Chronicling America’s 9/11 Descent

The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, sent the United States into a 10-year downward spiral, not because of the attacks themselves but because of disastrous political judgments that followed. In recognition of the tenth anniversary, we have compiled six articles by Robert Parry, chronicling this decade of descent, starting just two weeks after 9/11.

By Robert Parry

Bush’s ‘Crusade’

Sept. 25, 2001

In retaliation for the terror attacks on Sept. 11, George W. Bush is vowing to strike at a shadowy network of international terrorists reaching into 60 countries. He has called this coming war a “crusade” and has led his friends to believe that he views his new duty as a mission from God.

“I think, in [Bush’s] frame, this is what God has asked him to do,” a close acquaintance told the New York Times. “It offers him enormous clarity.” According to this acquaintance, Bush believes “he has encountered his reason for being, a conviction informed and shaped by the president’s own strain of Christianity,” the Times reported. [NYT, Sept. 22, 2001]

Few Americans would disagree that violent retribution should be inflicted on the masterminds of the mass murders at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – and on those who aided and abetted this crime that killed thousands of people. The unsettling question, which so far few have been willing to voice, is whether Bush is up to this delicate, complex and dangerous job.

Two weeks after the terrorist attacks, it appears that Bush still has little grasp of the long history of frustration that has met previous anti-terrorism campaigns. It’s also unclear whether he recognizes the risks in the geopolitical tradeoffs involved in building an international coalition and the potential costs of an open-ended war.

Bush’s limited sense of the history goes beyond his use of the word “crusade,” which has a European connotation of chivalrous knights in shining armor driving the infidels out of the Holy Lands, but conjures up very different memories in the Islamic world, of a bloody Christian holy war against Arabs. In 1099, for instance, the Crusaders massacred many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Already, Osama bin Laden has seized on Bush’s gaffe to rally Islamic fundamentalists. A typed statement attributed to bin Laden called the coming war “the new Christian-Jewish crusade led by the big crusader Bush under the flag of the cross.”

Wars on Terrorism

Bush’s short-term knowledge of history seems sketchy, too.

Repeatedly, he has called this war on terrorism a new kind of conflict, the first war of the 21st Century. Yet, his father was vice president in the administration of Ronald Reagan that made combating terrorism a top priority of U.S. foreign policy, replacing the Carter administration’s hallmark of human rights.

Reagan committed his administration to the war on terrorism in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the radical Arab nationalism of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. The Reagan era’s war on terrorism met some success but also failure.

Reagan created special counter-terrorism task forces and authorized the CIA to hunt down suspected terrorists in preemptive attacks that bordered on assassinations. Some administration hard-liners, such as CIA Director William J. Casey, sought to trace virtually all terrorism back to the Soviet Union, combining anti-communism with anti-terrorism.

In Central America, the wars between right-wing governments and left-wing guerrillas also were squeezed under the umbrella of counter-terrorism, with Fidel Castro’s Cuba listed as a chief sponsor of the terrorism. To wage a joint war against “terrorism” and “communism” in Central America, the Reagan administration armed and backed military repression in El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries.

Tens of thousands of Central American civilians were slaughtered in army sweeps of areas considered sympathetic to guerrillas, including massacres of Mayan Indians in Guatemala that a truth commission later deemed a genocide. The U.S.-backed armies also were linked to paramilitary “death squads” that murdered political dissidents, including labor leaders, academics, priests and nuns.

The war on terrorism even led the Reagan administration to engage in terrorism itself, both in Central America and the Middle East. To punish Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government for aiding insurgents elsewhere in the region, the Reagan administration supported the Nicaraguan contra rebels, who earned a reputation for torture, rape and murder as they swept through towns in northern Nicaragua.

One former contra director, Edgar Chamorro, described the contras’ practice of dragging captured government officials into town squares and executing them in front of the residents. American news outlets also reported on larger contra massacres of peasants picking coffee, presumably to discourage economic activity. [For details, see Robert Parry's Lost History]

To counter disclosures of these atrocities, the administration created special propaganda teams that engaged in “public diplomacy” to persuade editors, producers and bureau chiefs to stop these kinds of stories and to remove journalists who filed the reports.

