Friday, September 08, 2006

The Path to 9/11

After a fairly long hiatus on the topic, and because I’ve been far too sober over the past few months to have done anything of note, I am returning The JEP Report into the political fold…at least until I have a better idea.

As the 5-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks approaches, ABC is airing a two part television mini-series called “The Path to 9/11”, based in large part upon the report issued by the congressional committee formed to investigate the series of events that allowed this terrorist act to succeed. Here in the US, two days before the show is set to air, various officials from the administration of former president Bill Clinton have launched a public campaign to have this program either edited, declared a fictional dramatization of events or outright pulled from being shown. As is usual when this type of thing occurs, the publicity these protests generated has advertised this show far more effectively than ABC’s marketing campaign and brought this series to the attention of many Americans who, like me, do not watch a whole lot of television. As a result, those of us who probably would not have even known about this program without the extra publicity considered it something that we just did not want to miss. At least until ABC buckled under DNC pressure and agreed to edit it in response to the Clinton officials’ outrage. Now I’m probably just going to try to find a football game on somewhere.

Clinton officials have been loudly complaining that this mini-series inaccurately portrays them of basically ignoring the terrorist threat posed by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. To be blunt, it was his fault. It was also the fault of the first President Bush, Ronald Reagan before him and Jimmy Carter before him. The present President Bush can also shoulder his fair share of the blame but I will cut him a little slack since he is the first president since the rise of radical Islam in the 1970’s to actually act on the problem, though I will say that if 9/11 had succeeded, I doubt that he would have acted much differently than his predecessors.

The truth is that when it comes to Islamic terrorism, no administration can take a monopoly on the blame, as none can claim immunity from it either as the Clinton administration is trying to do. Jimmy Carter had the means and the public backing in 1979 to stop the rise of Islamic fundamentalism when it first reared his head, but he lacked the will to do anything about it. As a result, he gave the Iranian radicals their first taste of victory by allowing them to storm or embassy and hold our hostages without any fear of meaningful retribution. The Ronald Reagan administration presided over a global heyday of Islamic terrorism and, though he did muzzle Libya, he backed down from confronting the threat in Lebanon, Iran, Syria and the PLO and even paid the Iranian backers of Hezbollah in arms to get our hostages in Lebanon back. The first President Bush underestimated the threat and did not pay it much attention. Instead he concentrated on bungling the first Iraq war so that eleven years later we would have to go back and finish the job.

President Clinton, like his three predecessors, also underestimated the threat but in addition to traditional executive inaction, he spent his eight years in office systematically dismantling the American intelligence apparatus so that when we were finally struck by enemies who had been publicly vowing to attack us for years, we lacked the means of knowing what the enemy was up to. Nine months after President Clinton left office, the intelligence services were still relying on electronic espionage which told us that something was brewing but not exactly what it was. Five years ago, this mind-numbingly negligent lack of human intelligence allowed George W. Bush to usher in the era of American history that we now refer to as “post-9/11”.

It is impossible to grade the current President of the United States in his battle against Islamic terrorism on the same scale of his predecessors. Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton all had the opportunity combat the scourge but decided not to act. Bush II, thanks to the lack of initiative on the issue from his four predecessors, was not afforded the luxury of having that choice. The attacks of September 11th were so horrific he had no alternative course of action other than confronting this threat head on and it will be years before we see whether or not seeds of his policies grow to bear fruit or rot where they were sown.

In retrospect however, previous administrations’ refusal to tackle the threat of Islamic terrorism has done nothing but encourage it. Prior to the Iranian revolution, there were no Islamic terrorist attacks recorded in which Americans or Westerners were specifically targeted (I found this hard to believe but my research came up completely empty. If any of you out there read this and want to enlighten me on something I missed, I would be happy to hear from you). After President Carter’s political impotence was exposed by Iranian militants however, the United States has was considered fair game as terrorists learned that their causes could gain monumental publicity for their causes by attacking American interests and citizens and would suffer few consequences as a result of their actions.

After the Iranian hostage crisis subsided, it did not take long for the Middle East’s other malcontents to launch their own attacks to violently focus the world’s attention upon their grievances. In short, the United States had 22 years to declare war on terrorism after the US was declared fair game, yet refused to do so. After the Iranians had their way with us, the US and President Carter in particular looked about as threatening to Middle Eastern militants as a three legged bunny rabbit with cerebral palsy.

Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush did a little better but still did not take advantage of the no less than ten opportunities various Middle Eastern terrorists gave us to respond to them in a manner that should have sent them sniveling back to their dismal homelands in search of an easier target to pick on. On April 18 1983 Hezbollah, operating under the generic moniker “Islamic Jihad” ushered in the fad of suicide bombing when it obliterated the US Embassy in Beirut killing 63 people. Six months later, on October 23rd, they quadrupled the embassy body count by sending a truck bomb into the US Marine barracks, killing 241 Americans. Then they kidnapped and killed Beirut’s CIA station chief, William Buckl ey, in March the following year and a US sailor on a hijacked TWA flight in 1985. The Reagan response to these Hezbollah attacks was to withdraw from Lebanon and then give arms to Iran, who financed the militants, in exchange for several other hostages they took. Now the terrorists saw that committing violent acts against Americans not only gave them publicity without meaningful retribution, it was also proving fairly lucrative.

In October 1985, the Palestinians decided to get in on the act, with the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front. After killing an American Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, the terrorists were essentially freed by US “ally” Egypt and granted safe passage to Tunisia. US warplanes intercepted them en route to their safe haven and forced their plane to land in Italy. In hindsight, we probably should not have bothered for the Italian authorities were even softer on terrorism the US was. By 1991, all but one of the hijackers were free.

Just after Christmas of that same year, the Palestinians went on a shooting spree in Rome and Vienna, killing 13. Four months after that, they bombed TWA flight 840 in Athens, killing four Americans. Three days later, on April 5th 1986, the Libyans bombed a Berlin discotheque killing three US servicemen. Up until this point, Arab terrorists acting on the cause of the Palestinian movement had killed 327 people, mostly Americans. The Libyans were relative newcomers to the game yet after killing less than 1% of the people the Palestinians had, Reagan ordered the US Navy to bomb the tar out of Tripoli and Benghazi in response to the attack. Still, the Reagan administration kept their hands off of militant Palestinian groups. As with most other bombing campaigns, the American strike against Libya did little to deter them from terrorism and on December 21 1988, Libyan operatives blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, killing 259 people, most of them Americans.

Not to say that the Reagan administration was wrong to attack Libya. On the contrary, it was the first concrete action the US took against Middle Eastern extremism after seven years of being a victim of it. Like actions before and after it however, it did not go far enough. Taking the bombing of the La Belle discotheque seriously and launching a sustained military campaign designed to bring the regime of Mohmar Qaddafi to its knees could have prevented the tragedy in Scotland over two and a half years later.

Another thing that occurred during the Reagan administration was the transformation of Middle Eastern militants from secular combatants battling for territory around Israel to religious fanatics fighting to spread their theological ideology. In order to combat Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the Reagan administration encouraged the Muslim world to view the conflict as a holy war against God-less Communist aggression and after the April 14th 1988 car bombing of a USO club in Italy and the Lockerbie explosion, terrorist attacks against the US ceased being acts claimed to further Palestinian self-determination and started becoming expressions of Islamic outrage.

The first President Bush was inaugurated shortly after the Lockerbie bombing and surprisingly, he made it through his entire term without a major terrorist incident involving Muslim militants targeting American citizens. There are several reasons this might have happened. First off, Bush proved early on in his presidency that crackpot Third World dictators could not work to undermine the US with impunity by invading Panama. Second, the first Palestinian intifada against Israel erupted in 1987, likely turning the attention of various PLO terrorist factions back towards the lands that launched the dispute and away from the international stage. Third, with the collapse of European communism in 1989, these extremist organizations likely lost a good deal of their financial backing. Fourth, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the worldwide response to it directed the resources of state terrorism sponsors towards a different theater of conflict. Finally, the US and Soviet Union disengaged with the conflict in Afghanistan, leaving a large pool of the Islamic world’s disaffected to wantonly kill each other off without Western interference.

It might have been luck or it might have been intimidation, but the scourge of international terrorism was just not on the first President Bush’s, or anyone else’s, radar screen between 1989 and 2003. With the fall of Communism, the rise of democracy in Eastern Europe and the myriad of other global changes going on at the time, international terrorism just did not seem to fit into what the president called “The New World Order”. Whether by fortune or by design, President Bush I got a terrorism pass. He can shoulder the lion’s share of the blame on Iraq in another article.

