July 24, 2004

The 9/11 Report Misses the Point

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After vigorously resisting the establishment of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, George W. Bush is now celebrating its findings. “Constructive,” said the commander-in-chief, who plans to study the report. Bottom line: Bush is mightily relieved that the collective finger of the Commission doesn’t point too much in his direction.

No person or agency is singled out to take serious responsibility for the attacks that killed 3000 people on September 11, 2001. A list of missed opportunities is carefully divided 60-40, six occurring during the Bush II administration and four on Clinton’s watch. The report recommends the creation of a new intelligence czar, increased congressional oversight, and transparency in funding for intelligence. But the Commissioners were unanimous in refusing to conclude that 9/11 could have been prevented.

The events of September 11 are recited in chilling detail in the much-anticipated 500-page tome. Although the Commission concludes that the attacks “were a shock,” it says, “they should not have come as a surprise.” The report provides an itemized list of structural shortcomings, and improvements that could better prepare us for the next terrorist attack.

“Because of offensive actions against al Qaeda since 9/11, and defense actions to improve homeland security,” the Commissioners wrote, “we believe we are safer today.” They go on to say: “But we are not safe.” The centerpiece of Bush’s election campaign is his mantra that the world has become a safer place on his watch. Earlier this week, however, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “I cannot say the world is safer today than it was two, three years ago.”

Indeed, many feel Bush’s misguided war on Iraq has actually made us less safe. But the 9/11 report does not address Operation “Iraqi Freedom” critically. A 23-year veteran of the CIA, identified in the Boston Phoenix as Michael Scheuer, maintains in his soon-to-be-released book, “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror,” that “Iraq was a gift of epic proportions to Osama bin Laden and those who think like him.”

The former CIA agent advocates a genuine debate within the United States about its policies in the Middle East, including its relationship with Saudi Arabia and its unqualified support for Israel. “I think before you draft a policy to defeat bin Laden,” says Sheuer, “you have to understand that our policies are what drives him and those who follow him.”

Scheuer is not alone in his admonition. Earlier this month, Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) penned in the Charleston Post and Courier: “Osama bin Laden hit us because of our presence in Saudi Arabia and policy in Israel/Palestine.” Hollings wrote: “Imagine 37 years’ occupation of Palestine … Palestine is left with the hopeless and embittered … But embittered refugees from without lead with terrorism.” The senator urges the building of a Palestinian state. “It can’t be built,” however, “while homes are bulldozed, settlements extended and walls are constructed.”

Both Hollings and Brandeis Professor Robert B. Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, dismiss the notion that we are fighting a “War on Terrorism.” Hollings says, “Terrorism is not a war, but a weapon.” Reich agrees: “Terrorism is a tactic. It is not itself our enemy.”

Challenging Bush’s claim that the terrorists hate us because of our values, Hollings retorts: “It’s not our values or people, but our Mideast policy they oppose.” Reich argues for restarting the Middle East peace process, which Bush has “run away from.”

Many in the Arab and Muslim world see U.S. policies as terrorist. They witnessed the deaths of one million innocent Iraqis as a result of Western sanctions during the 1990s. The tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed by Bush’s “coalition” in Iraq have not escaped their notice. And they see the photographs and hear the accounts of torture and humiliation of their brothers emerging from the prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Yet the 9/11 report glosses over the atrocities, calling them “allegations that the United States abused prisoners in its custody.” The photographs belie this characterization as mere “allegations.” And the Commissioners have bought into Donald Rumsfeld’s moniker of “abuse,” when it is clear that rape, murder and sodomy with foreign objects constitute torture.

Conspicuously absent from the report is a political analysis of why the tragedy occurred. Missing from the report is a comprehensive strategy to overhaul U.S. foreign policy to inoculate us from the wrath of those who resent American imperialism.

The report does not undertake a serious criticism of Bush’s misadventure in Iraq, the lies under girding it, and the tragedy it has wrought in that country. It fails to analyze why this war that Bush created has opened a Pandora’s Box of terrorism where none existed before. Notably, there is a categorical statement that no evidence linked Iraq with the September 11 attacks.

However, the report focuses on Iran, noting that some of the hijackers easily passed through Iran in the months before 9/11. Yet it finds no evidence that Iran knew of the impending attacks.

Bush’s response to the report’s Iran reference is reminiscent of his reaction after the September 11 attacks. When Richard Clarke caught Bush alone in the Situation Room the next day, Bush “testily” ordered Clarke to investigate whether Iraq was involved in the attacks. Even though Bush admitted this week that the CIA had found “no direct connection between Iran and the attacks of Sept. 11,” he promised that “we will continue to look and see if the Iranians were involved.”

The Likud lobby in Washington, which drives much of our foreign policy, seeks the overthrow of the Iranian government partly because it stands in the way of the Israeli annexation of southern Lebanon and its prized Litani River. Bush’s base – the fundamentalist Christians – walks in lockstep with Ariel Sharon, driven by their determination that Jerusalem be in Jewish hands when Christ returns.

Whether Bush will make Iran the next test of his new illegal “preemptive” war doctrine if elected in November remains to be seen. His blustering about Iran may be designed to pander to his hawkish supporters as the election approaches. At the least, we can expect Bush, if given a second term, to covertly undermine Iran’s government, much as we did in 1953. The CIA led a coup to overthrow the democratically elected Mohammad Mossaddeq, and replaced him with the tyrannical but U.S.-friendly Shah, ushering in 25 years of torture and murder against the people of Iran.

Iran’s membership in Bush’s “axis of evil” was in the works two years before its formal inauguration in his state of the union address. In its September 2000 document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century,” the neocon’s Project for the New American Century identified Iran, Iraq and North Korea as strategic targets.

We should not be surprised that countries like Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear weapons. While the United States rattles its sabers at these “rogue states,” it continues to develop new and more efficient nukes and pledges to use them “preemptively,” in violation of its commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The Bush administration has also exempted itself from a treaty prohibiting biological weapons to avoid being subject to international inspections.

Short shrift is given in the 9/11 report to the reverberations from U.S. policy in Iraq and Israel: “Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” Period. No analysis of the content or consequences of that commentary.

The Commissioners conclude: “Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities and management.” The consequences of U.S. foreign policy, which the CIA dubbed “blowback,” need not be left to the imagination of our leaders. The anger of millions of people in the Middle East does not stem from resentment at our democratic way of life. It is the understandable result of our policies that torture and kill their brethren.

The title of one chapter in the report quotes George Tenet: “The system was blinking red.” Indeed, we must heed the blinking red light of bitterness against U.S. imperialism throughout the Middle East.

Finally, the Commission writes, “we should offer an example of moral leadership in the world.” Unprovoked attacks on other countries, uncritical support for repression against an occupied people, and the killing and torture of prisoners are not examples of moral leadership.

We can reorganize, restructure and revamp our institutions. But until the American government undertakes a radical rethinking and remaking of our role in the world, we will never be safe from terrorist attacks.