Administration insiders called these largely successful public relations efforts “perception management.” Today’s influential conservative news media is, in part, an outgrowth of those Reagan-era efforts.

In George W. Bush’s new war on terrorism, the nation can expect a similar strategy for shaping public opinion. In the 1980s, the head of State Department’s “public diplomacy” office, Otto Reich, is now Bush’s nominee to be assistant secretary of state for Latin America.

Seeds of Violence

In the Middle East, the counter-terrorism campaigns of the 1980s also veered into terrorism itself, with some of the central players of that era still holding center stage today.

Under the leadership of then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The goal was to crush Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, which was then widely regarded as a terrorist organization.

Allied with right-wing Lebanese forces, Israeli troops forced the PLO to flee Lebanon. But Israel’s Lebanese allies then massacred Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, drawing U.S. Marines into Lebanon on what was initially a peacekeeping mission.

Gradually, U.S. forces began siding with the right-wing Lebanese army as it mounted paramilitary attacks on suspected Muslim terrorists. The loss of neutrality worsened when the Reagan administration ordered the U.S.S. New Jersey to begin shelling Muslim villages in the mountains. Irate Muslims countered by launching a suicide bombing attack against the U.S. Marine barracks outside Beirut, killing 241 Marines.

Though the surviving U.S. forces withdrew from Lebanon, the war of terror and counter-terror continued. In a 1985 strike against Hizbollah leader Sheikh Fadlallah, Casey helped finance an operation that included the hiring of operatives who detonated a car bomb outside the Beirut apartment building where Fadlallah lived.

As described by Bob Woodward in Veil, “the car exploded, killing 80 people and wounding 200, leaving devastation, fires and collapsed buildings. Anyone who had happened to be in the immediate neighborhood was killed, hurt or terrorized, but Fadlallah escaped without injury. His followers strung a huge ‘Made in the USA’ banner in front of a building that had been blown out.”

The mixed experiences of the 1980s – and the efforts to contain terrorism that continued through the 1990s – should be both a guide and a warning as America seeks retribution against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 mass murders.

Tough Rhetoric

To date, Bush has opted for tough rhetoric but relatively modest action, such as beefing up U.S. military forces near Afghanistan and tightening financial restrictions on money flows to groups considered friendly to bin Laden’s organization.

The initial military phase of the retaliation appears likely to be special operations attacks aimed at bin Laden and his top lieutenants at their Afghan base camps, combined with aerial attacks against his Taliban allies who rule most of Afghanistan.

As Bush moves forward, one of the few institutions that has applied some brakes to any rush toward war has been Wall Street. While joining in patriotic demonstrations, such as singing God Bless America before the start of trading on Sept. 17, institutional investors voted with their dollars when it came to showing confidence in the future U.S. economy.

With war looming, the stock markets went into free-fall. From Sept. 17 through Sept. 21, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 14.3 percent, its biggest percentage weekly drop since the Great Depression. The sell-off reversed somewhat on Monday as the expectation of a hasty U.S. military action faded and investors moved in to pick up some stocks at bargain prices.

A longer-term problem to big investors, however, is that the world that beckoned during the Clinton administration – one of rapidly advancing international cooperation with U.S. industry ideally positioned to profit from the growth – had receded since Bush’s inauguration.

President Clinton pushed multilateral strategies around the world, including peace initiatives in the Middle East. In so doing, he presented the prospect of a world transforming into a single market. New technologies, such as the Internet, also created a sense that communication could transcend traditional national boundaries and bridge cultural divides.

Faced with these new opportunities for growth, U.S. business prospered. Along with the expectations of rapid growth went the stock markets. During the Clinton administration, the Dow more than tripled, from about 3,200 to above 10,000. The technology-heavy Nasdaq more than quadrupled, even counting the dot-com losses last year.

A Declining Economy

Over the past eight months, that rosy future has darkened and the stock market has fallen.

