. The US also insisted on treating the Taliban as a centralized government of a typical nation-state. From a US viewpoint, the Afghan offensive of late 2001 should have worked -- the Taliban should have been eliminated as a viable fighting force during the offensive, and it should have been a matter of course to round up and incarcerate the small numbers of al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan once their Taliban protectors were rendered inoperative. Neither of these things happened.
Al-Qaeda is a full-fledged insurgency, not a "mere" terrorist group. Scheuer says that Americans focus on the terrorist attackers and suicide bombers of the group, whom he compares to a traditional military's special forces, and ignore the larger, more central aspects of the organization. Its two primary missions are to provide high-quality insurgent training to Muslims from around the world, and to build a large cadre of veteran fighters who can be sent, like a foreign legion, "to serve as combat leaders, trainers, engineers, logisticians, financial advisors, or administrators wherever militant Islam needs them."
The "terror camps" in Afghanistan and elsewhere that al-Qaeda has maintained have also been widely misunderstood. Certainly terrorists were trained in these camps to carry out suicide missions and urban warfare missions, but far more insurgents have been given excellent training in battlefield and quasi-battlefield military deportment, to fight not only against the Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan, but against governmental military forces in Indian Kashmir, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tajikistan, Egypt, Bosnia, western China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and the Philippines. As American and Northern Alliance soldiers can testify, these al-Qaeda forces are superb battlefield soldiers.
Scheuer does not wish to be mistaken for having any admiration or, worse, any support for al-Qaeda. Neither does the author/editor of this Web site. Only in knowing an enemy can that enemy be defeated. In underestimating and failing to understand al-Qaeda, the US runs the risk of not being able to defeat it and remove it as a threat to American citizens. That is the point of this entry, and the point of much of Scheuer's book. -- Michael Scheuer
The characterization of Osama bin Laden in America, promulgated by right-wing talk show pundits, late-night television hosts, and Bush officials, is that bin Laden is a coward, hiding in a cave somewhere and sending legions of brainwashed jihadists out to do his dirty work. But among even mainstream Muslims, the impression of bin Laden is quite different. Most Muslim leaders are "effete kings and princes who preach austere Islam but live in luxurious debauchery; or murderous family dictatorships, like Iraq's Husseins, Egypt's Mubaraks, Libya's Qaddafis, and Syria's Assads; or coup-installed generals holding countries together after politicians have emptied the till." To many Muslims, bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban's Mullah Omar have ascended to the status of a Robin Hood. Bin Laden is equal part brave warrior, fighting the rich and powerful oppressor from his rural hiding place, and pious advocate of true Islam. The fact that he is a member of a rich and powerful Saudi family who has abandoned the Western-influenced, jet-set lifestyle of his upbringing -- a former merchant prince now fighting for the poor and oppressed -- adds to the romance of his persona. Even the fact that he is chronically ill adds to the mystique. His history as one of the victors over the Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan, and his repeated wounds in battle, make him the real-life equivalent of any Hollywood action hero. Bin Laden and his cohorts are seen by millions as, in the title of Ayman al-Zawahiri's memoirs, "Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet." They are symbols of hope in a Muslim world rife with oppression, corruption, and leaders who are seen as charlatans and US-coddled tyrants.
Americans see the efforts to assassinate bin Laden as necessary attempts to kill a deranged gangster; Muslims see them as efforts to kill a heroic and holy man who lives to protect them and their faith. This is in large part why the $25 million bounty posted by the US for information leading to the capture or killing of bin Laden remains in a bank, with no takers. Scheuer, a historian with a great love for Civil War history, compares bin Laden, in perceptual terms, to the veneration of Robert E. Lee by Confederate sympathizers. Scheuer writes, "[M]illions of Muslims put upon [bin Laden] their wishes and dress him with their dreams."
Professor Bernard Lewis wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "there is a strong tradition of bandit heroes, challenging authority and eluding capture.... The role of the Middle Eastern Robin Hood, unlike his Western prototype, is not to rob the rich and give to the poor, though some such expectation may lurk in the background; it is rather to defy the strong and to protect -- and ultimately avenge -- the weak. For Osama bin Laden and his merry men, the Sheriff of Nottingham is their local potentate, which ever that may be. The ultiimate enemy, King John, lives far away, as he has always done -- in Constantinople and Vienna, London and Paris, and now in Washington and New York." American journalist Genevieve Abdo wrote in her book No God But God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam, "We are told by US leaders that [bin Laden] is out to destroy our way of life and to crush our notions of freedom and pursuit of happiness. But to cast bin Laden in such narrow terms is to dismiss his profound standing among some of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims and to overlook his rightful place in Islamic history. Where the West sees him as a mad dog terrorist, many of his Muslim partisans regard him as the latest in a long tradition of radical Islamic thinkers and revolutionary leaders, all of whom advocated violence in pursuit of their own vision of a united, worldwide ummah, or community of believers."
Bin Laden is admired for a number of qualities by many fellow Muslims. He is considered an accomplished Islamic scholar and an often-eloquent writer, which as noted by Bernard Lewis, is "a skill much appreciated and admired in the Arab world since ancient times. ...[I]n the modern Arab world there is little sign of eloquence. In his use of language, bin Laden brings a return to the traditional virtues. Modern devices, notably satellite television, can bring his eloquence all over the Arab world. ...bin Laden presents the inspiring spectacle of one who, by his own free choice, has forsaken a life of riches and comfort for one of hardship and danger." Taken in total, bin Laden personifies for many Muslims the latest in a long line of Islamic heroes, combining "eloquence, a strong but self-effacing personality, and the courage to defy the mighty in word and deed," in Scheuer's words, to become a hero in the classic Islamic mold. Bin Laden wrote about the 19 attackers on 9/11 as if they were traditional Islamic jihadist martyrs, holding them up to Muslims as young heroes to be admired and emulated. To many believers of Islam, bin Laden is leading the fight against an enemy that is continuing the historically repugnant Crusades, a traditional hero who combines many of the virtues that Islam (and many other cultures, including Western ones) admire. It is hard to see how bin Laden cannot become a martyr if and when he is captured, convicted, incarcerated, and perhaps executed by Western authorities. By his own actions, and by the responses of his Western enemies, bin Laden's influence is certain to continue unabated many years after he himself no longer lives. Author Kent Gramm summed up the Western dilemma quite succinctly in 1999: "War is about thoughts and words.... It is especially difficult for Americans to consider the connection, for the country as a whole does not seem to believe that thoughts and words are very important. But how the world's fundamentalists read their holy books during the next one hundred years will be a matter of life and death for millions." -- Michael Scheuer
Viewed from any angle, Osama bin Laden is a great man, one who smashed the expected unfolding of universal post-Cold War peace," Scheuer writes. Whether one loves and supports bin Laden, as do hundreds of thousands of the world's Muslims, or one hates and despises the man, as do almost all Westerners and a number of Muslims and others, he can rightfully claim to be one of the few people who truly has changed history. Dr. Bruce Hoffman wrote after the 9/11 attacks, "His effective melding of the strands of religious fervor, Muslim piety, and a profound sense of grievance into a powerful ideological force stands -- however invidious and repugnant -- as a towering achievement. In his own inimitable way, bin Laden cast this struggle as precisely the 'clash of civilization' that America and its coalition partners have labored so hard to negate." Scheuer writes, "In contrast to Saddam Hussein, whom Muslims hated for his brutality and non-Islamic behavior but applauded for spitting in America's eye, bin Laden is seen by millions of his coreligionists -- because of his defense of Islam, personal piety, physical bravery, integrity, and generosity -- as an Islamic hero, as that faith's ideal tupe, and almost as a modern-day Saladin, determined to defend Islam and protect Muslims. It is also fair to speculate that there are some millions of non-Muslims who are opposed to the United States for foreign policy, environmental, financian, or antiglobalization reasons who silently applaud bin Laden simply because he rhetorically defies the United States and physically attacks its citizens and interests." Bin Laden's face is emblazoned on everything from T-shirts and CDs to cigarette lighters and posters across the earth. As the New York Times Magazine reported in July 2003, "Afghanistan's children suck on bin Laden candies, sugary balls in wrappers showing the leader's face, his pointed finger, and the tip of a rocket." One of the most popular names for newborn Islamic males is now Osama.
"For a man often said to be on the run, suffering from multiple fatal diseases, and living in dank caves, bin Laden remains well and safe enough to pretty well call the tune to which the United States and much of the West dances, at least when al-Qaeda's video technicians give him and his sidekick al-Zawahiri a break from hiking in the Hindu Kush. ...The closer the Western media comes to accurately portraying bin Laden, the better the United States and its allies will understand the threat, and the better they can plan and execute its destruction. On the Muslim side, the portrayal of bin Laden continues to play a role in the amount of support he receives and, more important, how effective he is in inciting his brethren to take part in a defensive jihad against the United States."
Both the Islamist hero worship of bin Laden and the Western media's view of bin Laden as a "stateless psychopath" who slavers over the thought of innocents plunging to their deaths from burning towers are wrong in their estimation of the man and his mission. In the West, dismissing bin Laden as a "madman" who leads "a new breed of savage and suicidal terrorists [who follow a] fanatical warping of Islam" has done little more than marginalize bin Laden in the public and political eye, allowing US officials to dismiss bin Laden from rational consideration as well as allowing bin Laden to operate with near-impunity while American intelligence and military officials are forced to focus on Afghanistan and Iraq. Worse, to treat bin Laden as a motiveless psychopathic murderer, or, as Lee Harris wrote in Policy Review, "a fatal disease [requiring the West] to retire the war scenario to deploy one that is more fitting: the struggle to eradicate disease," helps ensure that, in spite of Harris's call to "retire the war scenario," America's policy towards bin Laden and al-Qaeda will remain unchanged, with the only option that of "eradication." Other media pundits scramble for the simplistic, as in the New York Times Magazine's James Traub's characterization of bin Laden as "evil personified," or the puerile, as with the Wall Street Journal's G.F. Seib's comparison of bin Laden to Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter books. "The combination," writes Scheuer, "yields a bin Laden who is not only a criminal, but a media-hungry, megalomaniac sorcerer who seduces and manipulates Muslims. Saudi writer Mansur Ibrahim al-Nuqadyan describes young Muslims, the Taliban, and the Afghan people as "the fodder of his publicity stunt and the fuel for his lust for stardom that reverberated in the far corners, villages, and dales of the world to make the myth of bin Laden." Eminent American scholar Victor Davis Hanson even compares bin Laden to a blood-mad Pied Piper, leading the Muslim world "right over the precipice of disaster." If bin Laden were such a simplistic, comic-book villain, perhaps he would be easier to combat.
