– The steady increase in international terrorism and the growth of al Qaeda
– The campaign to block and obstruct the work of the 9/11 Commission, and the failure to carry out the commission’s recommendations
– The failure to stablize and rebuild Afghanistan
– The downgrading of the hunt for Osama bin Laden
– The steady decline of America’s image abroad
Krugman is good as usual, let me add something, though, to a bit of a cliché:
The path to this strategic defeat began with the failure to capture or kill bin Laden. Never mind the anti-Clinton hit piece, produced for ABC by a friend of Rush Limbaugh; there never was a clear shot at Osama before 9/11, let alone one rejected by Clinton officials. But there was a clear shot in December 2001, when Al Qaeda’s leader was trapped in the caves of Tora Bora. He made his escape because the Pentagon refused to use American ground troops to cut him off.
No matter, declared President Bush: “I truly am not that concerned about him,” he said about bin Laden in March 2002, and more or less stopped mentioning Osama for the next four years. By the time he made his what-me-worry remarks — just six months after 9/11 — the pursuit of Al Qaeda had already been relegated to second-class status. A long report in yesterday’s Washington Post adds detail to what has long been an open secret: early in 2002, the administration began pulling key resources, such as special forces units and unmanned aircraft, off the hunt for Al Qaeda’s leaders, in preparation for the invasion of Iraq.
According to Rand Beers, the more important move is the one Krugman vaguely alludes to in the second quoted paragraph rather than the more famous stuff in the earlier paragraph. What happened is that at more-or-less the exact same time as Bush said he was “truly . . . not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden — March 2002 — the president put his money where his mouth was by pulling special operations forces out of Afghanistan so that the units could reconstitute in preparation for their next mission — preparing the battlefield in Iraq.
This is important not just in a vague “maybe if they were around we would have had OBL” kind of way. These are the troops who have the sort of language ability and training to work with mid-level foreign leaders that make them well-suited to taking the lead on difficult tasks like helping to reconstruct a country devastated by a couple of foreign invasions and a lengthy civil war. Whether or not they would have been able to locate bin Laden is a bit unknowable. Doubtless, they would have been helpful for that. But what’s certain is that these resources would have allowed us to make much more progress toward achieving our goals in Afghanistan. To agree with what I think Atrios is saying here, after 9/11 some form of war against the Taliban was inevitable.
This can’t go over well with his colleagues on the Corner:
Second-lamest line (I am working here from Cheney’s appearance on MTP yesterday): the one about how SH was so involved in terrorism, because he was paying money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. This is deeply unconvincing. Any secular-Arab dictator looking to do a little triangulation with the religious elements in his population & neighborhood would have done the same. And these folk were blowing themselves up in Israel, not the U.S.A. I don’t approve of suicide bombers, in Israel or anywhere else, but to advance this as evidence that SH was hunkered down in conference with people planning attacks on the U.S.A. is, again, lame.
It’s worth saying that, pre-war at least, this business about the suicide bombers was a kind of double-pronged ridiculously. On the one hand, we were supposed to believe that Saddam’s bucks for martyrs was indication of a looming Baath/Qaeda terror threat against the United States. On the other hand, we were supposed to believe that Saddam’s financial support was the key driver of Palestinian terrorism and that Palestinian terrorism was, in turn, the sole driver of the Arab-Israeli conflict. No more Saddam, and the whole problem would just go away. The road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad. Absurd. Just absolutely ignorant and absurd. And yet this kind of thinking has been the official basis of national policy for five years and will continue to be for years to come.
I think John Mueller’s “False Sense of Insecurity” argument about terrorism goes two far in a couple of respects, but it’s mostly correct and overwhelmingly provides a crucial counterbalance to the tendency toward alarmism that’s overtaken the country in recent years. Thus, it’s great to see that he’s written the lead essay for the 9/11 anniversary edition of Cato Unbound. The specific argument he makes in this new piece I agree with more-or-less entirely.
“We haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically — and that’s where wars are won and lost.” So says an Army officer summarizing a new report by the US Marines’ top intelligence guy about the situation in Fallujah. It’s an odd habit of the American Army to even bother making the distinction. If you’re losing a war politically, you’re losing the war.
Let me also pass on a point I heard Robert Pape make last week, namely that even though a certain number of the bombings you see in Iraq are genuine core instances of terrorism — just blowing up civilians for being members of some targeted group — most attacks are more narrowly focused than that. You see a lot of this kind of thing where people trying to sign up to work for the Iraqi government get killed. Just as liberals tend to point out that the United States government and other western powers can often be well-served by a policy of deliberate restraint, this is also true for irregular combatants in Iraq. The most over-the-top, randomest, most terroristic attacks in Iraq tended to be perpetrated by Zarqawi and his people who had a rather unsubtle view of strategy. His absence from the scene may actually wind up hurting out cause in Iraq, simply because it will let smarter, less brutal leaders step up to the plate.
An anniversary post is, under the circumstances, unavoidable. But what to say? Maybe something on a personal note. From the time when I was about five years old onwards, my family lived on 12th Street with south-facing windows. Our apartment was really quite a bit north of the World Trade Center, but due to the lack of intervening tall buildings we had a very clear view of the Towers and they would totally dominate the view. Dominate it, that is, on clear days. Like distant mountains, our view of them was pretty highly sensitive to the weather. Haziness or fog would obscure them somewhat. On the heavier days, they would entirely fade out of view and the sky would look strangely blank.
By the time the towers fell, I was in college and wasn’t living full-time in that apartment anymore. As a result, I’ve never quite gotten used to the new view. What’s more, there isn’t much of anything that was tall enough or close enough to be revealed by the towers’ absence. It’s just a blank sky. To me, it looks as if the city’s descended into a perpetual fog.
The Towers were one of those New York landmarks that I barely ever actually visited in practice. I went there once, I think, in high school when I had a French exchange student living with me. And I was in the vicinity a couple of times to go to Century 21. But I think I’ve been to the Ground Zero site more times than I was ever inside the building whose absence it marks. Giant skyscrapers simply have a way of dominating the experience of people who live in vaguely in the vicinity even if you never really go there. Which, I suppose, is the point. And that’s really the extent of my practical connection to the events of 9/11. Nobody I really knew died there, though of course like all New Yorkers I had various connections of some kind of another to some of the victims. Still, in an odd way I took those murders personally and when I think back to it I still do.