Instead of innovative technologies and alternative energy sources leading the way toward solutions to the world’s energy and environmental problems, the Bush administration has advocated drilling more oil and digging more coal. Instead of international strategies for addressing global problems, the Bush administration favored a go-it-alone approach, at least prior to Sept. 11.

In 1999, the Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization prompted the Clinton administration to begin addressing the inequities that came with the global economy. Clinton’s team began work on international standards for environmental protections and labor rules.

By contrast, the Bush administration has taken a staunchly free-market approach to free trade. Bush’s economists maintain that trade organizations should confine their attentions to trade issues and stay away from worldwide regulatory standards.

Bush also repudiated the Kyoto global warming agreement in defiance of the European nations and Japan. Further offending longtime U.S. allies, Bush vowed to scrap the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in favor of implementing Ronald Reagan’s dream of a missile shield.

On the sensitive issue of the Middle East, Bush pulled U.S. diplomats away from negotiations seeking to stop the spiral of violence in Israel and the West Bank. He alienated pro-U.S. Arab states by directing his toughest criticism about the violence at Palestinian leader Arafat.

On Sept. 3, U.S. representatives walked out on a United Nations anti-racism conference because a proposal was under discussion equating Israeli treatment of Palestinians with racism.

Bush appeared to be implementing a foreign policy drawn from the most conservative commentators on the Op-Ed pages.

The economic consequences of the Bush policies also have not been good. The economy teetered on the brink of recession, hundreds of thousands of jobs were eliminated, the non-Social Security budget surplus disappeared. Millions of Americans lost big chunks of their savings and retirement plans in the stock market drop.

Even Bush’s wealthy backers have not been spared from economic misfortune. For instance, members of the wealthy Bass family of Texas – which built a fortune in oil and invested heavily in Bush’s political career – were forced to sell a 6.4 percent stake of the Disney Company in what Wall Street insiders called a distress sale. [NYT, Sept. 21, 2001]

If Bush’s war on terrorism expands over the next several months, economists agree a full-scale recession could follow. Some estimates see unemployment soaring from the 4.5 percent range of the late Clinton years to about 7 or 8 percent.

Though American investors had come to see the Dow 10,000 as a launching pad for higher growth, it may actually represent a level that was realistic only if the world continued coming together as a single marketplace. With that future fading, the Dow and other indexes might be expected to retreat as well, though probably not all the way back to the Dow 3200 of George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Open Societies

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan made a similar point about the value of world cooperation in congressional testimony on Sept. 20. He stressed the importance of the free flow of goods and ideas to future growth.

“We have developed a really major and, in many respects, extraordinary economic system on a global basis in the last 10, 15 years, resting on technology and the free movement of people, capital goods. And most interesting enough, during the period we’ve seen increasing evidence that the interaction between economies has enhanced global growth, and, indeed, the growth of everybody,” Greenspan said.

“The openness of societies, the openness of economies are very crucial for economic growth, and they can be open only if they are not hampered by violence,” the Fed chairman continued. “Violence is complete destruction of the institutions of free markets and of global economic systems.”

So, the inexperienced president now is faced with a two-pronged challenge: how to live up to his strong words about an unrelenting war on terrorism and how to do so without tanking the economy and creating deeper divisions in the world.

Bush also must recognize that some of the tradeoffs in fighting terrorism can create potentially worse dangers. To gain support for isolating Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, for instance, Bush waived sanctions that had been placed on Pakistan and India for developing and testing nuclear weapons.

The nightmare scenario is that one of those nuclear weapons – or one from the old Soviet stockpiles – will end up in the hands of a terrorist group intent on an even more dramatic attack on a major U.S. city.

To date, Bush has drawn strength from the unity of the American people horrified by the mass murders of Sept. 11. He also has shown restraint in avoiding a rash retaliation that might have satisfied a thirst for revenge while killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan – and enflaming anti-American passions in the Middle East.

But Bush’s challenge now is to implement a measured – and effective – response to the Sept. 11 attacks. To do that, Bush must recognize the shades of gray that have marked the path behind and surely will mark the struggle ahead.

