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9/11 in Retrospect, Again
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Fifty-Nine
by Brian S. Wise
26 March 2004

Who is responsible for the Tragedies?  The short answer is, Arabs.  The long answer is much more complicated, by design.

Who is responsible for the Tragedies?  The short answer is, Arabs.  There are exceptions, of course, but terrorism and Arabs have been connected at the hip in the American mind since the Munich Olympics; Arabs spellbound by a religious zealotry and hatred reasonable people simply cannot understand.  Specifically nineteen hijackers, fifteen from Saudi Arabia, spearheaded by al Qaeda, from bin Laden on down the chain of command.  And not to make too fine a point of it, but if terrorism as we understand it today carries on for another three decades significantly unencumbered by the United States and other victimized nations, it’s still going to be Arabs on the terrorist end of things.  Period.
The long answer has become much more complicated, if only because we have become determined to affix blame on someone or something inside the United States; in other words, it’s not enough to say “Arabs,” we must also be able to horsewhip politicians (specifically, the last two presidents) and the Central Intelligence Agency.  So in the 9/11 Commission hearings we have learned that all the things we should have known before Iraq are now … wrong.  The same administration so admonished for taking unilateral action against Iraq – you’ll recall that for entering the fray without France, Russia and Germany, the president was Hitler, the Tragedies were the modern equivalent of the Reichstag fire and Bush was establishing an Empire – in retrospect should have known enough to take unilateral action; not against Afghanistan but instead al Qaeda, a terrorist entity that had declared war against the United States three years earlier.

See the problem?  Terrorist cliques shouldn’t be confused with terrorist States.  Even if there were no WMD in Iraq, it had been firing on American planes on a daily basis, had spent a decade openly defying the will of the relevant world by ignoring United Nations resolutions and had ruled its own people with old school, Soviet-style determination; torture chambers, mass graves and all.  If one believes there was no case for war with Iraq (I for one would have given the war a thumbs up even if the rationale had been the lack of fluoride in the Iraqi water supply), a reasonable case could have been made for a good, old fashioned pimp-slapping in the Reagan tradition.
On the other hand, the Taliban had not committed Afghanistan to a war with America, hadn’t fired on American planes, hadn’t flipped the civilized world (and other United Nations members) the bird.  It did leave al Qaeda to its own devices and it did house Osama bin Laden, but the Taliban was removed from power because it refused to deal with bin Laden and the boys properly following the Tragedies, not because it housed bin Laden in the first place.  If merely housing a killer is now thought to be a proper rationale for unilateral attack, then the Iraqi war was justified by virtue of the fact Saddam Hussein had housed Abu Abbas, who masterminded the Achille Lauro hijacking and murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an American Jew.  Right?
Assume now that in the spring of 2001 the president approached Congress and the American people to sell everyone on the idea of bombing al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, in response to the embassy bombings, the USS Cole bombing and the declaration of war against America.  (One hopes that this is the sort of thing the president would have done first and discussed later, so as to avoid scurrying terrorist trainees, but since the entire conversation about 9/11 preemption sits on one hypothetical after another, no one will mind this exercise.)

What are the odds that the Iraqi debate of late 2002 onward wouldn’t have first manifested itself over Afghanistan?  “Well, the Clinton administration already responded to the embassy bombings.”  No; Clinton fired a few missiles into some tents and hit an aspirin factory, far from responding appropriately to slaughtered Americans, and did absolutely nothing in retaliation for the Cole.  Would it have mattered that the potential for future attacks (which would have been the Tragedies) outweighed the limited peace that came from doing nothing?  Would those considerations have stopped the torrents of opposition?  The protests?  The peace marches?  The jackasses lying in the middle of Lakeshore Drive (in Chicago) obstructing morning traffic?  And does anyone really think the Tragedies would have been prevented by killing bin Laden or uprooting embedded al Qaeda in (for the sake of argument) January 2001, or merely postponed until a more opportune time?

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for Intellectual Conservative.

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