Jumping the Tracks


In the 2004 Presidential Debates, Sen. John Kerry made a striking claim. Paraphrasing the words of the Bush administration’s former counter-terrorism czar, Richard A. Clarke, he declared that, “Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor.” Two years later, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a majority of Americans have come to share that conclusion. According to recent polls a substantial majority of Americans, in some cases upwards of 60%, now oppose the war in Iraq,believe it was a mistake to go to war with Iraq in the first place, and believe that invading Iraq has made America less safe from terrorism, not more. The seminal facts underlying the seconclusions are open and obvious. Saddam Hussein and his secular Baathist regime in Iraq simply had nothing to do with the fanatical ideologues of Al Qaeda. After three years of U.S.occupation, there is no evidence that the Iraqi government ever provided material support for Al Qaeda, not in the form of weapons, training, safe haven or financing. Even President Bush has recently conceded as much. When asked, “What did Iraq have to do with that . . . The attack on the World Trade Center?” he bluntly replied, “Nothing!”
But while the unsettling truth of Sen. Kerry’s analogy is slowly sinking in, it raises a neven more disturbing question, one that both Kerry and Clarke failed to fully address. To besure, if FDR had, in fact, launched an attack against Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor, that would have been both a mind-boggling farce and tragedy, a humiliating and disgraceful waste ofAmerican (and innocent Mexican) lives and treasure at a time when this nation could ill afford to throw those resources away. Yet as terrible as that would have been, we would still have another, even bigger problem on our hands – Japan. What lurks in the background of Sen.Kerry’s historical analogy is the real enemy, emboldened and empowered by our mistakes. Fast-forward to the Bush administration’s failed policy in Iraq, and the problem remains the same. If not Iraq, then who is the real enemy? If we’re going to come up with something resembling areal plan for correcting our course in the War on Terror, it seems clear that this question must be addressed, and re-addressed, until we have a firm grasp on the answer. Only then can we come up with something resembling a rational response to the threat which confronted us on 9/11.
Moreover, it is becoming clear that we can no longer rely on this administration toperform that analysis for us in competence and good faith. Indeed, the Bush administration’sperformance has gotten even worse over time. The same dysfunctional administration that led usinto Iraq continues to confront the American public with Muslim bogeymen who did not attackus on 9/11. The evidence tying Iran and Syria to the 9/11 attacks is just as ephemeral as the“contacts” between Al Qaeda and Iraq hyped by the administration before the war. Moreover,the Democratic leadership is providing no real alternative. The Democrats continue toopportunistically play on the anti-war sentiment of their base and the growing outrage over theadministration’s incompetent handling of Iraq, rather than actually engaging the problem at handand providing a substantive plan for our nation’s defense.
The likely consequences of this lack of engagement is beginning to sink in with thepublic, as well. A recent poll conducted by CNN showed that a full 74% of respondents believedthat Al Qaeda is planning to strike inside the U.S. again. And once again, the facts clearly back up this conclusion. In April 2005, The Washington Post reported that the number of“significant” terrorist attacks around the world, as measured by the U.S. State Department,nearly quadrupled between 2003 and 2004 – from 175 attacks to 655. Note that this was a yearafter the election-year controversy in which the State Department was forced to amend its initial2003 report on global trends in terrorism after failing to properly state the number of attacks inthat year, which had risen sharply from 2002. And the State Department’s most recent reportshows that this trend continues. The number of terrorist attacks worldwide in 2006 represented a29% increase over the previous year. Moreover, the brutal reality behind these statistics hasbeen graphically illustrated by a steady drumbeat of major attacks in such far-flung locales asBali, Madrid, Beslan, London and Mumbai. The fact that the frequency of global terroristattacks has been steadily increasing since 9/11 is a sure sign that our response to that attack hasbeen fundamentally flawed.
Which brings us to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Shortly after 9/11, we all learned thatthe overwhelming majority of the hijackers, a full fifteen out of the nineteen men who carried outthe attacks, were Saudi nationals. So was the man who personally selected each and every oneof the nineteen hijackers and provided them with training and financing – Osama bin Laden.Indeed, Bin Laden was from one of the Kingdom’s richest and most well-connected families.Fifteen young men from Saudi Arabia had traveled half-way around the world to murder nearly3,000 American citizens on live TV. One would think that big red flags don’t get much biggerand redder than that. But incredibly, these facts were quickly dismissed by the Bushadministration, discounted of any significance whatsoever with the same blunt self-assurednesswith which they had informed the American public about all of those weapons of massdestruction they knew Saddam Hussein was stockpiling in Iraq.11 Administration officialsrepeatedly assured the American people that, in fact, the Saudis were our “friends and allies inthe war on terror.”12 These statements culminated in April 2002, with Crown Prince Abdullah’s(now the King of Saudi Arabia) visit to Pres. Bush’s home in Crawford, Texas. There, Pres.Bush sought to put to rest any discussion of Saudi involvement in the attacks on 9/11 by tellingthe American people that, “The Crown Prince and I had a very cordial meeting that confirmedthe strong relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. . . . It’s a strongand important friendship, and he knows that and I know that.”
Since that time, a steady stream of disturbing revelations about the Kingdom haveemerged in the public record, illustrating time and again how the Saudis have played a centralrole in both the rise of Al Qaeda, and in inciting the global jihad (holy war) of which Al Qaeda isjust a part. Yet the terms of our national dialogue on the War on Terror have remained the same,fixated almost entirely on Iraq with the Saudis rarely meriting a mention. But after a briefreview of some the more troubling evidence against the Kingdom, I think you will agree that thetime has come to take a second look at our “friends and allies in the war on terror.” As PulitzerPrize-winning journalist James Risen recently wrote, “Ever since the September 11 attacks, thetrail back from al Qaeda to Saudi Arabia has been an intriguing path, but one that very fewAmerican investigators have been willing to follow. . . . Those links are much stronger and farmore troubling than has ever been previously disclosed, and until they are thoroughlyinvestigated, the roots of Al Qaeda’s power, and the full story of 9/11, will never be known.”


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