Another popular and equally wrong-headed viewpoint of bin Laden is that of the gentle, bumbling imbecile being manipulated by his deputies, a view often promulgated by his Saudi Arabian opponents. "When I first met bin Laden in the 1980s," said Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, "I thought he couldn't lead eight ducks across the street," an odd observation considering bin Laden's extensive ties with, and apparent usefulness to, Saudi intelligence operations in the early and mid-1980s. Saudi prince Mamdouh bin Abdel-Aziz told the New York Times that bin Laden was, from his observations, "quite a simple man" who had trouble discussing the most basic tenets of the Koran. Most likely this line of attack is more to take the heat of criticism off the politically powerful bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia than actually attempting to paint a realistic portrait of the man. Even more generous portraits of bin Laden from Saudi sources paint him as a gentle, unworldly man incapable of "organizing something as simple as a 15-minute trip," in the words of bin Laden's brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifah. In this viewpoint, bin Laden is merely the stooge of others, most likely of the "evil terrorist genius Ayman al-Zawahiri," the former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and bin Laden's deputy in al-Qaeda. One former colleague of bin Laden's who fought with him against the Soviets in Afghanistan claims that bin Laden "changed" after meeting al-Zawahiri, becoming far more radicalized and anti-Western. According to this line of thought, al-Zawahiri and his band of renegade Egyptian Islamics poisoned bin Laden's mind, turning him away from standard, more gentle Islam to a brand of religion suffused with vengeance and slaughter.
This plays into the view that bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others wish to utterly destroy everything Western, viewing it as a civilization that has failed, and create a new Islamic caliphate stretching farther than even the extent of the old Ottoman Empire. Scheuer says, "The failed-civilization analysis, unfortunately, allows US elites, policy makers, and voters to take refuge in the idea that the Islamic world has gone mad, and that nothing the United States has done has caused al-Qaeda's attacks, or generated the widely held anti-US sentiment in the Islamic world.
Scheuer disagrees. He writes that bin Laden has, for over a decade, "demonstrated patience, brilliant planning, managerial expertise, sound strategic and tactical sense, admirable character traits, eloquence, and focused, limited war aims. These views of bin Laden consistently underestimate the man as a spiritual and secular leader, and allows him to further achieve his aims without the kind of informed resistance that could ultimately lead to not only his demise, but the undoing of his agenda." Bin Laden undoubtedly aims to not only spread the influence of Islam through much of the world, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia, but to "purge" the Muslim world of what he sees as its penchant for tolerance and acceptance of "corrupting" Western mores and beliefs, and its often-tyrannical governence of Muslim nations and its cooperation with Western nations. He has even, in some views, coopted some business models of thought and leadership for his own use. -- Michael Scheuer, James Risen
In some ways, Westerners find it difficult to refute bin Laden's justifications for 9/11 even as they wholly repudiate and condemn the attacks themselves. "We say that the brutal enemy does not need documents or excuses for continuing the war he has started against Islam and Muslims many decades ago," bin Laden wrote in response to critics who said the 9/11 attacks would be used to justify the US's war on terror in 2002. "For God's sake, what are the documents that incriminate the Palestinian people that warrant the massacres against them, which have been going on for five decades at the hands of the Crusaders and the Jews. What is the evidence against the people of iraq to warrant their blockade and being killed in a way that is unprecedented in history. What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash their Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people in the region under UN cover. What is the crime of the Kashmiri people and what documenhts to the [Indian Hindu] possess to make them sanction their blood for more than fifty years. What have Muslims in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and the Central Asian republics committed to warrant being invaded by the brutal Soviet military regime and after it communism's killing, annihilating, and displacing tens of millions of them. What evidence did the United States have the day it destroyed Afghanistan and killed and displaced the Muslims there. It even launched prior to that the unfair blockade of [the Afghans] under UN cover. Under the same cover Indonesia was ripped apart; Muslims were forced to leave Timor.... Under the UN cover too, it intervened in Somalia, killing and desecrating the land of Islam there. We say that all the Muslims that the international Crusader-Zionist machine is annihilating have not committed any crime other than to say God is our Allah."
Bin Laden's history, while highly colored by his conviction of the West's hatred of Muslims and quite slanted, is generally accurate. More importanly, his portrayal of the variety of conflicts he lists as attacks on Islam and Muslims by Western "Crusaders" is quite plausible to his worldwide Muslim audiences. Bin Laden is well within the bounds of Koranic philosophy in calling for a "defensive jihad" in response to these accusations of Muslim oppression. "Muslims are not instructed to turn the other cheek," Bernard Lewis reminds us, "nor do they expect to beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks." "Why are we waging jihad against you?" bin Laden rhetorically asked the American people in his letter to them of 2002. "The answer to that question is very simple. Because you attacked us and continue to attack us." As long as Bush officials and Western politicians and pundits continue to portray the 9/11 attacks as the inexplicable actions of a blood-crazed madman whose only motivation is to spread terror for terror's sake, not only will nothing be done to curb the increasing popularity of bin Laden's defensive jihad among the world's Muslims, but nothing will be done to ensure that future, perhaps more costly attacks against American and European targets are not carried out for the same reasons as bin Laden delineated in 2002.
It is important to understand that bin Laden does not see himself as Allah's sole instrument of vengeance or of justice. He continues to insist that he and al-Qaeda cannot produce a Muslim victory by themselves. Bin Laden sees al-Qaeda as primarily a recruitment vehicle for more jihadists, and an organization dedicated to their training and indoctrination once these new recruits come forward. Bin Laden notes repeatedly that it is each Muslim's individual duty to come forward and join the jihad, if not as a fighter or suicide bomber, then as a financial or theological supporter, an information conduit, or in whatever capacity they can manage. He insists that the proper leaders of jihad are the clerics, jurists, and scholars have been imprisoned by the US, Saudi Arabia, and other nations, and that he is merely doing what he can to fill the void. Leadership must come from the intellectual and scholarly cadres of the ummah, or global Islamic community.
Unfortunately, the West's own actions and policies are proving to be bin Laden's best recruiting tools. The highly partisan US support for Israel against the Palestinians, escalated by George W. Bush from an already intolerable (to many Muslims) level under Clinton, is of itself a prime recruitment tool for Muslim jihadists; Bush's occupation of the holy land of Iraq is another. "For bin Laden, the most effective recruiting tool imaginable is for the United States to keep doing what it has been doing for the past thirty years," writes Scheuer. "The invasion of Iraq and the subsequent insurgency there is icing on the cake for al-Qaeda."
Bin Laden is attempting to inculcate a sense among Muslim youth that participation in jihad against the West is as important a rite of passage into manhood, and a direct link to the storied youth of ancient Islamic history, is an absolute necessity. And he is succeeding. One element that most Westerners are either unaware of or ignore entirely is the glorification and elevation of the 9/11 "martyrs" among Muslim youth. These 19 hijackers, justly vilified as the worst of evildoers by Americans and many, many others, are portrayed as heroes to many Muslim youth. Their sacrifice of themselves for a greater cause not only ensured their immediate transfiguration to a Muslim spiritual paradise, in many Muslim eyes, but ensured their establishment as historical martyrs and heroes of the Islamic jihad. The act is considered justified by many Muslims as a response to America's 50-year support of Israel, who has incarcerated three generations of Palestinians in refugee camps and occupied their lands. The 9/11 attacks were designed to take suicide operations against American and Western targets to a new and higher level, and to focus the Muslim world on the battle against, by their lights, the rampaging Crusaders against God's defending mujahedeen. The viewpoints of 9/11 by Westerners outraged, offended, and shocked by the carnage among the innocents, and by hundreds of thousands of Muslims who see the attacks as a heroic act of martyrdom struck against a towering symbol of American economic domination of the oppressed and abused Muslim world constitute a gap that may never be bridged.
For years, bin Laden has been striving, with some success, to escalate the battle out of the Middle East and take it directly to America, Britain, Israel, and other enemy nations. Traditionally, Muslims begin the fight against oppression and corruption in their own backyards, purging their own communities and nations before taking the battle elsewhere, in obeyance of the Prophet Mohammed's injunction to fight and win the "near" battles before turning to the "far" enemy. Hence, most Islamic terrorist attacks have been conducted in Arab countries, against Muslim regimes whom the fundamentalists and jihadists view as corrupt, secular, and un-Islamic. Egyptian jihadists begin their battle against the Egyptian government, Saudis against the House of Saud, and so forth. But bin Laden has tried, with limited success, to broaden the viewpoint of jihad against the West even before these apostate Muslim governments can be brought to heel. The multinational, multiethnic al-Qaeda organization is, in Scheuer's words, "a tremendous accomplishment -- indeed, in the modern Islamic world, an unprecedented one -- and it is attributable in large part to bin Laden's leadership and ability to keep the hatred of al-Qaeda's members fixed on the United States." The focus on America has kept internal conflicts and strifes to a minimum, and kept the organization steady on its goal to disrupt and decimate America and Israel. "Take care not to be pushed into fragmenting your efforts and squandering your resources in marginal battles with the lackeys and parties," bin Laden advised his followers and colleagues in the fall of 2002, "but concentrate the blows on the head of the unfaith[ful] until it collapses. Once it collapses, all the other parts will collapse, vanish, and be defeated." -- Michael Scheuer
A particular hotbed of al-Qaeda support is America's putatively most powerful ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia. "The majority of the Saudi people support Shaykh Osama bin Laden and regard him as a popular hero who succeeded in delivering a strong blow against the United States, the primary supporter of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people," writes Abd al-Bari Atwan, a critic of the Saud royal family. A recent Saudi intelligence poll shows that 95% of Saudis between the ages of 25 and 41 support al-Qaeda. And the organization has made deep inroads into the Saudi establishment, particularly in the security agencies. A large number of Saudis fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets; many of those well-trained and blooded fighters remain available for use against the US and Western forces.
And Saudi Arabia has protected bin Laden. When, in 1996, the CIA finally began tracking bin Laden and attempting to disrupt his activities, it requested bin Laden's personal information from the Saudis -- passport, birth certificate, bank records, and so forth. The Saudis refused to turn over the information; even after 9/11, the CIA had not received that information. In 1997, the Saudis arrested Sayed Tayib al-Madani, a key financial advisor to bin Laden while the terrorist leader had been living in the Sudan. The Saudis refused repeated requests to interview al-Madani, only allowing the CIA to see him after the 9/11 attacks. "Before 9/11, the Saudis gave us almost nothing on al-Qaeda," said a CIA source. In fact, the CIA's bin Laden station labeled the Saudi intelligence service as "hostile" on the issue of al-Qaeda. CIA sources also believe that some of the information about al-Qaeda it has shared with the Saudis has been given over to the terrorists. In one case, the NSA gave some communications intercepts of al-Qaeda operatives to the Saudis; shortly thereafter, the terrorists stopped using those means of communication, leading NSA analysts to believe that the Saudis had tipped off the terrorists. It was not until May 2003 that the Saudis finally began to "crack down," as one CIA source put it.
When Jordanian intelligence officials, with their close ties to the CIA, toured Saudi military and intelligence facilities, they saw pro-Osama screen savers on a number of Saudi computers, leading them to believe that many Saudis in those facilities were openly supportive of bin Laden. And in 1998, the Saudis convinced CIA director George Tenet to cancel a plan by the CIA, approved by then-security advisor Sandy Berger, to assassinate bin Laden. And even during the summer of 2001, when CIA officers were hearing a raft of disparate intelligence reports indicating that a large al-Qaeda attack on US soil was in preparation, the Saudis were not cooperative. (Tenet himself had cultivated an unusually close relationship with Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, and often conferred privately with Bandar, never revealing even to top CIA officials the content of their conversations. He placed one of his closest aides in charge of the Riyadh station, and that aide would communicate directly with Tenet, who did not reveal much of those conversations, either. One CIA source recalled, "That drove the barons of the NE [Near East Division] and CTC [Counterterrorism Center] crazy, because they were not in the loop." And Tenet and other top CIA officials went out of their way to make sure that no intelligence reports raised "politically inconvenient" questions about the vulnerabilities faced by the Saudi regime from Islamic extremism, making sure that the CIA never focused on the pressing issues facing the Saudi royal family, and their own ties to al-Qaeda.)
