The web lit up last week with stories about how the New York Times, and the Bush Administration, had information in the summer of 2001 that specifically foretold of an impending, spectacular attack by al Qaeda “perhaps to be visited on the continental United States”–information which both august institutions declined to share with the public. The stories have rightly drawn much attention for the new light it throws on the years-long decline of the Times–and on the surpassingly curious inaction on the part of the Bush Administration during that fateful summer, despite an intelligence system “blinking red” with warnings of an impending attack.
But there is another very important part of the story that seems in danger of being overlooked. In an interview with Alternet, former NYT reporter (and Bush Regime misinformation conduit) Judith Miller tells how an intelligence source told her, during the 2001 July Fourth holiday weekend, about an intercept of a conversation of two al Qaeda members. As Miller recounts it: “And they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the Cole. And one Al Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.'”
What is the key fact here? Not really that al Qaeda operatives were planning a big operation against the United States; they’d been trying to do that for years, including one thwarted spectacular involving the mass hijacking of airplanes. No, what is truly significant, I think, is this passage: “They had been.supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what happened to the [USS] Cole,” a destroyer hit by a deadly suicide bomb attack in a Yemen harbor the previous October.
Al Qaeda’s entire strategy was aimed at drawing the United States into a worldwide “war on terror,” a massive campaign of retaliation that would doubtless see the American military charging into Muslim lands, killing civilians, wreaking havoc. The benefits of this to al Qaeda would be two-fold. First, it would fuel anti-American sentiment throughout the Islamic world, radicalizing many Muslims who would see the retaliation as proof of bin Laden’s charges of a “Crusader-Zionist” war on Islam. It would be, in other words, the greatest recruiting tool al Qaeda could ever have, bringing more recruits, arms and money to their cause.
Second, a U.S. “war on terror” would elevate al Qaeda to the status of a world power–not a fringe group capable of little more than the occasional deadly jab or suicidal outburst, but a fearsome enemy that threatened the very existence of Western civilization. Osama bin Laden would be raised up on the world stage, ranked with presidents and kings, the leader of an overwhelmingly powerful movement that could only be confronted by the full might of America’s military forces.
That’s why al Qaeda was disappointed that the United States had generally treated previous provocations as criminal matters best dealt with through vigorous law enforcement and the courts. (Bill Clinton’s mindless lobbing of missiles at an aspirin factory in Sudan in 1998 in retaliation for an earlier al Qaeda attack on US embassies in Africa was a particularly stupid exception to this prudent course.) After all, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center had been caught, tried in open court and convicted.
Then came September 11–and the strange symbiosis of the long-held geopolitical strategies of al Qaeda and the Bush Administration. Even before taking office, Bush factionists had openly called for a massive militarization of American society, in support of a campaign to secure American dominance over global affairs–a “Project for a New American Century,” the name taken by the militarist interest group whose stalwarts included Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby and many others swept to power by the rigged election in November 2000.
As oft told here, in September 2000, PNAC produced a report, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” that became the blueprint of the military and foreign policy followed by the Bush Administration–supposedly in response to the “changed world” after 9/11. The PNAC blueprint called for, among many other things, an invasion of Iraq (regardless if Saddam Hussein was still in power or not) and planting new military bases across Central Asia. And in what has become the report’s most infamous passage, the Cheney-Rumsfeld group acknowledged that the “revolutionary” changes in American policy that it sought would probably not happen, or else take decades, unless the American public “catalyzed” into consent by “a new Pearl Harbor.”
But where would this hoped-for “sneak attack” come from? Not from any established state, obviously; no matter how “rogue” such a regime might be, it would not invite its own destruction by attacking the United States. (Hence the Taliban’s anxiety at the launching of 9/11 without their knowledge, and their willingness to turn bin Laden over to international justice–if the United States could offer proof of his involvement in the attack. But as we know, although Colin Powell promised to produce just such evidence in the early days after 9/11, none was forthcoming, and the United States attacked Afghanistan anyway.) No, the only people willing and able to attack the United States directly, on a scale that might equal a “new Pearl Harbor,” was the gang of cranks, criminals and zealots who had already been jabbing at American flanks for years: al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, scion of the wealthy Saudi family that had been business partners with the Bush Family–through backdoor investments in Bush Junior’s early business career, and more openly, as colleagues with Bush Senior in the Carlyle Group.
This is not the time and place to delve into the dark arcana of the various attempts to pierce the background of the events surrounding 9/11. The facts, as far as we know them, can certainly be fitted into various scenarios of collusion, some more plausible than others, none of them entirely synoptic with the rest. (But then, neither are the Gospels, and they’ve been regarded as divine truth for 2,000 years.) However, the indisputable facts of the situation are damning enough on their face, without any imputation of direct hugger-mugger.