 

Missed Opportunities of Sept. 11

Jan. 13, 2002

The ouster of the Taliban and the disruption of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network may have bought the U.S. public some added safety four months after the Sept. 11 attacks. But those gains could prove illusory because George W. Bush has ignored the root causes of the violence.

Some of those root causes, such as the world’s unequal economic development, may require long-term attention. But others could have been addressed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 as fitting responses to the atrocities.

Missed, for instance, was the opportunity to call on the American people to commit themselves to serious energy conservation and thus to free the hand of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Bush also missed a unique opportunity to demand a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he has been silent about the danger of mixing politics with religious fundamentalism.

In each case, Bush displayed a lack of presidential vision or was frozen by the political and economic entanglements of his supporters.

Perhaps most significantly, at a time when Americans were eager to do something meaningful as a way to pay tribute to the 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks, Bush most memorably urged the U.S. public to go shopping and take vacations, a call made in a national address to Congress and now featured in tourist industry TV commercials.

The White House could have explained how the nation’s over-dependence on fossil fuels prevents the U.S. government from pressuring Arab states, especially the Saudi Arabians, to reform corrupt and authoritarian governments, one of most immediate causes for Islamic terrorism. But Bush has close ties to the oil industry, both in the United States and the Middle East.

The Saudi royal family and other undemocratic Arab regimes have long understood the leverage that oil gives them over the United States. The implicit deal was expressed bluntly in one State Department cable dated July 5, 1979.  “The basis of this relationship – our need for oil and the Saudi need for security – will continue,” predicted the cable. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Trick or Treason.]

To fulfill the U.S. side of the relationship, the CIA has collaborated with Saudi security forces by training palace guards and disrupting political opposition. The United States adopted similar relationships with other undemocratic leaders throughout the Middle East – from the Shah of Iran, before the 1979 Iranian revolution, to the Emir of Kuwait, who was reinstalled by a U.S.-led military force that reversed the Iraqi invasion in 1991.

In return for U.S.-supplied security, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have kept the oil flowing. But they also paid what amounts to protection money to Islamic fundamentalist leaders who share bin Laden’s hostility to the West. In effect, these “allies” subsidized bin Laden’s attacks on Americans.

Home Video

In December, when a home-made videotape was released of bin Laden speaking to guests, some Saudi clerics mentioned on the tape were “fairly influential and well-known,” according to Saudi experts quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

One Saudi religious leader, Suleiman al-Ulwan, who had been considered a moderate, is described on the tape as having issued a fatwa, or religious decree, that endorsed the Sept. 11 attacks and judged the dead Americans as not innocent. [WSJ, Dec. 19, 2001]

U.S. intelligence has been aware of the growing Saudi danger for years, at least since the 1990s when the Saudis frustrated U.S. efforts to investigate acts of terrorism emanating from Saudi soil.

In 1995, when a U.S.-run military school in Riyadh was bombed and five Americans were killed, the FBI rushed in agents to question four suspects. Before the questioning could begin, the Saudi government beheaded the suspects.

A similar lack of Saudi cooperation frustrated the investigation into the Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1998. [For a detailed account, see The New Yorker’s Jan. 14, 2002, article on former FBI counter-terrorist specialist John O’Neill, who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.]

Bin Laden himself is a Saudi whose family grew rich from construction contracts awarded by the Saudi king. He saw up close the decadence and corruption of the Saudi princes. These men preside over a system of strict Islamic law, even executing women who commit adultery, while the princes have wild parties during frequent trips to Europe and with Western women flown into the kingdom.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks also were Saudis. Yet U.S. diplomats still tiptoe around the issue of official Saudi complicity because the U.S. remains dependent on foreign oil and Saudi Arabia sits atop about a quarter of the world’s proven supply.

Curbing U.S. energy use would give U.S. diplomacy crucial maneuvering room to confront the Saudi royal family. By raising fuel-efficiency standards for motor vehicles and investing in alternative energy sources, the U.S. government also could improve relations with Western allies concerned about U.S. inaction on global warming.

The American people were ready to make the sacrifice after Sept. 11 if Bush had asked. Instead, Bush made no conservation appeal to the public and continued to oppose legislation that would require better gas mileage in cars.