After al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was captured in March 2002, the CIA created conditions that made Zubaydah believe he had been turned over to Saudi intelligence, believing that those conditions would frighten him into revealing information. Instead, CIA sources recalled, Zubaydah seemed happy to be in Saudi custody, and gave his supposed Saudi captors several phone numbers of Saudi contacts that they could use to vouch for him and could help him regain his freedom. For whatever reason, Zubaydah's apparent deep contacts with Saudi intelligence and military sources were never investigated. -- Michael Scheuer, James Risen
Al-Qaeda and other Islamic groups have not been slow to use the new technology of the Internet to facilitate its cause, using their own and sympathetic Web sites to spread their ideology, coordinate training, and communicate with their members. The Islamic community, or ummah, writes David Martin Jones, "is no longer a geographical concept; the 'virtual' world of the potential cybercaliphate knows no conventional boundaries." The Internet is a key tool in bin Laden's avowed aim of spreading jihad among Muslims around the world. The Web sites, many of which are not affiliated with any terrorist or insurgent organization, are a prime source of "chatter," much of which is highly inflammatory and alarming, and much of which has no basis in reality. Threats against American targets are discussed daily on these sites, and it makes for a difficult task for Western intelligence agents monitoring these sites to separate the real threats from the immense amount of idle chatter. Some of this material has proven useful to the Bush administration in sounding false alarms to keep the American people constantly on edge about potential terror attacks. They also serve to weary intelligence agents who have to sort through the thousands of alarming, but mostly baseless, threats. "By treating each threat as a real possibility," writes Scheuer, "we try to protect everything and end up protecting little. We have forgotten that a wise Chinese philosopher once said, 'And when he prepares everywhre, he will be weak everywhere.'" -- Michael Scheuer
So what happened to al-Qaeda in the two years following 9/11? The common perception among the American media, aided by the chest-thumping pronouncements of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their right-wing talk mavens, is that, after doing their dirt, they ran for cover, scurrying back to their ratholes in fear of American reprisal. This is not quite the case. Indeed, both the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces did withdraw in preparation for the anticipated American onslaught in Afghanistan, which allowed American journalists and politicians to revel in the comfortable assumption that both organizations were on the run, on the ropes, and would collapse any day now. Instead, bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership relaxed their focus on attacking strictly American targets, allowing some of the organization's fighters to remain militarily active while the next wave of attacks was prepared. The next severe round of attacks were against European targets, specifically designed to warn European allies that assisting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan would cost those countries. Bin Laden does not want a large American-European coalition fighting his organization in full strength, hence the relatively few number of attacks against European targets. The attacks were warnings, but not enough to prompt full-scale reprisals from potential European allies of the US. The more the Europeans remain uninvolved in the US efforts in the Middle East, the more successful bin Laden's strategy will be. He intends to keep the US-Israeli axis alone of major partners, and with the large exception of Great Britain, whose involvement in the Iraqi invasion and occupation has always been half-hearted and restrained, this is to date what has happened, aided by the Bush administration's belligerent insistence on going it virtually alone.
Attacks against French, German, Spanish, and Australian targets were intended, as al-Qaeda explained in October 2002, to warn US allies that the more involved they became in helping the Americans in the Middle East, the more they would be targeted. "There is still a chance to anyone who wants to reconsider his position before it is too late," the organization wrote. In the last several years, events, primarily instances of US belligerence, have driven US farther from its European allies than was the case since World War II. So far accurately, Scheuer predicts that for the near future, al-Qaeda will restrict the bulk of its attacks on American and European targets in the Middle East, and will refrain from wholesale attacks on Muslim targets. Al-Qaeda wants the support of as many Muslims and Muslim governments as possible, and wants the Europeans to stay out of the fight. One of the biggest obstacles to bin Laden's goal is the activities of amateur, unaffiliated Islamist groups -- if one of these groups, uncontrolled by al-Qaeda, manages to pull off a major attack against a European target in Europe itself, it is almost a certainty that al-Qaeda will be held responsible. Walking the narrow line that keeps America involved and the Europeans uninvolved is a problem bin Laden will face for a long time.
Another goal of al-Qaeda that is carefully balanced involves its attacks against what it considers to be apostate, irreligious Muslim regimes, particularly those of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, and other Muslim nations. He casts these regimes as the lackeys of the US, and, while keeping the pressure on these regimes to either publicly back al-Qaeda or at least stay out of the fight for now, it is a difficult task to both pressure these Muslim regimes and keep the focus on attacking America and Israel. While bin Laden appears sincere in his distaste for a prime personal leadership role in the Muslim world, that is the ultimate goal of al-Qaeda -- to have bin Laden, or someone like him, take the role of the leader of the Islamic defensive jihad against America and Israel. His competition includes the dissipated but incredibly rich House of Saud, the repressive US-allied regimes of Hosni Mubarek's Egypt and Abdullah's Jordan, the oil-soaked sheikhs of the UAE and Kuwait, and Syria's Bashir al-Assad. The decision, for bin Laden, is whether the Muslim world will be governed by God's law or secular law. Right now, bin Laden is the Muslim world's only truly "spiritual" leader of any real public consequence, and he is acting accordingly. (It must be remembered that bin Laden, like his historical forebears, is a warrior-scholar, not merely a Koranic scholar locked behind the walls of a mosque. The parallel does not truly exist within the American culture, except perhaps in the dreams of the most radical of Christian fundamentalists.) The role of spiritual and jihadist leader of the Muslim revolution has fallen upon bin Laden, and he has accepted the role, largely because the more traditional leaders of Muslim nations -- Abdullah, Mubarek, and others -- have either defaulted on the role or have aligned themselves with the US and the hated Israel. Again, as with so many other aspects of the Islamist agenda, the sticking point is over Palestine. Bin Laden is determined to drive Muslim nations to support the Palestinians against the Israelis, one way or the other. His denouncements of Muslim leaders as failing to follow the teachings of Mohammed in allowing Israel to walk over the Palestinians has struck a resonant chord among many Muslims throughout the Middle East and in the world, and leads rulers such as Mubarek and the Saudi royal family to repress their populaces even more sternly in an effort to keep them in line and to keep their own positions of power. -- Michael Scheuer
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have had to walk another narrow line in justifying the murderous attacks of 9/11. Millions of Muslims, even many Islamists, joined America and the West in denouncing the attacks for their savagery and their taking of innocent lives. Scheuer believes that bin Laden's efforts to shore up support for such attacks against America in the Muslim world goes a long way towards explaining why another such attack has not yet been executed. He has warned several times that another, worse attack is in the offing; he has offered America the chance to avoid such attacks, by its populace renouncing Christianity and embracing Islam (a fabulously unlikely occurrance), by renouncing its support of Israel (another highly improbable event), and to abandon its support of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which, for their own reasons that have nothing to do with bin Laden, more Americans are espousing every day, particularly Iraq. Bin Laden doesn't expect Americans to actually convert en masse to Islam, or to give up its historical allegiance with Israel, or even to force a withdrawal of American military forces from the Middle East. The offers are more for the consumption of Muslim critics of 9/11. He has repeatedly justified the 9/11 attacks as defensive strikes against Americans, and has promised that once America stops threatening Muslims, he will stop threatening America. "The road to safety beings by lifting oppression," he said in November 2001, and noted that as yet, America had not done anything to indicate that it would indeed stop oppressing Muslims. "The time has come for us to be equal," bin Laden wrote. "Just as you kill, you are killed. Just as you bombard, you are bombarded. Rejoice at the harm coming to you." He is also obeying the Koranic injunction of not attacking without warning: "We never punish until we have sent a messenger." American officials and media pundits insist that they never saw 9/11 coming; in reality, as has been noted many times, the warnings were clear and repeated often. Warnings of further attacks have been given as well. Since the warnings have been, in the eyes of the Islamists, ignored and mocked, there is no religious reason not to carry them out.
In May 2003, a young Saudi cleric named Shaykh Nasir bin Hamid al-Fahd published a document entitled "A Treatise on the Legal Status of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Infidels." Al-Fahd's lucidly reasoned treatise was just what al-Qaeda had been looking for (and may have been commissioned by the group): a justification of using WMDs against America on Koranic grounds. Building on al-Fahd's rationale, bin Laden claimed that the US government, not the US people, were his intended targets...but until the American people repudiate their government's actions against Islam, and refuse to support their government, then the American people will be accomplices in the crimes of the US government against Islam, and will be considered legitimate targets. (This rationale was roundly dismissed in American policy circles, except when it was twisted out of all rational shape to allow right-wing Americans to claim that bin Laden was a supporter of John Kerry in 2004.) So far, nothing has occurred in America to persuade al-Qaeda to deviate from its stated path of loosing a weapon of mass destruction on American soil.