What are these facts? We know that al Qaeda sought to provoke the United States into a broad military response that would engulf the whole world. We know that the main power players in the Bush Administration were actively, publicly looking for a provocation that would justify a worldwide campaign of military expansion. We know that the U.S. intelligence community was “blinking red” with warnings and intimations “off the scale” of an impending terrorist attack, most likely on U.S. soil, all through the summer of 2001. We know from its own admission that the Bush Administration took no extraordinary action to meet this extraordinary threat.
We know that within hours of the September 11 attacks, the Bush Administration began talking of a worldwide “war on terror,” a “war like no other,” a war that could “last for decades”–a war, in other words, that would require a “revolutionary” transformation of America into a highly militarized society, one organized around the boundless power of a wartime “Commander-in-Chief,” a “unitary executive” at last set free from the “restrictions” imposed on the presidency after the Nixon era. (This “liberation” of the presidency into unfettered authority was also a long-held goal of Cheney and Rumsfeld, who had served in the Nixon White House.) We know that in the months following the attack, the Bush Administration began implementing the PNAC blueprint almost to the letter–and began claiming dictatorial powers for the president, including the power to seize and hold anyone on earth, indefinitely without charges; the power to order “extrajudicial killings” of anyone he arbitrarily names a terrorist or “enemy combatant;” the power to spy on the private lives of American citizens; and the power to ignore any law or judicial ruling that displeases him.
In other words, we know that the “war on terror” launched after 9/11 dovetailed perfectly with the announced geopolitical ambitions of the Bush Faction–and with the announced geopolitical ambitions of al Qaeda. Both wanted a global conflict–which only the other could provide. Bush gave bin Laden what he wanted; bin Laden gave the Bush Faction what it wanted. Each fresh atrocity on both sides only strengthens this bond.
Whether this unholy union was an arranged marriage or an amazing coincidence (or some shading in between) is something we will probably never know. But what matters most now is ending the so-called “war on terror,” this dance of death led by two small factions whose ambitions and principles are depraved, inhuman and obscene.
Naturally, we should apprehend anyone who commits a crime–murder, destruction, looting, extortion, intimidation–and subject them to the rule of law. And this should of course be done no matter what kind of organization the criminal belongs to: a religious sect, a mafia clan, a corporation–or a national government. All such criminals should be subjected to the judicial process–either domestically, in the countries where they commit their crimes, or internationally–no matter what grand abstraction they claim as “justification” for their misdeeds: “freedom and democracy,” “national security,” “defense of the ummah,” “God’s will.”
“Stateless criminals” like the terrorists of al Qaeda are just that: criminals. They should be dealt with as criminals, and not inflated and glorified into gigantic figures of world-historical import. The perpetrators of state terrorism are somewhat different, because they are far more powerful and wreak far more damage than the freebooters on the fringe of society. But of course they too should be held accountable, as individuals, not only for the crimes they commit, but also for the crimes they order to be committed, and the crimes that arise indirectly from circumstances they have deliberately created with their great power.
Both sides need the other in this insane global conflict–but ironically, only one side can actually stop the “war.” Only the United States can cease to respond with massive military force all over the world to provocations from criminals on the fringe. Only the United States can say, “We are not fighting a war; we are dealing with criminal actions as they arise–while working feverishly on the diplomatic, social, political, cultural and economic fronts to address the conditions in which the particular set of crimes known as ‘terrorism’ are apt to arise. It is a complicated business, to be sure: hard work, often unrewarding, full of pitfalls and reverses–but we are wise enough and strong enough as a nation to see it through.”
But this course–the only sensible, and only genuinely effective response to criminal actions of extremist groups–will never be undertaken by the Bush Faction, no matter who heads it. Nor by anyone else, of whatever political stripe, who buys into the militarist philosophy of an American dominance imposed on the world by force (either directly or through the more subtly implied but ever-present threat of force favored by “liberal” advocates of “soft power”).
As long as the Bush Regime–or some other permutation of “Bushism”–is in power, the “war on terror” will never end. It will go on spawning new wars, real wars, like the horror in Iraq, the continuing conflict in Afghanistan, and the proxy war now raging in Somalia–where Bush-backed warlords (the old downers of Black Hawks; yes, we’ve changed sides, again) are pitched against Islamic militias. This blood-dimmed tide will keep rising: thousands, perhaps millions (if the hard-Right’s dream of nuking Iran comes true) will be struck down by death and grief, and we will all keep falling deeper into the pit of a lamed and brutal life.
So when they ask why you are so “angry,” why you are so “strident” and “shrill,” tell them you’ve been vexed to nightmare by the foul embrace of the “war on terror” factions. Tell them you’ve had enough of the blood and filth, the power games, the talk of God from murderers’ lips. Tell them the war is over–the war is over–and you’ll have no more senseless killing in your name.
CHRIS FLOYD is an American journalist. He is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. His blog of political news and commentary, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.