Now enter President William Jefferson Clinton. A little over a year after his inauguration as president, the United States suffered its first attack by international terrorists on its own native soil when the larvae of what would eventually morph into al Qaeda exploded a truck bomb inside of the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. The problem with this attack was it was not successful enough, killing only 6 people (though more than a thousand were injured). As a result, there was no retaliation launched for the attack. Two years later, two diplomats were assassinated in Karachi, Pakistan. Again, no retaliation was offered. In June 1996, the US military barracks at Khobar Towers was attacked with an exploding fuel truck, killing 19 servicemen and wounding 515. In 1997, three separate attacks by Islamic militants killed 63 people with no consequences being suffered by those who ordered the actions. Finally in 1998, al-Qaeda in the form that we now recognize it, bombed the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing a combined 301 people and wounding well over 5,000. Finally forced to respond, Clinton bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and some unoccupied training camps in Afghanistan, killing or injuring absolutely no one that mattered, if anyone at all.

Two years later, terrorists bombed the USS Cole in Yemen in their last attack on US interests before September 11th. At this point though, Clinton was on his way out of office and I doubt that he had any interest in doing anything that would jeopardize his worldwide reputation as a master statesman. He did nothing, and his presidential “legacy” brought down the World Trade Center and blew gaping holes in the Pentagon and a Pennsylvanian corn field less than a year later.

The fact of the matter is that al Qaeda, in the form that we now know it, was conceived, born, grew and flourished under Bill Clinton’s watch and as a result of his inability and unwillingness to do anything about it. I will concede that it is unreasonable to lay all of the blame for the spread of global terrorism solely upon his shoulders, but he can take the overwhelming brunt of criticism when people want to ask who allowed al Qaeda to become the beacon of Islamic fascism that it is today. Now, the same people who allowed this sore to fester are up in arms about a television mini-series that, before edited, was the first media presentation to drive this point home to the American public.

Amazingly there are still people in this country who regard President Clinton, and that poster-child for political ineptitude Jimmy Carter, as staunch stalwarts working for world peace when in reality, their wavering, weakness, and inability to commit to a tough course of action because it could offend somebody, prove unpopular or possibly hurt a non-combatant has done more to undermine global stability than further it. Now that an administration has been forced to tackle the problem, they have barred no holds in openly undermining his campaign to eradicate the threat. They call into question his dismantling of obstacles that kept government agencies from sharing intelligence with one another, they proclaim his program to eavesdrop on terrorist phone calls within the US as unconstitutional and illegal, they lament the fact that 400 of the world’s most dangerous murderers are being held in cages in Cuba without being brought to trial, they proclaim outrage at the existence of secret CIA prisons and they refuse to acknowledge that, in the midst of all of these “crimes”, the US has not suffered a single terrorist act on its soil since al Qaeda blew its wad in 2001.

Not that George Bush II should be immune from criticism. In my opinion, he has done an incredibly poor job both bringing stability to Afghanistan and fighting the war in Iraq. In addition to that, I see him bungling the nuclear situation in Iran and doing nothing meaningful at all to reverse the catastrophe Clinton created in North Korea. I am sure that there is someone out there who could do a much better job, but when you look out over the past 25 years of terrorism, what he has done is far and away much better than anything accomplished by any of his predecessors.

I have honestly grown very disillusioned with the Republican Party over the past couple of years and am dying for a new choice to emerge on the American political landscape. Unfortunately, we only have two real choices at present and when terrorism and the security of the United States are the issues I am most concerned about, I am going to back the party working tirelessly to undermine our enemies, not the party working tirelessly to undermine those undermining our enemies.

So how do I react to ABC buckling under Clinton pressure to censor its programming so that their incompetence, policies of appeasement and unintentional collaboration with our enemies are not exposed? Easy. I write over 2,800 words voicing my displeasure and trying to present hard facts that back up my views. I then add another arguing point to my list of evidence that the mainstream media is to the Democratic Party what Fox News is to the GOP. Then I will crack open a beer and do my best to avoid watching channels affiliated with ABC for a while. Luckily, this usually does not prove all that difficult since there is little on the network that I typically would want to watch anyway. Truth be told, “The Path to 9/11” is the first thing on ABC to grab my attention in ages.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sacto Ritch said...

I will comment more on this article later. But now I would like to send you and Pat my deepest condolences. I know you say all is fine, but if I just glossed over it I would feel awful. I really do mean to call, and I will. Again, I'm very sorry for your loss pal.

SactoRitch

12:40 AM  
Blogger JEP said...

Thanks Ritch. In all honesty, its my bad about not calling. It's just one of those things that I couldn't find a way to work into a conversation. "Hey Buddy! How're things in Cali? Say, you'll never guess what happened here today..."

In retrospect though, I kind of feel like shit about it. Of all people, you guys at least deserved a phone call.

7:11 PM  

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