Americans have, on both left and right, played along with bin Laden's march towards further attacks. While neither Scheuer nor the editor of this site is suggesting that America capitulate in any way to bin Laden's demands, it is clear that the reaction from American officials and media pundits have done nothing to further any understanding of bin Laden's rhetoric and goals -- and, as Sun Tzu reminds us all, to understand your enemy is to take the first step towards defeating him. "There is no point in addressing the so-called root causes of [bin Laden]'s terrorism," intoned Iraq's American proconsul, Paul Bremer. "We are the root cause of his terrorism. He doesn't like America. He doesn't like our society. He doesn't like what we stand for. He doesn't like our values." While it is true that bin Laden likes very few things about American values and culture, his opposition to America is not based on American societal and cultural values, but on his hatred of America's policies and actions in the Muslim world. Based on his writings (extensively quoted in Scheuer's book on pages 159-160, and not reproduced here), bin Laden understands the American mindset far more thoroughly than most Americans understand his. Scheuer says we have two choices -- commit ourselves thoroughly to defeating al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, or take steps to reduce them as threats by fundamentally revising our approach to the Middle East. The first will take a tremendous increase in our military presence in the Middle East, the acceptance by the American media and populace of a huge increase in American casualties, both in blood and in treasure, and the restriction of American civil liberties to an extent never before attempted by any American politician with any real stature. The other would require a near-abandonment of Israel, a complete withdrawal of American forces from the Arabian Peninsula, the withdrawal of US oil conglomerates from most Muslim oil-producing nations, and other concessions that virtually no American is willing to make. It is hard to see how America can win this fight, Scheuer writes; by following its current policies, it is almost certain that it will not win anything. -- Michael Scheuer
Only when US leaders stop believing and preaching that bin Laden and his allies are attacking us for what we are and what we think, and instead clearly state that they are attacking us for what we do, can we put aside our ill-advised and hallucinatory crusade for democracy -- our current default response. At that point, Americans can begin to intelligently discuss how this national security threat is to be defeated or, more precisely, to decide if status quo US foreign policies toward the Muslim world benefit America enough to offset increasing levels of human and economic loss that will be the cost of unchanged policies. Victory, I think, lies in a yet undetermined mix of stronger military actions and dramatic foreign policy change; neither will suffice alone. Defeat for America, I fear, lies in the military and foreign policy status quo and the belief that our Islamic foes will be talked out of hating us and disappear if only we can teach them voting procedures, political pluralism, feminism, and the separation of church and state. 'Do not waste an inordinate amount of effort,' Ralph Peters wisely wrote in 1999, 'to win unwinnable hearts and minds. Convince hostile populations through victory.' And, I would advise, by revising those foreign policies now endangering national security and leaving us with only the military option to pursue." -- Michael Scheuer
"Enough. Let us talk no more of Osama bin Laden the gangster, mass murderer, sexual deviant, psychopath, tool of others, or dilettante terrorist spendthrift. Let us surely keep our eyes open for credible information pointing us in one or more of these directions, but until that first piece of corroborated data appears, let us agree that America is facing a talented, sturdy, charismatic, and determined enemy, one whose example and leadership is producing a growing threat to US security from much of the Muslim world and not just from its lunatic fringe. With this judgment, we can behave and debate like responsible adults, accurately gauge the threat we face, and stop believing the 11 September attacks were one-off events. At that point, we can at last make a rational decision about whether we want to live with or destroy the threat bin laden personifies. Until we reach a valid conclusion about the nature of our foe, feel able to publicly state and debate that view, and then are ready to act on it, we will continue losing ground to the Islamists, as we have since 11 September. 'You cannot lead a nation to war if you dare not recognize the enemy,' Mark Helprin argued in the Wall Street Journal. 'The Islamic world, no stranger to war for the faith, has tentatively renewed its energy of expansion and given rise to those within it who have begun to rekindle its ancient conflict with the West.' Though Mr. Helprin is wrong about bin Laden-led Islamic expansionism, the al-Qaeda chief clearly is one of 'those within it' who is leading a defensive war against us. Let us accept, until proven otherwise, that bin Laden is what he seems -- a worthy and dangerous foe -- and agree with what Mr. Holmes told Mr. Watson that, after eliminating all other options, 'Whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'" -- Michael Scheuer
"So far we have made notable strides [against al-Qaeda]. But do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting al-Qaeda is defeated. It is not. We are still at war. [Al-Qaeda] is a learning organization that remains committed to attacking the United States, its friends and allies. So far I have been talking only about al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda is not the limit of [the] terrorist threat worldwide. Al-Qaeda has infected others with its ideology, which depicts the United States as its greatest foe. ...[W]hat I want to say to you now may be the most important thing I tell you today. The steady growth of Osama bin Laden's anti-US sentiment throughout the wider Sunni extremist movement and the broad dissemination of al-Qaeda's destructive expertise ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future -- with or without al-Qaeda in the picture." -- former CIA director George Tenet, February 2004, quoted by Michael Scheuer
"We thank God for appeasing us with the dilemma in Iraq after Afghanistan. The Americans are facing a delicate situation in both countries. If they withdraw they will lose everything and if they stay, they will continue to bleed to death." -- al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, late 2003, quoted by Michael Scheuer
"To date, America's war against bin Laden and al-Qaeda has deceived only the American public." -- Michael Scheuer
"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" -- Jerry Falwell, speaking on the 9/11 attacks
"These people...Islamic fundamentalists, American militias and separatists and neo-Nazis -- have more in common now than ever. Most are convinced that the power elites of the Western world, in one guise or another, secretly orchestrated the events of September 11. This is what they do, they say. They create chaos, and from the ashes of this chaos will rise their terrible World Government. Here is another belief most of them share: That the financial traders who worked inside the twin towers were the foot soldiers, conscious or otherwise, of the New World Order, an internationalist Western conspiracy conducted by a tiny, secretive elite, whose ultimate aim is to destroy all opposition, implement a planetary takeover, and establish themselves as a World Government." [Editor's note: It all seems so silly when phrased this way, doesn't it? Conspiracy theorists on the other side of the divide will point to the real-life machinations of the PNAC, the Bush administration, and others, and say, what better way to conceal a conspiracy than by hiding it behind public ridicule...perhaps a methodology of concealment that combines "The Purloined Letter" with The X-Files.] -- Jon Ronson
It is worth noting that, from the Islamist point of view, the 9/11 attacks were the latest and most successful assault on America and the West in a long line of successes: a 1992 victory in Aden, Yemen; in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993; in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1995; in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1996; in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and again in Aden in 2000 with the strike on the USS Cole. Since al-Qaeda had been more or less permanently encamped in Afghanistan since at least 1996, one would think that the US would have had target lists plotted and an offensive ready to unleash in response to the next attack, which anyone with sense and the ability to read would have known was in the offing. Training camps, airfields, air defenses, and government facilities in major Afghan cities; vehicle depots, ammo dumps, troop barracks, intelligence headquarters, and weapons storage areas; the heroin production facilities that funded the Taliban and al-Qaeda; and the cave-and-tunnel complexes identified since the 1980s, all should have been already identified for ready targeting. Resistance from the Taliban, at least in the air, would have been negligible, since the Taliban air force and air defense systems were old, obsolete, and unmaintained. Yet it took three crucial weeks for the Bush administration to set in motion an offensive against al-Qaeda and its Afghan supporters, a time period which allowed them to disperse to secondary bases and into hiding, rendering the US attack all but useless.
In his book Bush at War, Bob Woodward writes that the administration "had no plans for Afghanistan, the sanctuary of bin Laden and his network. There was nothing on the shelf that could be pulled down to provide at least an outline." Donald Rumsfeld didn't even receive a response to his September 12 request for "credible military options" against Afghanistan until September 21, and he sent that back on October 1 for further development. It is likely that al-Qaeda and the Taliban expected a counterstrike within hours, if not days, of the 9/11 assault, and were already dispersing in preparation for a blistering assault, but as weeks passed and no assault came, they were able to further disperse themselves, their equipment, and their funds. CIA analyst Michael Scheuer writes, "America probably lost the war on 11 September because the US military had been caught completely unprepared. When the Americans finally did hit Afghanistan, the military strikes were somewhat successful against permanent Taliban and Afghani military targets, but the leaders of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban had long since gone to ground, and key personnel, equipment, and monies had long since been stored away in areas unknown to American intelligence. -- Michael Scheuer
"Contrary to what many believed, the world was not changed forever by those co-ordinated attacks on American power. There were terrorist atrocities before and since, though none so daring in conception and execution, or as costly in lives, as those of two years ago. What was changed was the mood of America. Optimism and confidence gave way to defensiveness and fear. Security became the watchword for all. A weak and untested President found himself immeasurably strengthened. Americans rallied to the banner of patriotism he held aloft; the world's sympathy and support flooded in.
"Most of the loftier, more universal conclusions drawn from 11 September, however, have not been justified. At words, they have proved dangerously counterproductive. The hopes expressed, among others, by Tony Blair for a more united world, in which the gap between rich and poor could be narrowed to mutual benefit, have not been fulfilled. If anything, the divisions have widened. The pictures of those hijacked planes and the wreckage at Ground Zero have not been heeded as a warning of anything except the vulnerability of the Western world. They have done nothing to raise aid budgets or divert investment to the developing world. They have done nothing to enhance understanding of the Islamic world. In the United States, at least, almost the reverse has been true.
"Civil liberties have been circumscribed as at no time since the the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the Cold War. The supposed requirements of Homeland Security take precedence over everything else. Other countries, Britain included, have quietly followed Washington's lead. But neither individual countries, nor the world, have become significantly safer as a result. So long as there are disaffected groups, with the means and imagination to attack, acts of terrorism are going to be a fact of life that governments must now steel their countries against, while recognizing -- as the Israeli security fence has shown -- that total prevention is an impossibility.
"...Here we have a war embarked on unilaterally, on the basis of spurious intelligence, to change a regime for which there was no tenable replacement -- except an inadequate army of occupation.
"This is where Mr. Bush's 'war on terror' has brought us. Two years on, its successes are minimal; its failings stand as monuments to US misconceptions about the world and the reach of state power. The chief villains identified by the US are all still at large. Afghanistan is far from pacified. The Taliban are regrouping. Iraqis lack basic services and law and order -- even though it is the duty of the occupation forces to provide them. The Middle East is in flames and the road map is in shreds. The beacons of democracy that were going to shine from Baghdad remain unlit.
"...[T]he whole region is as much a magnet for unruly armed force as ever. The 'war on terror' has produced only more war and more terror." -- Independent/Karen Balkin
"Could the suicide attacks of September 11 have been prevented? Was the Bush administration's lackadaisical approach to fighting terrorism ultimately at fault for the nation's naked vulnerability to nineteen men armed with box cutters and penknives? George W. Bush would later claim to have 'seen no evidence today that this country could have prevented the attacks.' Vice President Cheney termed all suggestions to the contrary to be 'incendiary' and 'thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.' Even the usually apolitical Laura Bush got into the act by by calling the questions about what the administration might have done as an attempt to 'prey upon the emotions of people.' But Senator (and Democratic presidential candidate) Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate intelligence panel and cochairman of the congressinal investigation, had a different answer. 'The attacks of September 11 could have been prevented if the right combination of skill, cooperation, creativity and some good luck had been brought to task.' As with so much about September 11, we will never know the full truth.
"But certainly we can all agree that if the Bush administration had truly taken terrorism as seriously as Bush, Cheney, and nearly all its top officials claimed, and undertaken serious efforts in all of the areas described above, then Osama bin Laden and his murderous underlings would certainly have had more difficulty in carrying out their plans. Some of their sources of funds would have dried up; their agents would have been denied entry into the United States, wiretapped here and abroad, arrested or possibly even killed; their training centers would have been shut down; and the flight schools they used to learn their deadly craft would have been denied them. This is not the voice of 20/20 hindsight speaking; this is the information that was readily available to Bush and Company well before September 11. Vice President Cheney acknowledges, 'There is no question but that there were failures.' Unfortunately, despite the president's announcement that 'we must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the eleventh,' the administration has thwarted almost every official attempt to get to the bottom of what took place on that fateful day, and how it might have been avoided." -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
"Bush ordered the Pentagon to begin planning for an invasion of Iraq only six days after September 11. Bush was beaten to the punch only by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who waited five whole hours after the attacks to begin exploring whether September 11 could be used as a pretext for a war on Iraq. 'Go massive,' an aide's notes of their meeting quote Rumsfeld as saying. 'Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'
"There was never any doubt that George W. Bush would have his war. September 11 merely provided the justification, as the administration peddled invented tales of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and nightmare scenarios of doom. They understood that if they hinted at connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, despite an utter lack of evidence for such a relationship, enough Americans would conclude that revenge for September 11 could reasonably be exacted on Saddam Hussein." -- Paul Waldman
"Bush's simplistic nostrums about good and evil did not travel well. While many in Europe and elsewhere viewed the attack on the towers to be unconscionable, they nevertheless understood the context in which they arose. Millions of Arabs were frustrated by their own lack of personal and political freedom, denied to them by autocratic and corrupt govermnets that maintained their despotic rule in part through their alliance with the United States. Israel was a particular source of grievance. Al-Jazeera broadcast daily the brutalities that the Likud government, armed with American weapons, visited upon the stateless Palestinians while settlers continued to occupy expropriated lands with the appearance of American forbearance, if not exactly its blessing. That these broadcasts ignored the Israeli argument that its violence was a response to Palestinian terrorism served only to multiply their inflammatory effect. In Saudi Arabia, home to the majority of the September 11 hijackers, US troops protected a corrupt, feudal monarchy that lived lavishly on oil exports and controlled access to the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina. Osama bin Laden drew sustenance from the wells of hatred these policies inspired.
