Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Monday, June 19, 2006
I can't figure out what to make of this:
Al-Qaeda terrorists came within 45 days of attacking the New York subway system with a lethal gas similar to that used in Nazi death camps. They were stopped not by any intelligence breakthrough, but by an order from Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. And the U.S. learned of the plot from a CIA mole inside al-Qaeda. These are some of the more startling revelations by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind, whose new book The One Percent Doctrine is excerpted in the forthcoming issue of TIME. It will appear on Time.com early Sunday morning.
U.S. intelligence got its first inkling of the plot from the contents of a laptop computer belonging to a Bahraini jihadist captured in Saudi Arabia early in 2003. It contained plans for a gas-dispersal system dubbed "the mubtakkar" (Arabic for inventive). Fearing that al-Qaeda's engineers had achieved the holy grail of terror R&D — a device to effectively distribute hydrogen-cyanide gas, which is deadly when inhaled — the CIA immediately set about building a prototype based on the captured design, which comprised two separate chambers for sodium cyanide and a stable source of hydrogen, such as hydrochloric acid. A seal between the two could be broken by a remote trigger, producing the gas for dispersal. The prototype confirmed their worst fears: "In the world of terrorist weaponry," writes Suskind, "this was the equivalent of splitting the atom. Obtain a few widely available chemicals, and you could construct it with a trip to Home Depot — and then kill everyone in the store."
I do question whether or not we do have a mole inside Al-Qaeda, it doesn't seem likely. Then again, perhaps it's a piece dis-information.... some carefully planned psy-ops just to push up the paranoia inside AQ?
More importantly, was it really called off by Zawahiri, and if so, why? My first thought was of a heavily commented on op-ed from Amir Tehari. A few months back, Tehari postulated that the new strategy of Islamic theocrats is to 'wait Bush out.'
For the past several weeks Mr. Abbasi has been addressing crowds of Guard and Baseej Mustadafin (Mobilization of the Dispossessed) officers in Tehran with a simple theme: The U.S. does not have the stomach for a long conflict and will soon revert to its traditional policy of "running away," leaving Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed the whole of the Middle East, to be reshaped by Iran and its regional allies.
To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of "the last helicopter." It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein's generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton's helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.
According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as "waiting Bush out." "We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister.
One of the big ironies of the times is that, because the administration has been so successful at preventing further attacks on US soil, it has given critics more freedom to criticize.
Bush exaggerates the terror threat for political gain, 9/11 was a lucky shot, there is no real threat, etc.
All of that would ring quite hollow if this subway chemical attack actually materialized. Osama bin Laden made a tremendous miscalculation in thinking that America would choose appeasement in the wake of 9/11. To the contrary, it managed to wake most of us up to the reality that we neither could or should continue to ignore the murderous dysfunction of the Middle East, because it does affect us. Lethally.
Things are different today though, we've gone 5 years without an attack. As Tehari notes, "the general assumption is that Mr. Bush's plan to help democratize the heartland of Islam is fading under an avalanche of partisan attacks inside the U.S." Hard to argue with that observation, and our enemies overseas understand it as well. A successful attack would likely reverse that trend, so they'll wait for a more opportune time.
I can see why it is an attractive strategy, and it might be the best available given the other really bad alternatives most of our enemies are left with. Personally, I have gone back and forth on whether or not the 'waiting out Bush' strategy will actually work. I think it very well might, but, like Tehari, I probably lean a bit the other way:
But how valid is the assumption that Mr. Bush is an aberration and that his successor will "run away"? It was to find answers that this writer spent several days in the U.S., especially Washington and New York, meeting ordinary Americans and senior leaders, including potential presidential candidates from both parties. While Mr. Bush's approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the "helicopter" theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.
The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it. Running away from Saigon, the Iranian desert, Beirut, Safwan and Mogadishu was not hard to sell to the average American, because he was sure that the story would end there; the enemies left behind would not pursue their campaign within the U.S. itself. The enemies that America is now facing in the jihadist archipelago, however, are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. as the world knows it today.
Those who have based their strategy on waiting Mr. Bush out may find to their cost that they have, once again, misread not only American politics but the realities of a world far more complex than it was even a decade ago. Mr. Bush may be a uniquely decisive, some might say reckless, leader. But a visitor to the U.S. soon finds out that he represents the American mood much more than the polls suggest.
9/11 aroused us to the brutal, complicated state of humanity. It provided a tangible reminder that it is our peaceful and prosperous Western Societies that are the historical exception and that poverty, war, and murder are, sadly, the norm. That's not something that will leave our collective conscious anytime soon.