In his new budget, he moves to cut government spending on alternative fuels and scraps a program to introduce high-mileage cars over the next few years. Instead, Bush will propose long-range research on fuel-cell technology whose promise is a decade or more down the road.

“They’re letting Detroit off the hook on delivering real fuel-economy breakthroughs in the next few years,” said Dan Reicher, assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration. “This is in exchange for potential improvements that are more than a decade off.” [Washington Post, Jan. 10, 2002]

Oil Pals

Besides giving car manufacturers a pass, Bush’s decision means oil consumption will remain high, a boon to Bush’s political backers from the Texas oil fields and their Arab business pals.

“Many of the same American corporate executives who have reaped millions of dollars from arms and oil deals with the Saudi monarchy have served or currently serve at the highest levels of U.S. government,” the Boston Herald reported in an investigative series.

“Those lucrative financial relationships call into question the ability of America’s political elite to make tough foreign policy decisions about the kingdom that produced Osama bin Laden and is perhaps the biggest incubator for anti-Western Islamic terrorists,” the Herald article said. “Nowhere is the revolving U.S.-Saudi money wheel more evident than within President Bush’s own coterie of foreign policy advisers, starting with the president’s father, George H.W. Bush.”

The former president has served as a senior adviser at the Carlyle Group, an investment house which employed other key Bush aides. One Carlyle consultant was James A. Baker III, George W. Bush’s chief lawyer in the Florida recount battle and his father’s secretary of state. Another was Colin Powell, the younger Bush’s secretary of state.

One of the deals between the Carlyle Group and the Saudi monarchy was an “Economic Offset Program,” a kind of kickback scheme in which U.S. arms manufacturers selling weapons to Saudi Arabia return some money as contracts to Saudi businesses, most with links to the royal family. The Carlyle Group served as an adviser on this program, the Herald article reported. [Boston Herald, Dec. 11, 2001]

Bush Oil-igarchy

The Bush family itself has built its wealth through the oil industry, going back more than half a century when a young George H.W. Bush moved his family from Connecticut to the oil fields of Midland, Texas. [For details, see "The Bush Family Oil-igarchy" at Consortiumnews.com]

George W. Bush has never forgotten the interests of those oil friends. During the first months of his administration, one of the few foreign policy initiatives that attracted his personal interest was the border conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a dispute that jeopardized the development of oil fields around the Caspian Sea.

The law firm representing the oil companies trying to extract that oil and build a pipeline was headed by James Baker, who had directed the bare-knuckled strategy for nailing down the Florida electoral votes that put Bush in the White House. The Bush administration’s coziness with the energy industry has been underscored again in the scandal surrounding the now-bankrupt Enron Corp.

Between the U.S. public’s dependence on foreign oil and the profits going to the U.S. economic elite in cahoots with oil-rich Arab sheiks, it may not be surprising that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has propped up a variety of anti-democratic and unsavory regimes.

This expedient view of democracy – that it is an important principle elsewhere but can’t be allowed to destabilize oil production – has given traction to anti-American charges in the Middle East that Washington is hypocritical about its most cherished principles or is simply prejudiced against Arabs.

Bush has avoided any public discussion of these thorny political realities in the Middle East. Instead, he has framed the post-Sept. 11 debate in the quasi-Christian language of a “crusade” to eradicate “evil,” with bin Laden as the “evil one.”

Politics & Religion

Another missed opportunity of Sept. 11 has come in Bush’s failure to explain the danger of mixing politics and religious fundamentalism.

Bush has urged Americans to avoid blaming all believers in Islam for the violence of some extremists. But Bush’s own close political ties to Christian fundamentalists are an obstacle for him in championing the American constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

The Founding Fathers devised this principle out of a close historical understanding of the bloody religious wars of Europe’s Dark Ages, the Inquisitions and the clashes among Christian faiths, as well as between Christians and Muslims. The principle recognized that the government should allow all to worship as they choose without the government promoting one religion over others.

By building a wall between religion and government, the Founders enabled the United States to avoid the worst of the internecine conflicts that have marred other societies with diverse populations. The Founders’ genius has fresh relevance today as a blueprint for how to function successfully as a society of differing religious beliefs.