"Bush appeared to understand none of this. ...Asked about the motivations of those across the Islamic world who 'hated us,' Bush blamed only America's virtues. 'They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.' Once again, black and white were the only colors this president could see." -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
Historian Daniel Pipes writes, "Terrorism is a military tactic employed by different groups and individuals around the world for different ends. To speak of a 'war on terrorism' is a little like speaking about a war on weapons of mass destruction. One needs tonknow who owns or is deploying these weapons, and for what reason." And Lewis Lapham writes, "Like an Arab jihad against capitalism, the American jihad against terrorism cannot be won or lost; nor does it ever end. We might as well be sending the 101st Airborne Division to conquer lust, annihilate greed, capture the sin of pride." And terrorism is certainly open to definition. "[W]hen Churchill ordered his secret services 'to set Europe ablaze,'" writes Pat Buchanan, "the methods Allied agents used were the sabotage of trains, assassination of German pilots and military officers, bombing of buildings, and execution of collaborators. The French Maquis and Italian partisans did the same. To the Allies, they were heroes fighting a just war, and the stories of their exploits are now legend. After the war the tactics used against Japanese and Germans were used by Zionists against the British, by the Viet Minh and Algerian FLN agsint the French, and by Mandela's ANC against the white government of South Africa.
"If the cause is just in Western eyes, Western leaders appear more tolerant of the methods used and the allies who are welcome. In ousting the Taliban, America was supported by Iran, Sudan, and Libya. The State Department had listed all three as state sponsors of terrorism. The Northern Alliance that provided most of the invading forces that overran Kabul was led by warlords steeped in blood. In the Gulf War, America welcomed the Syrian troops of Hafez al Assad, who had massacred perhaps twenty thousand rebel Moslems in Hama. Did Bush's father ally us with one terrorist, Assad, to defeat another, Saddam? It would not be the first time. To defeat Hitler, FDR partnered with Stalin, architect of what author Robert Conquest calls the Great Terror. Richard Nixon went to China and toasted the greatest state terrorist of them all, Mao Tse-Tung -- in words written for him by this author. Even his most savage critics hailed Nixon's opening to China as an act of statesmanship. 'If you harbor a terrorist, you are a terrorist,' President Bush told Congress, to the applause of our Saudi ally then giving sanctuary to Idi Amin." -- Pat Buchanan
MIT's Steven van Evera notes, "A broad war on terror was a tremendous mistake. It should have been a war on al-Qaeda. Don't take your eye off the ball. Subordinate every other policy to it, including the policies toward Russia, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Iraq. Instead, the administration defined it as a broad war on terror, including groups that have never taken a swing at the United States and never will. It leads to a loss of focus. Al-Qaeda escapes through the cracks. And you make enemies of the people you need against al-Qaeda." -- quoted by Eric Alterman and Mark Green
Michael Klare, an expert on world security affairs at Hampshire College, says that the two key foreign policy initiatives of the Bush administration -- the war against terrorism and the campaign to expand American access to foreign oil -- have worked hand in glove: "Originally," Klare writes, "each possessed its own rationale and mode of operation. As time has passed, however, they have become increasingly intertwined, so that today the war on terrorism and the struggle for oil have become one vast enterprise." Klare points to an oft-overlooked element of the May 2001 report from Dick Cheney's energy task force, which "recommends that the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy." The report concludes that the US must continue to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia and other oil producers in the region, and develop stronger ties with oil producers in other areas of the world, including the Caspian region, Africa, and Latin America. Both the US response to the 9/11 attacks, which treated Saudi Arabia with kid gloves even though 15 of the 19 hijackers were Sauds, and the US's military training operation in the Republic of Georgia, supposedly implemented to assist Georgians to fight terrorists but is more likely in order to reduce the threat to the oil pipelines carrying oil from the Caspian Sea across Georgia to ports on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, are evidence of this intertwining of two disparate elements of foreign policy. Klare concludes, "The Bush Administration has a right and an obligation to take the necessary steps to protect the United States against further acts of terrorism. Such efforts have been given unequivocal support by the public and Congress. But such support does not extend to an open-ended campaign to procure additional oil from overseas suppliers and to protect these supplies from hostile forces. Before committing additional military resources to such an effort, we should consider if America's energy requirements could be better provided through conservation and alternative energy systems, which would reduce the risk of US involvement in an endless series of overseas conflicts." -- Michael Klare/Karen Balkin
CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, a Middle East expert and author of Imperial Hubris, believes that the three-week period between the 9/11 attacks and the US offensive in Afghanistan was an opportunity lost, that an immediate strike at Afghani terrorist camps may have produced far better results than the tentative, on-the-cheap assault launched on October 2 and dragged out endlessly ever since. -- Michael Scheuer
"Even if one accepted Bush's strategic choices [in the war against terror], his execution of that strategy proved profoundly flawed. Despite the clear willingness of Americans to endure sacrifices in light of September 11, Bush chose to fight the war on the cheap. Ignoring decades of historical precedent, he cut taxes on the rich during wartime rather than raising them. He instituted no military call-ups, rationing measures, or even any actions to ensure a reduction in Americans' use of imported oil -- clearly one of the indirect causes of the attack, since it necessitated the enormous US presence in Saudi Arabia that bin Laden named as the inspiration for his murderous jihad.
"...Furthermore, Bush expended zero political capital in Congress even to achieve so meager a goal as offering Pakistan a desperately needed relaxation of US trade barriers on textile imports as a means of shoring up support for its fragile pro-American government in that strategically crucial, but politically precarious (and nuclear-armed), nation. A stand on behalf of open markets for Pakistani textiles would have been fully consistent with Bush's professed philosophy on free trade as well, though given his actions elsewhere in the free-trade arena, it is perhaps a bit much to ask Americans to take those proclamations seriously.
"Finally, the Bush administration made a massive miscalculation in its choice of battlefield strategy, which would later ensure the failure of the United States to achieve its most important objective: the destruction of al-Qaeda and assurance that Afghanistan could no longer provide a safe haven for Islamic terrorism. As Stephen Wall noted...'While steadily laying out a case for something close to a world war, he has stationed fewer than ten thousand American troops in Afghanistan (many fewer than President Clinton stationed in the Balkans) and has deployed them sparingly in combat.' The Carnegie Endowment's Thomas Carothers pointed out that the Pentagon's decision to rely on Afghan warlords as proxy fighters against al-Qaeda 'helped entrench the centrifugal politics that threaten Afghanistan's weak new government. Ironically, the strategy seems also to have been a partial military miscalculation, leading to the escape of a significant number of al-Qaeda fighters at Tora Bora.'" -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
Terrorism has become the new label for any government to use against its enemies: Russia labeled the Chechen rebels terrorists, as did China to the Muslim Uighers fighting for autonomy in Xinjiang, India to the Islamic rebels fighting for control of Kashmir. Israel's Ariel Sharon called Palestinian Authority leader Yassir Arafat a terrorist, "i.e. a man with whom no Israeli can negotiate, though Arafat had negotiated with four of Sharon's predecessors and shared a Nobel Peace Prize with two of them, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres." -- Pat Buchanan
Lewis Lapham notes that those who believed in the essential impiety and uselessness of "big government" were shown to be irrefutably wrong on the morning of September 11. "If not to big government, then where else did the friends of laissez-faire economics look for the rescue of their finances and the saving of their lives? If not the agencies of big government, who then brought the ambulances from as far away as Albany or sent the firemen into the doomed buildings with no promise of a finder's fee? It wasn't the free market that hijacked the airplanes and cross-promoted them into bombs, or Adam Smith's invisible hand that cut the throats of the pilots of what they thought was a flight to Los Angeles. History was apparently still a work in progress." -- Lewis Lapham
Some observers feel that Bush's commitment to an ultimate struggle for power in the Middle East is playing into the hands of Islamic extremists like Osama bin Laden. Analysis of a statement by bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks finds him constructing, in the words of Biblical scholar Bruce Lincoln, "a Manichean struggle, where Sons of Light confront sons of darkness, and all must enlist on one side or the other." Bin Laden told his followers, "I tell them [the Americans] that these events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels. May God shield us and you from them." He rejoiced in making America feel what has been done to Islamic countries for so long. A mirror image of bin Laden's pronouncements was being proffered to the world from the Bush administration. Bush told an audience on October 7, 2001, "Every nation has a choice to make in this conflict. There is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws, and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their peril." A theologian, Richard Neuhaus, allied with the Bush administration, says flatly that the war in Iraq, and subsequent wars in the Middle East, are religious wars. "The war against terrorism -- more than it is politic for world leaders to say in public -- is also a war of religion." -- Kevin Phillips
The Washington Times' Arnaud de Borchgrave terms the Bush neocons "Washington's Likudniks" for their overt, sometimes blind support of Israel's conservative, hawkish political party. De Borchgrave insists that neocons have been in charge of American foreign policy since the days of the first Bush administration. One example of the neocons' obsession with Israel is the January 1998 letter delivered to Bill Clinton that demanded that he use the State of the Union address to announce the US's intention to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and to declare that, since diplomacy with the Hussein regime was "failing," to use military intervention. The writers -- Elliot Abrams, William Bennett, John Bolton, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld -- pledged their support for Clinton if he would follow their recommendations, and declared that "the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century will be determined by how we handle this threat." Note the call for an invasion of Iraq four years before 9/11, when UN inspectors had successfully destroyed much of Iraq's WMD capabilities and were busily ferreting out the last remaining remnants of Hussein's weapons programs and stores. Pat Buchanan writes, "9/11 would be the pretext for a war they had been devising for a decade."
Buchanan also recalls that in April 2001, during a meeting called by counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke to discuss the threat posed by al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz interrupted Clarke: "I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden...there are others that do...at least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example." Clarke tried to correct Wolfowitz's insistence that Iraq was involved in sponsoring global terrorism, but Wolfowitz would hear none of it; when Clarke reminded Wolfowitz that al-Qaeda had been behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, Wolfowitz dismissed it: "You give bin Laden too much credit," he insisted. "He could not do all these things, like the 1993 attack on New York, without a state sponsor." Clarke retorted, "We've investigated that five ways from Friday and nobody believes that.... It was al-Qaeda. It wasn't Saddam." Wolfowitz had brought his obsession with Iraq into the Bush national security councils. In the first hours after the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz, with other neocons, would insist that the administration forget about al-Qaeda and Afghanistan (the closest thing to a state sponsor al-Qaeda had) and retaliate immediately against Iraq, who had nothing to do with the attacks. Time magazine later named Wolfowitz "the Godfather" of the Iraq war, and the Jerusalem Times would name him their Man of the Year. Clarke recalls being stunned when, on September 12, 2001, he found himself in a round of discussions about Iraq. He says he "realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq." Clarke recalls being shocked when, later that same day, Rumsfeld said that it would be better to attack Iraq than Afghanistan because there were "better targets" there. He was doubly shocked when President Bush did not dismiss Rumsfeld's demands out of hand.
