September 11 Report Due Today
The September 11 Panel will issue its findings on Thursday. It notes 10 points at which the US made key mistakes that might have stopped Bin Laden’s plot. Four of these were under Clinton and 6 under Bush.
Bush came out today and said that if he had known what was coming, he would have expended every effort to stop it, and that so would have Clinton. This statement is, despite its facade of fair-mindedness, so many weasel words. Of course Bush would have tried to stop 9/11 if he had known it was coming.
The question is, “Should he have known it was coming?”
The answer is, “Yes!”
We now know that Bush and his administration came into office obsessed with Iraq. Cheney was looking at maps of Iraq oil fields and muttering about opportunities for US companies there, already in January or February of 2001. Wolfowitz contradicted counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke when the latter spoke of the al-Qaeda threat, insisting that the preeminent threat of terrorism against the US came from Iraq, and indicating he accepted Laurie Mylroie’s crackpot conspiracy theory that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Towers bombing. If you believe crackpot theories instead of focusing on the reality–that was an al-Qaeda operation mainly carried out by al-Gamaa al-Islamiyyah, an Egyptian terrorist component allied with Bin Laden– then you will concentrate on the wrong threat.
Even after the attacks on September 11, Bush was obsessing about Iraq. Wolfowitz lied to him and said that there was a 10 to 50% chance that Iraq was behind them. (On what evidence? The hijackers were obviously al-Qaeda, and no operational links between al-Qaeda and Iraq had ever been found). Rumsfeld initially rejected an attack on al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, saying there were “no good targets” in Afghanistan. (What about 40 al-Qaeda bases that had trained the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists gunning for the United States??) The Pentagon did not even have a plan for dealing with Afghanistan or al-Qaeda that it could pull off the shelf, according to Bob Woodward.
Bush did not have his eye on the ball. Neither did Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Wolfowitz. They were playing Captain Ahab to Saddam’s great white whale.
Imperial Hubris makes the case that lots of people in the CIA and counter-terrorism divisions elsewhere in the US government knew all about Bin Laden and the threat he posed. They were from all accounts marginalized and not listened to. Bush demoted Dick Clarke, among the most vocal and focused of the al-Qaeda experts, from his cabinet. Dick could never thereafter get any real cooperation from the cabinet officers, who outranked him, and he could not convince them to go to battle stations in the summer of 2001 when George Tenet’s hair was “on fire” about the excited chatter the CIA was picking up from radical Islamist terrorists.
As for the Clinton administration, let me say one thing in its defense. Clinton had worked out a deal with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in summer of 1999 that would have allowed the US to send a Special Ops team in after Bin Laden in Qandahar, based from Pakistan. I presume you need the Pakistan base for rescue operations in case anything went wrong. You also need Pakistani air space. The plan was all set and could have succeeded.
But in fall of 1999, Gen. Pervez Musharraf made a coup against Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistani army was rife with elements protective of the Taliban, and the new military government reneged on the deal. Musharraf told Clinton he couldn’t use Pakistani soil or air space to send the team in against Bin Laden.
Look at a map and you try to figure out how, in fall of 1999, you could possibly pull off such an operation without Pakistani facilities. Of course, you could just go in by main force. But for those of you tempted in that direction, please look up Carter’s Tabas operation. It should be easily googled.
Clinton tried, and tried hard. The gods weren’t with us on that one.