9/11: Looking back, looking forward
Assuming nothing bad happens on the tenth anniversary of 9/11/, we can point with pride; however, we can still view with alarm the time when our intelligence-gathering apparatus had the bits and pieces of information about the 9/11 assassins but our intelligence agencies had been forbidden by Janet Reno’s Department of Justice to share those bits and pieces with each other. Perhaps worse, various low-level bureaucrats took it upon themselves to not pursue several leads that would have exposed the plot well in advance.
For example, pre-9/11, a FBI agent in Minneapolis discovered that Zacarias Moussaoui had paid $6,800 for cockpit simulator lessons to learn to fly a Boeing 747-400. Although Moussaoui was questioned, the agents were not able to generate enough interest at FBI headquarters for a vigorous pursuit of a search warrant for Moussaoui’s computer which contained enough data to roll up the entire 9/11 operation.
Following 9/11, the Bush Administration, with the help of the Patriot Act, converted the culture of the FBI from acting “after” a terrorist crime had been committed to preventing terrorist acts before they occur.
After 9/11, America found itself in another unwanted war. The strategic objective of warfare is to destroy the enemy’s ability to wage war. War has nothing to do with bringing people to justice. Unfortunately, the Geneva Conventions and the traditional criminal justice systems of Western Civilization do not address the kinds of threats posed by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists.
Prior to 9/11, our armed forces were designed to respond to attacks from nation-states with similar armed forces. Going after the small cells of an organization such as al-Qaeda requires the precision of a tack hammer rather than bludgeoning them with a sledge. Immediately post-9/11, the U.S. had, for the most part, to use its sledge hammer, resulting in a certain amount of unintended collateral damage that caused some of our critics to call our actions illegal and immoral. Generally, the Obama Administration has been wise enough to follow in the footsteps of the Bush Administration and, as a result, we have yet to have another 9/11-style attack.
But laying waste to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan did not prevent the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 and wounded 1,800 others. Nor did it prevent the subway bombing in London on July 7, 2005, that killed 52 and wounded 700 others. Moreover, on November 5, 2009, at Ft. Hood, Texas, the U.S. Army’s surrender to Political Correctness allowed Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan to murder 13 Americans and wound 29 others.
Today, what is left of al-Qaeda has moved to Yemen and Somalia. While the Taliban might regain a measure of political power in Afghanistan, the Taliban, per se, pose no threat to the United States. Now, the war in Afghanistan -- the war that Candidate Obama wanted to fight rather than finish Bush’s war in Iraq -- should be written off as a costly and unnecessary distraction from our far more important strategic concerns with the oil-rich Middle East and with the growing threats posed by Red China’s nascent naval forces.
The kinds of armed force applied by the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan cannot prevail, meaning a negotiated settlement will have to be achieved. But it won’t look anything like General MacArthur in 1945 accepting the Japanese surrender on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri. For the settlement to last, it will have to incorporate some of the interests of the true players in the region: Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. The U.S. will be lucky to leave the “graveyard of empires,” with a fig leaf. Perfect hindsight: We should have quit Afghanistan back in 2002 when we were way, way ahead.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
©2011. William Hamilton.