Meanwhile, William Bennett was demanding that the US respond with "overwhelming force" against "militant Islam" in this "struggle between good and evil." He gave a laundry list of targets: Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and China. Bartley's Wall Street Journal immediately provided a list of "suitable" targets for air strikes against terrorist camps in Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria, and perhaps in Egypt. None of the countries in either list had any involvement in the 9/11 attacks. On September 15, Wolfowitz continued his arguments for attacking Iraq: "[A]ttacking Afghanistan would be uncertain...[but] Iraq was a brittle oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable." On September 20, a coalition of 40 neocons laid down an ultimatum for Bush in a letter. Signed by, among others, Bennett, Perle, Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Norman Podhoretz, and Charles Krauthammer, the letter demanded that, to retain the signers' political support, Bush would immediately target Hezbollah for destruction, attack both Syria and Iran if they refused to sever all ties with Hezbollah, and overthrow the Iraqi government. Failure to attack Iraq, the signers wrote, "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism." The signers ignored the established fact that Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, and Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks. "still," Buchanan writes, "the president had been warned. He must exploit the horror of that atrocity and channel America's rage into a series of wars on nations, none of which had attacked us, but all of which were hostile to Israel, or he, President Bush, would face political retribution." Israel's former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was all over the American media, demanding that the US crush the "empire of terror:" Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Iraq, and "the Palestinian enclave." Not only had none of these countries or groups been involved in the 9/11 attacks, but Libya, Syria, Iran, and Arafat's Palestinian Authority had roundly condemned the attacks.
On September 26, Buchanan wrote in a USA Today editorial: "The war Netanyahu and the neocons want, with the US and Israel fighting all the radical Islamic states, is the war bin Laden wants, the war his murderers hoped to ignite when they sent those airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If America wishes truly to be isolated, it will follow the neoconservative line."
When it seemed evident that cooler heads would prevail, and America would target al-Qaeda and the Afghani Taliban, Richard Perle upped the ante with a New York Times piece that charged Saddam Hussein with building nuclear weapons that could be ready to strike at American targets "tomorrow even." He also claimed, falsely, that he had evidence that Hussein had participated in the 9/11 attacks, with a fabricated story about 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta meeting a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. The Project for the New American Century called for an immediate invasion of Iraq, and promised an easy victory: "Nor need the attack await the deployment of half a million troops [as recommended by, among others, the Joint Chiefs of Staff]...the larger challenge will be occupying Iraq after the fighting is over." Jonah Goldberg in the National Review thundered, "The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense," and endorsed the so-called "Ledeen Doctrine," the recommendation by ultrahawk Michael Ledeen that "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business." Ledeen himself was calling for war throughout the Middle East, beginning with Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and moving on to Saudi Arabia. Even overthrow of those countries' regimes would be just the beginning, Ledeen opined, saying "We have to ensure the fulfillment of the democratic revolution.... Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize. ...Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. ...We must destroy [our enemies] to advance our historic mission."
William Kristol's Weekly Standard went even further, advocating the destruction of any regime that even seemed likely to support terrorism or terrorist activities. Kristol and fellow Standard writer Robert Kagan seemed to exult in the spectre of Armageddon they were conjuring: the coming war "is going to spread and engulf a number of countries.... It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid...it is possible that the demise of some 'moderate' Arab regimes may be just round the corner." Norman Podhoretz of Commentary exceeded them all, howling for "World War IV -- the war against militant Islam." Podhoretz called for war against the usual suspects -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya -- but also against putative allies of the US such as Saudi Arabia and even Egypt. He wrote, "I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place. ...I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everybody else." The one thing all of these listed regimes and groups have in common: they are all on the list of Israel's enemies as listed in Feith and Perle's 1996 paper for Binyamin Netanyahu, "A Clean Break." And Ariel Sharon, prime minister of Israel, was not silent. In February 2003, he told members of the US Congress that after the US invaded Iraq, it should target for forced disarmament Iran, Syria, and Libya. "We have a great interest in shaping the Middle East the day after" the war on Iraq, said Sharon's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.
On July 10, 2002, Perle brought a former aide to right-wing conspiracy nutjob Lyndon Larouche in to brief the Defense Policy Board. The aide, Laurent Murawiec, startled board member Henry Kissinger when he bluntly identified Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent." Murawiec advised the US to issue an ultimatum to Saudi Arabia: either "prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including the Saudi intelligence services," and end all propaganda against Israel, or the US would invade, occupy the oil fields, and seize Mecca. Murawiec proposed a "Grand Strategy for the Middle East: Iraq is the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot, Egypt the prize." In truth, the neoconservatives lied the US into a war it had desired for at least a decade. As former Nixon/Reagan aide Stefan Halper and Cato scholar Johnathan Clarke wrote in their book America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, "Making the case for the decade-old neoconservative objective of attacking Iraq required a web of deception: that Saddam Hussein had and intended to use WMDs; that Saddam supported al-Qaeda; and that if he were not removed these weapons might be provided to al-Qaeda, which would use them against the United States." Former CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni agrees: "The more I saw the more I thought this [war] was the product of the neocons who didn't understand the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilenttantes from Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground." In the end, the words of Melbourne seem prophetic: "What all the wise men promised has not happened, and what all the damn fools said would happen has come to pass."
Have the neocons learned anything at all from the debacle that is Iraq? Not likely. In February 2004, Charles Krauthammer regaled an AEI dinner with his celebration of the new American empire. We are the world's "unipolar power," he exulted, "the custodian of the international system. [We have] global dominion. ...This is a staggering new development in history, not seen since the fall of Rome. Even Rome is no model for what America is today." Frances Fukuyama, no liberal, writes in response, "Reading Krauthammer, one gets the impression the Iraq war...had been an unqualified success, with all the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully vindicated." Needless to say, it has been anything but. -- Pat Buchanan
"Revolutionary terror was the weapon of al-Qaeda on 9/11. And like almost all such acts of terror, it is a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself. September 11 appears to us an unvarnished act of evil. And indeed it is. But that must not blind us to the fact that behind the act of evil lay a political purpose: To shock the world, wound the United States, provoke America into lashing out in retribution against the Islamic world, and to draw the United States into a war against Islam in which America, like the imperial powers before her, will be driven out of the Middle East and Islamic world. Bin Laden cannot be such a fool as to believe America would not wield the 'terrible swift sword' of retribution. His act of terror was designed to provoke America into blind rage, and his act of terror may have succeeded beyond his wildest expectations -- in Iraq." -- Pat Buchanan
"Bin Laden was maniacal and murderous, an 'evildoer' as Bush accurately tagged him. But he had specific reasons for his foul actions. His principle goal was to transform the Islamic world, not to annihilate the United States and slay its people. His key objection was to United States' policy, not its political, social, and cultural values. Bin Laden did not seem to care what Americans did at home. He wanted to push them out of Arabia so he could create a regional, fundamentalist theocracy -- hardly a laudable end, but one much different from crushing freedom in the West. Rather than acknowledge the realities of bin Laden's war on America, Bush attempted to create and perpetuate the war-on-freedom myth. Why? Was this how he saw the situation? Was he unaware of the past and the details? A cynic might wonder if he took this course to prevent reconsideration of the United States' position in the Middle East. After all, if US support for hard-liners in Israel and autocrats in Saudi Arabia stirred vile terrorists to strike America, might the American public question the policies that prompted such reactions? And though the attacks were mounted by only a handful of people, a large number of Arabs and Muslims voiced support for bin Laden after the attacks. Did they hate us, too, because of the freedoms Americans enjoyed? Or were there other matters that had created such ill will against the United States? The limited explanation Bush made available for public consumption -- that this was a battle between freedom and evil -- did not cover the widespread anti-American sentiment that was exposed and fueld by bin Laden's strike against America. It kept deeper and hard-to-address problems out of the picture.
"...[I]t certainly was in Bush's interest for Americans to believe that 'they' hate America because America loves freedom, not that 'they' hate America because of its government's policies. In the wake of the savage attacks of 9/11, Bush did not need to justify using force against the mass-murdering bin Laden and his allies. A strong and clear response was warranted. But bu developing a mythic, simple, black-and-white, and reality-challenged narrative -- the freedom-versus-evil plotline -- Bush established a false context for his new war on terrorism and the actions that might come after the initial assault upon bin Laden and al-Qaeda." --David Corn
After the 9/11 attacks, it is universally acknowledged that Bush's opponents in Congress and elsewhere agreed to abandon any partisan attacks on the government and stand in unity behind Bush's leadership. "We may disagree later, but now is not the time," said liberal representative Maxine Waters. Virtually everyone in the media agree that, though Bush was anything but presidential in the hours following the attacks and offered virtually no leadership to a country stricken and looking for guidance (that was provided by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, former president Bill Clinton), they would refrain from doing anything except praising his leadership and standing behind him. "He was very shaky at first, but I resisted the urge to write a piece saying that, because I didn't think it was appropriate," said Slate's Jacob Weisberg, who regularly mocked Bush's gaffes and language problems. "I think he's now emerging as a very effective wartime leader. ...He deserves the benefit of the doubt to an enormous degree. He needs to rally the nation. I want to contribute to that effort to the extent that I can." While Democrats and liberal columnists were rallying around Bush, Bush's advisor Karl Rove, an admirer of Machiavelli, saw a golden opportunity to use the 9/11 attacks for political gain. Midterm election campaigns would be well underway in less than a year, and Rove decided that Republicans would exploit wartime patriotism to gain seats in the House and retake the Senate. Rove decided that one party -- the Democrats -- could be bipartisan; Republicans would use the opportunity to paint their opponents as terrorism-loving liberals who couldn't wait to betray their country to Osama bin Laden. In January 2002, Rove spoke behind closed doors to the Republican National Committee in Austin, Texas and told them that the GOP would retake the Senate and lock down control of the House by turning the 9/11 attacks into a partisan weapon. "We can go to the country on this issue, because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America," Rove explained. Thus began the GOP's ultimately successful efforts as painting Democrats as appeasers and conspirers with Islamic terrorists. -- Joe Conason
To distract attention from the Bush administration's evident failure in dealing with al-Qaeda, conservatives have pursued two separate but related offensives: defaming liberals and Democrats as "soft on terror," and blaming Bill Clinton for the September 11 attacks. Both are integral parts of Republican political strategy, but as a White House adviser, Rove leaves tha kind of dirty work to others. Naturally, Ann Coulter didn't let him down. In the first few pages of Slander, this is what she says on the subject of the war on terror: 'Here the country had finally given liberals a war against fundamentalism and they didn't want to fight it. They would have, except it would have put them on the same side as the United States.' Who didn't want to fight the war against terror? The Democrats who unanimously (with one exception) voted to support Bush's military action against the Taliban? Coulter also claims that 'liberals urged compassion and understanding toward the terrorists,' again without citing a single name or quotation.
