Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Blame the Terrorists

Good editorial in the Chicago Tribune yesterday:
Over the last seven days, this furious exchange of spitballs has become the latest iteration in our national game of gotcha. The game would be more fun if our lives and future as a nation weren't unequivocally at stake.

Yes, searching for shortcomings of leadership that preceded or followed Sept. 11 is a vital and patriotic chore, if we are to lower our chance of reliving that day and worse. We as a people need to learn what, if anything, we or our leaders might have done to prevent the mass killings of so many innocents.

That said, it is foolhardy for us to obsess on pointing the blame gun if seeking those answers, and wielding them at one another as verbal cudgels, diverts us from a larger truth: At this moment, in ways and locales we do not imagine, the next bin Ladens are working to eclipse Sept. 11.

....That response [Bush's response to 9/11] includes a pledge to vanquish nations that support terrorism. Bush is employing an aggressiveness that veterans of both the Clinton and Bush administrations argued last week, probably correctly, Americans wouldn't have tolerated before Sept. 11. Yet holding Bush accountable for failing to pre-empt the attacks, while arguing that he was wrong to act pre-emptively against an Iraqi dictator who refused United Nations demands to document his weapons programs, is--in the most generous light--a gymnastic exercise in logic.
I'm willing to let bygones be bygones, when it comes to the Clinton and pre-9/11 Bush administration. We were all blinded by 9/11 and even if we were not I don't think either Clinton or Bush had the political capital to do anything about it anyway. When Clinton launched some cruise missiles into a suspected chemical weapons plant in Sudan he was accused of "wagging the dog" to distract from the Lewinsky scandal. I already mentioned what difficulties Bush would have had in launching a pre-9/11 preemptive strike on the Taliban. So, now that Richard Clarke has been thoroughly discredited (over and over) lets move past this and focus on the post 9/11 response and what we will do going forward.

The Bush administration (along with some good luck to be sure) has done an admirable job post 9/11, as Vinod re-counts what has gone right since then:

Afghanistan - Free and getting better. No longer a country-sized terrorist training camp. In a neighborhood made up of such wonderful properties as W. Pakistan, Azerbaijain, Iran, & Uzbekistan, Kabul has gone from least to possibly most desirable place for a 20something person to live. The first constitutionally limited, elected body - the Loya Jirga - is on the eve of taking full power - an unbelievable rarity in the Arab world.

Iraq - Free and getting better. Plastic / Human shredding machines shut down. Summary executions over. Kurds and Marsh Arabs no longer terrorized. Economy professionally managed rather than a large kleptocracy.

Saddam - tyrant of his own little prison cell
Sons&Heirs - discovering just how warm hell can be
no more blood money flowing to Palestine.

No new spectacular attacks on US soil -- Do you remember how cautiously we approached Thanksgiving, '01; X'mas '01; New Years '02; the SuperBowl '02; hell, even the Academy Awards '02? In hindsight, it feels almost absurd to think that of the Oscars were considered a National Security Class A target for terrorists - but that's really how we were just a few short years ago. Now I'll be the first to acknowledge the flaw of using "absence of evidence as evidence of absence" - this amazing chain can be broken 2 minutes after I hit the "publish" button. But can we acknowledge that some pretty amazing progress has been made here?

Libya - compliant, open, giving us their intelligence resources; Hell Gaddafi went so far as to publicly advocate on TV that Syria, N Korea and Iran tow the US line. He told the Italian government that he saw what happened to Hussein and strove to avoid the same fate. This is a direct product of Iraqi intervention.
Saudi's -- on track to seriously reducing our dependence upon them. No more US military presence. New international oil will start flowing from Iraq. Royal family finally realizing that their faustian bargain with Al Qaeda / Wahabi's coming home to roost (Terrorist attacks are now more frequent on Saudi soil than US soil! Terrorism sucks for sure but this is an arrangement I am far more comfortable with vs. the alternative)

Pakistan - prior to 9/11 - actively supporting the Taliban, actively ignoring Al Qaeda, and actively antagonizing India. Now - flipped around & starting talks with India on *everything*. AQ Khan's proliferation ring - busted wide open; accounts are that this has been in operation since at least the tail end of the Reagan presidency. The compounded mistakes by all the folks that were in charge & let it flourish were all shameful - but we can chalk this up as a post 9/11 intelligence / military victory? Iraq gave us Libya, Libya gave us Khan. Khan is giving us Pakistan. Expect Musharraf to be rather eager to help us in the spring offensives in Afghanistan
Syria - They've cracked down on their own Baathist party and are making peace overtures towards Israel . Could you imagine human rights protestors in Damascus a few years ago? (comments from Drezner)

Palestinians - rapidly losing funding for their kleptocracy;
Iran - student protestors energized and clamoring for democracy; The govt has yielded (a tad) and is now agreeing to spot inspections by IAEA.
Arab Political Discourse - a new, unprecedented wave of political openness is wafting through Arab society. Friedman reports. Would the UNDP report on the state of the Arab world been anywhere near as frank & honest had the Bush Administration NOT shined a giant spotlight on the entire region?

And now this report from the Washington Times:
LONDON — Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's purported operations chief, has told U.S. interrogators that the group had been planning attacks on the Library Tower in Los Angeles and the Sears Tower in Chicago on the heels of the September 11, 2001, terror strikes.

Those plans were aborted mainly because of the decisive U.S. response to the New York and Washington attacks, which disrupted the terrorist organization's plans so thoroughly that it could not proceed, according to transcripts of his conversations with interrogators.

...He is reported to have said that bin Laden, who like Mohammed had studied engineering, vetoed simultaneous coast-to-coast attacks, arguing that "it would be too difficult to synchronize."
Mohammed then decided to conduct two waves of attacks, hitting the East Coast first and following up with a second series of attacks.
"Osama had said the second wave should focus on the West Coast," he reportedly said.
But the terrorists seem to have been surprised by the strength of the American reaction to the September 11 attacks.
"Afterwards, we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run," Mohammed is quoted as saying.

Al Qaeda's communications network was severely disrupted, he said. Operatives could no longer use satellite phones and had to rely on couriers, although they continued to use Internet chat rooms.
Is that entirely accurate? Who knows, as Mohammed has been known to mislead and outright lie to interrogators, but Al-Qaeda has clearly been markedly disrupted over the last 30 months. We are on the right track, lets not waste too much time playing the political blame game when it is quite obvious who really deserves it. The terrorists.


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