"Joining her in the smear campaign was former ultraleftist David Horowitz, the author of various articles and pamphlets counseling Republicans on political strategy. At least one of his booklets carried a personal endorsement from Rove, who had introduced Horowitz to George W. Bush. (In 2000, the Bush political guru had blurbed Horowitz's The Art of Political War, a little handbook for vilifying Democrats and liberals, as 'the perfect guide to winning on the political battlefield.') In How to Beat the Democrats, which appeared in 2002, Horowitz emphasized the supposed culpability of Democrats, particularly in the Clinton administration, for the September 11 catastrophe. He claimed that 'mainstream Democrats [were]...significant players in the debacle of 9/11. And no one is more singularly responsible for America's vulnerability on that fateful day than the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and his White House staff. Like so much of what he feels compelled to say, Horowitz's advice was stark, simple, and demagogic. He told voters that their very lives could be endangered if they voted the wrong way. 'This is a story the Republicans must tell the American people if they are to be warned about the dangers of putting their trust in the party of Bill Clinton by casting their votes for Democrats come November.' Among conservatives rallying around Bush, there was little doubt that Clinton had known about al-Qaeda's potential for destructive aggression and had 'simply refused to do anything serious about the threat.' Or so they said. What these right-wing critics really knew about the years of American effort devoted to tracking and destroying al-Qaeda was considerably less than they affected to know. The Republican attacks on Clinton -- at a moment when the nation was supposed to be unified and bipartisan -- gave off a peculiar smell. It was the odor of cover-up, as if spraying Clinton with bile were the only way to ensure that no one sniffed around the policy and administrative bungling of the Bush administration." -- Joe Conason
After the attacks, a number of Bush officials and neoconservatives tried to explain the rationale for the attacks with the simplistic "they hate our freedom." The National Review declared on its cover that the US was attacked "because we are powerful, rich, and good." Old-line conservative Jack Kemp said our enemies "hate our democracy, our liberal markets, and our abundance and economic opportunity, at which the terror attacks were clearly directed." Bush himself told Congress, "They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." Conservative activist group Americans for Victory Over Terrorism declared, "The radical Islamists who attacked us did so because of our democratic ideals, our belief in, and practice of, liberty and equality." Conservative Pat Buchanan ridicules this raft of explanations: "With due respect, these explanations insult the intelligence of a second-grader. Did the Japanese attack us at Pearl Harbor because we were free, rich, good, and had low marginal tax rates? What is it about us Americans that we so often lack for what the poet Robert Burns said was the greatest gift the gods can give us, 'to see ourselves as others see us'? We are not hated for what we are. We are hated for what we do. It is not our principles that have spawned pandemic hatred of America in the Islamic world. It is our policies." Buchanan goes on to list the offenses committed by successive US governments against the Arab/Islamic world:
"To millions of Muslims," Buchanan writes, "We are the 'evil empire.'" -- Pat Buchanan
"A government that reflects the will of the people can, with patience and perseverance, defeat movements that resort to terror tactics. And, while democracies are the societies most vulnerable to terror attacks, they are also, due to their openness and freedom, the most resilient in fighting back. For they are sustained by the people. Crucial to defeating a terrorist movement is the way a government responds. As the ultimate battle is for hearts and minds, an overreaction can be fatal. Britain's response to the [Irish] Easter Rising -- hanging the rebel leaders -- and France's response to [Algeria's] FLN terror -- the roundups, reprisals, and torture -- advanced the revolution. Massu's victory in the Battle of Algiers is a textbook example of an imperial power winning a battle and losing the war. Terrorists are picadores and matadors. They prick the bull until it bleeds and is blinded by rage, then they snap the red cape of bloody terror in its face. The bull charges again and again until, exhausted, it can charge no more. Then the matador, though smaller and weaker, drives the sword into the soft spot between the shoulder blades of the bull. For the bull has failed to understand that the snapping cape was but a provocation to goad into attacking and exhausting itself for the kill. ...[I]f Iraqi insurgents and Islamic warriors are willing to die indefinitely to drive us out of that country and their world, the probability is that they will one day succeed." --Pat Buchanan
The most generous assessment of the Republican record in fighting terrorism is 'mixed.' Again, rhetoric obscures reality, with the assistance of the complaisant 'liberal' media. Stereotype of tough Republican daddies and soft Democratic mommies are irresistable to weak-minded journalists, who reinforce such cliches continuously. But recent history shows that it is conservatives, not liberals, whose attitude towards terrorism can turn squishy soft for political expediency." Journalist Joe Conason cites as a telling example the Iran-Contra scandal, where Reagan administration officials conspired to sell high-tech weaponry to Iran's theocratic dictatorship in return for its help in obtaining freedom for American hostages kept by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. The plan was a stark violation of a network of laws prohibiting arms sales to countries like Iran that were listed as sponsors of global terrorism. Conason writes, "Reagan's public attitude toward Iran and Islamic terrorism sounded tough, but turned out to be pseudotough. He lied repeatedly to the American people about the arms-for-hostages transactions. 'We did not trade arms for hostages' was about as candid as 'I did not have sex with that woman.' Obviously Clinton was fibbing about matters of grave national importance, namely his extramarital dalliance with an intern. The saintly Reagan misled the people and Congress about nothing worse than presidential violations of federal arms control laws, covert conspiracies involving the White House with a terrorist state, and the ruin of constitutional traditions. Thanks to his popularity with the press and the public, Reagan escaped impeachment and, in a broader sense, responsibility for those crimes." -- Joe Conason
"The damage done to American credibility abroad by the Iran-Contra fiasco was incalculable. It suggested a craven willingness to do business with terrorists that didn't sit well with our allies, who had listened to many lectures from the United States about their own dealings with rogue groups and governments. Had the wrongdoing ended at selling missiles to mullahs, that would have been sufficiently sickening. But in their eagerness to please the Iranian mullahs, North and his superiors agreed to persuade the government of Kuwait to free seventeen Shi'ite terrorists imprisoned there. Known as the Dawa'a prisoners, they weren't just any random assortment of murderous fanatics. They were members of the Hezbollah movement who had been convicted of car-bomb assaults on the American and French embassies in Kuwait City only two years before. The group demanding their release included the perpetrators of the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that had killed 241 American servicemen. Poindexter and North reportedly met with the Kuwaiti officials to seek the release of the Dawa'a prisoners. Reagan's bumbling military and political engagement in Lebanon, and his hasty retreat after that atrocity, had encouraged terrorists to view the United States as fickle and feeble. Osama bin Laden has cited America's flight from Lebanon more than once as proof of our national cowardice. How much respect did America forfeit when the world learned that the 'tough' Reaganites had asked to free seventeen terror bombers in order to 'facilitate better relations' with Iran? (Incidentally, the Dawa'a terrorists were eventually freed -- by Saddam Hussein after his army invaded Kuwait in 1990.)" -- Joe Conason
"Viewed in its proper historical context, the Iran-Contra scandal can be seen as the precursor to much of the ideologically driven foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration. [Elliot] Abrams, [John] Poindexter, William Casey, Ollie North, and others were willing to ignore historical constitutional strictures and pursue their own (secret) foreign policy agenda because they believed that whatever action America took in the world to protect its own interests were by definition right. They could lie to Congress and the nation and do business with drug dealers, arms merchants, terrorists, and murderous dictators all in the service of an end that they believed justified all imaginable means: the national security of the United States and its mission to preserve 'freedom' where it already existed and foster it where it did not." -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
It is well documented how the Reagan and Bush I adminstrations supported Saddam Hussein and Iraq against Iran during the decade-long Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, and that both administrations encouraged its Middle East allies, such as Saudi Arabia, to finance Hussein's war efforts. It is also well documented that Reagan and Bush authorized secret military shipments to Iran during the war. The US pretended to be seeking a negotiated end to the war, which led to over a million deaths and horrific atrocities committed by both sides; in reality, the US under its Republican leaders was playing both sides. Under Bush I, the US's policy tilted sharply towards support for Hussein, until Iraq invaded Kuwait and the US suddenly executed a 180-degree turn against the Hussein regime. During the 1980s, Iraq had been deleted from the State Department's list of terrorist sponsors, prompting an outcry from, of all people, neocon hawk Richard Perle, who wrote in 1987, "Iraq has protected terrorists Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas. That Iraq has been deleted from the list of terrorist nations that our law requires us to publish says more about the list makers than about Iraq." In the same essay, Perle denounced the use of chemical weapons by Iraq; he fails to note that the weapons were provided to Saddam Hussein by the Reagan and especially the Bush administrations. Joe Conason writes, "In short, Republican policymakers during the Reagan and Bush years were constantly wheeling and dealing with terrorists and their sponsors in both Iran and Iraq. The tough-minded conservatives weren't merely soft on terrorism; they aided and abetted terrorists in a manner that would have caused shrieks of treason if Democrats had done likewise." Conason observes, "The conservative Republicans of the Reagan-Bush era spoke loudly about 'fighting international terrorism.' Their record was outstanding for its ineptitude, hypocrisy, and politically motivated leniency: conniving in arms deals with the Iranian sponsors of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad; sponsoring secret attempts to secure the release of the Dawa'a terrorist prisoners from imprisonment in Kuwait; lifting sanctions on Chile despite the regime's refusal to extradite the perpetrators of a terror bombing in Washington, DC; favoring a Cuban terrorist mass murder with presidential favors for domestic political reasons. Their record was an international disgrace. And they still have the gall to call their opponents 'soft on terror.'" -- Joe Conason
Ian Williams quotes retired Army general and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark as saying, aptly enough, "Republicans like weapons systems; Democrats like the soldiers." Williams says to go one step farther is accurate: "Republicans like weapons system makers and their lobbyists." He goes on to say that "Rumsfeld and Bush, before and after September 11, starved low-tech high-manpower agencies that could actually have an effect on terrorism in favor of 'Star Wars'-style missile defense systems. The response to a relatively low-tech airplane hijacking was to put money into space-based systems and missile interceptors." He drily notes that, after twenty years and nearly $70 billion in expenditures, "sDI technology has advanced to the point where, if a fish is very large, brightly dyed, and nailed to the bottom of a barrel, sharpshooters with a double-barrelled shotgun may occasionally hit it, assuming there are no other fish around to distract them." Meanwhile, soldiers deployed to Iraq spend their own money purchasing packs, pouches, belts, underwear, socks, gloves, night-vision goggles, and up-to-date body armor. Two years after the invasion began, US soldiers still scrounge for personal and vehicle armor, and all too often have to rely on homemade "armor plate" carved out of debris and wreckage, and more suited as a carapace for a medieval knight than a 21-st century soldier. The personal weapons issued to US soldiers are tremendously high-maintenance machines, and notorious for jamming and malfunctioning in desert conditions. (In contrast, the AK-47s favored by the insurgents work quite nicely under almost any conditions.) Private Jessica Lynch says that when her convoy was attacked, her weapon jammed as soon as she was ordered to "lock and load." The Pentagon blames the soldiers for inadequately maintaining their weapons; the soldiers blame the lubricant issued to them by the Army supply officers. As a result, thousands of soldiers have asked friends and family at home to mail them supplies of a different lubricant, MiliTec. (The Bush administration cancelled all military purchase orders for MiliTec at the beginning of the invasion.) -- Ian Williams
As a result of the Pentagon's failure to provide the manpower needed to secure Iraq after the initial success of the invasion and overthrow of the Hussein regime, the US military has turned more and more to "drafting" members of the National Guard, "weekend warriors" with full-time jobs and little training. The idea was to get in, overthrow Hussein, and step back, watching the Shi'a and Kurdish-backed coup unfold, and allow foreign troops from Turkey, Pakistan, and India do the chore of garrisoning the country. It didn't turn out that way, of course, so National Guardsmen have been forced into service by the tens of thousands. Many of them depend on hand-me-down weapons and armor. At least 16,000 National Guardsmen have been prevented by stop-loss orders from returning home after their tours of duty are completed. Their listed termination date on their paychecks is now the year 2030. This is no less than a backdoor draft. (One service that such conscription does perform is giving George W. Bush a comeback for those who criticize his less-than-glorious National Guard career during the Vietnam War. He angrily denounces those critics by asking how they dare impugn the service of those Guardsmen now serving bravely in Iraq, "forgetting" that while these Guardsmen are indeed risking their lives overseas, during the Vietnam War, many joined the Guard in order to avoid active duty.) -- Ian Williams
Clinton's own record on terrorism isn't free of blemish. "Could he have done more to reform the intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracy? Did he fail to resolve the ongoing rivalries that fractured the FBI, the CIA, and the other intelligence services? Was he distracted by domestic concerns and scandals, including the Lewinsky affair that he so foolishly and selfishly brought upon himself? The answer to all these questions is yes. But instead of smearing Clinton, his antagonists might ask themselves what they and their political allies did in the early years of the war against terrorism. [Most right-wing columnists] would have to scour [their] scribblings in vain for any mention of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda before September 11. [They] were hardly alone in [their] obliviousness and obstructionism. With few exceptions, the record of Clinton's critics on this issue compares poorly with that of the man they vilify. But the campaign undertaken by Hannity, Sullivan, Horowitz, and other conservatives to arraign Clinton for September 11 has a more sinister, explicitly political aim. Their rhetoric is redolent of the old stab-in-the-back theories once used to discredit FDR and JFK. And of course they are attempting to deflect blame from Bush (whose vow to 'get bin Laden, dead or alive,' has been consigned to the same White House memory hole as the balanced budget). ...The failure of Bush's national security team to recognize the threat of al-Qaeda, even after they were clearly warned, will rank among the most serious mistakes ever made by US government officials. They had billed themselves as 'the grown-ups,' condescending to the Democrats they replaced and asserting that their experience would return steady guidance to American policy. Instead, these veterans of previous Republican administrations fumbled and fooled around with ancillary issues while an elusive new enemy prepared to strike. They weren't prepared. They had no plan. They hadn't seen what was coming. They had ignored the warnings. Their judgment was as deluded as their self-image. ...[T]he nation's conservatives should forget about blaming Bill Clinton and the Democrats. Their own record on terrorism stands up poorly by comparison." -- Joe Conason
"Under Bush, America has fought two wars at a cost of $200 billion and rising, and created an immense new cabinet department. But if the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security is the defense of the homeland, what is the purpose of the Department of Defense? If we are to be secure, the president has stated, it will also be necessary to launch and prosecute a 'world democratic revolution.' But if democratic imperialism is to be our foreign policy in perpetuity, there will be no end of wars for America, but an early end to our democratic republic." -- Pat Buchanan
The famed British military historian Sir Michael Howard offers his observations on the self-defeating terminology of a "war" on terror: "The British in their time have fougnt many such 'wars,' in Palestine, in Ireland, in Cyprus and in Malaya, to mention only a few. But we never called them 'wars,' we called them 'emergencies.' This meant that the police and intelligence services were provided with exceptional powers, and were reinforced where necessary by the armed forces, but all continued to operate within a peacetime framework of civil authority. If force had to be used, it was at a minimal level and so far as possible did not interrupt the normal tenor of civil life. The object was to isolate the terrorists from the rest of the community, and to cut them off from external sources of supply. They were not dignified with the status of belligerents: they were criminals, to be regarded as such by the general public and treated as such by the authorities. ...As we all know, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Terrorists can be successfully destroyed only if public opinon, both at home and abroad, supports the authorities in regarding them as criminals rather than heroes. [Terrorists win] if they can provoke the authorities to use armed forces against them.... Either they will escape to fight another day, or they will be defeated and celebrated as martyrs. In the process of fighting them a lot of innocent civilians will certainly be hurt, which will further erode the moral authority of the government." -- quoted by Eric Alterman and Mark Green
The Abu Ghraib prison scandals are just the tip of the iceberg of America's repressive and illegal tactics in occupying and "pacifying" an increasingly violent and resistant Iraqi populace. "No amount of apologetic testimony or political spin could mask the fact that, since the attacks of September 11, President Bush and his top aides have seen themselves as engaged in a war against terrorism in which the old rules did not apply. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority. ...The roots of the Abu Ghraib scandal lie not in the criminal actions of a few Army reserves, but in the reliance of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on secret operations and the use of coercion -- and eye-for-an-eye retribution -- in fighting terrorism. Rumsfeld's most fateful decision, endorsed by the White House, came at a time of crisis in August 2003, when the defense secretary expanded the highly secret special-access program into the prisons of Iraq. Rumsfeld's decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of elite combat units, and hurt the prospects of the United States in the war on terror." -- Seymour Hersh
"The Pentagon's operation -- aspects of which were known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green -- encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the insurgency. A senior CIA official confirmed the details of this account and said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld's long-standing desire to wrest control of clandestine and paramilitary operations from the CIA." A number of intelligence officials are troubled by the program's "prima facie violation of the Geneva Conventions" and worry that, if exposed, the program will "eviscerate the moral standing of the United States and expose American soldiers to retaliation." -- Seymour Hersh
"Bush/Cheney's war cannot succeed as they imagine, since every heavy-handed strike and gruesome accident -- no less than all the terror and humiliation -- has only turned more people into enemies of the United States. Far from picking off the bad guys one by one, the US 'war on terrorism' has succeeded only in creating countless fresh new cells of terrorists and in enlarging that great human sea in which those predatory fish can swim forever. Thus has Bush & Co. used the teachings of the Prince of Peace to bring us warfare without end." -- Mark Crispin Miller
"Our 'War President,' as he arrogantly calls himself, is having a little problem with his War on Terror. The enemy's gone AWOL. Except when we go looking for trouble, as in invading Mesopotamia. Otherwise, trouble pretty much stopped looking for us. Admit it, we're pretty darn safe.
"America is not under attack. There is no WAR on terror because, except for one day five years ago, there has been no terror attack. This isn't Lebanon or Israel or Chechnya. We don't go to a pizza parlor wondering if we'll get our keisters blown off before the last slice. This is not Iraq, with the daily bombing in the Kasbah as Shias, Sunnis, Turkmen, and Kurds settle matters of religion and petroleum with Semtex.
"Even September 11. Forgive me for pointing this out, but it was, in the end, the deed of a bunch of wingnuts with box-cutters hankering for a hot time with virgins in the next life who got 'lucky' and killed a horrendous number of my former coworkers at the World Trade Center.
"Where are the terrorists? We've got a boatload of sorry-*ss losers in orange suits in Guantanamo we captured five years ago who are supposed to tell us Osama bin Laden's address. Even if they had it, Osama's probably moved. And, since he was dying of kidney problems, he's a goner.
"Where is Osama? He's last year's model. Even if he survives, he's no longer a player. That's because first, George Bush gave him what he wanted, US troops out of the Land of the Two Holy Places, Saudi Arabia. Second, bin Laden's ultimate goal is a bust. Terror, at least big-time global terror, is, like the war in Iraq, all about the oil. Bin Laden was an artifact of $10-a-barrel crude. As he made clear in his  Declaration of War, the failings of the Saudi royals were in allowing the West to bring down the price of the great oil reserves under Islamic sands.
"Ironically, Osama's obtaining his goal, raising oil prices, is his undoing. With oil prices up, Osama's war platform crumbles beneath him. It's amazing how much political-emotional-religious angst among Saudi Arabians is cured by $50-a-barrel crude. The Saudi royals no longer fear Osama nor need to fund him; Pakistan's dictator has control of Afghanistan without the need for the Taliban; the Caspian's oil is safely 'privatized;' the Libyans have signed with BP; working-class Iranians are voting against mullahs who prmise jihad instead of a piece of the oil pie; and overwhelmingly, Muslims would rather not spend their weekends blowing up their neighbors.
"...Neither America nor Britain are at war. This is not the Blitz. If anyone thinks I'm belittling the killings in New York, in London, or in Madrid...you've got me wrong. These are true crimes. The problem is that Bush's declaring a War on Terror, mirroring Osama's own Declaration of War, draws us into the totalen Krieg (Total War) mentality in which all perfidy is excused, from our President's coddling Pakistan's bomb merchant to our Congress's repealing your right to now the poisons created at your local chemical plant. A whole list of corporate gimmes sought by lobbyists before September 11 are now marketed to Congress as protection from al-Qaeda. To cover this extreme greedismo, we've been sold a new Red Scare, and that is certain to bring us the new McCarthyism. Get ready.
"Are there still killer fanatics in Pakistan screaming, 'Death to America! Death to the Jews!' Yes, always have been. Always will be. But they don't constitute an organized armed force ready to call up their thousands from sleeper cells in Cincinnati.
"...Until September 11, 2001, the deadliest terror attack in American history was carried out by an all-American Gulf War veteran. It is worth remembering that Bill Clinton pretty much ended that threat with solid police work (treating terror as a crime, not a war) and a truly powerful weapon: a series of lawsuits which cost the skinhead Right its assets. Note that Clinton quashed the terror (Oklahoma was not the lone incident) without invading Idaho or invalidating the Constitution.
"Outside the war zones we create, organized terror's power is diminishing, and for Bush and Blair, that is a political problem. That's why the attack by the loony London teenagers in 2005 was such a boon to the al-Qaeda addicts in the White House and Downing Street. They needed a new terror fix. Even if it wasn't the real al-Qaeda, it was enough for Bush and Blair to mainline into the body politic a big, fat dose of fear.
"Once they had the world media all jumped up on a new fear high, Bush and Blair could resume their sales pitch for their two-barreled cure: less liberty, more weaponry.
"Our leaders are counting on cowardice in the hearts of the heartland. In 2004, the Republicans' unstated reelection campaign slogan was, 'They are coming to get us.' Americans, scared for their lives, soiled their underpants and waddled to the polls crying, 'George, save us!'
"From his bunker, Mr. Cheney has created a government that is little more than a Wal-Mart of Fear: midnight snatchings of citizens for uncharged crimes, wars to hunt for imaginary weapons aimed at Los Angeles, DNA data banks of kids and grandmas, even the Chicken Little sky-is-falling Social Security spook-show.
"In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt calmed a nation when he said, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.'
"Today, George Bush says, 'We have nothing to sell but fear itself.'" -- Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse
"Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear." -- Bertrand Russell