Bush, however, cannot espouse this important principle without offending many of his Christian Right backers who view the separation of church and state as a “myth” that must be overturned. They demand the imposition of “Christian law,” much as Islamic fundamentalists do when they insist that only the words of the Koran can form the basis of government.

So Bush fudged on the discussion of Islamic fundamentalism, confining his critique to charges that bin Laden had “hijacked” the religion. Bush failed to delve more deeply into the complicated problem of fundamentalism, which does not arise only in Islam.

Other Fundamentalisms 

Islamic fundamentalism is mirrored by Jewish and Christian fundamentalism, movements that profess similar though contradictory certainties about God’s choice of them as the guardians of all that is right and just.

One of the major sore points between the West and the Islamic world has been the activism of Jewish fundamentalists in Israel. By placing settlements in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and denying Palestinians basic human dignity, these fundamentalists claim they are exercising a divine right to the land.

Bush appears incapable of drawing a line against this fundamentalism, partly because the Israeli Right and the American Christian Right have been closely allied since the late 1970s and 1980s. Sharing an interest in advancing conservative power in the United States, the leaders of Israel’s Likud Party, such as Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, threw in their lot with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

The alliance changed the political reality in both countries. A new harsh tone, driven by the certainty of religious fundamentalism, entered the politics of both the United States and Israel.

“Liberal Jewish peace activists, both in Israel and America, were denounced as traitors, and new alliances were forged with the Christian Evangelical right in the United States,” wrote journalist Robert I. Friedman in his 1992 book, Zealots for Zion. “Israel’s popular TV advertising slogan, ‘Come to Israel, stay with friends,’ was drowned out by Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s cry, ‘We don’t care what the goyim think!’”

Theocratic Agendas

In the U.S., Christian fundamentalists also escalated their political activism in opposition to America’s secular political traditions. Falwell’s Moral Majority and other Christian Right groups led campaigns to demonize feminists, homosexuals, “secular humanists” and liberals in general.

A key figure in supplying a mysterious flow of capital for this undertaking was the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean theocrat who espouses a totalitarian form of Christianity that would eradicate American democracy and place the world under his authority. While publicly avowing love for America, Moon privately tells his followers that America is “Satanic” and represents “Satan’s harvest.”

In one speech to his believers, Moon said his eventual dominance over the United States would be followed by the liquidation of American individualism.

“Americans who continue to maintain their privacy and extreme individualism are foolish people,” Moon declared. “The world will reject Americans who continue to be so foolish. Once you have this great power of love, which is big enough to swallow entire America, there may be some individuals who complain inside your stomach. However, they will be digested.”

Since 1982, Moon has financed one of the conservative movement’s most influential media outlets, The Washington Times, as a way to build popular support for conservative politicians and undermine liberals and centrists. Moon also subsidized conservative direct-mail operations and sponsored conferences that paid money to influential politicians.

The Reagan-Bush administration worked closely with Moon’s apparatus. Ronald Reagan called Moon’s Times his “favorite” newspaper. After leaving office, George H.W. Bush gave paid speeches in support of Moon, including an appearance in Argentina where Bush hailed Moon’s Washington Times for bringing “sanity” to Washington and called Moon “the man with the vision.” [For details, see "The Dark Side of Rev. Moon" series at Consortiumnews.com]

With devastating effect, Moon and more traditional Christian fundamentalists have targeted political leaders associated with “liberalism.” For instance, President Clinton was pursued for eight years in a relentless campaign to destroy him and his political influence.

Paula Jones

One of the Christian fundamentalist groups joining in the anti-Clinton assaults was the Rutherford Institute, which was inspired by the teachings of Rousas John Rushdoony, an advocate of Christian Reconstructionism, a movement that would replace democracy with “Biblical law.”

The Rutherford Institute financed the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Clinton. Rutherford’s leader John Whitehead, who appeared on cable news shows on behalf of Jones, has advocated the reorganization of the United States as a “Christian Nation.”

In his book, The Separation Illusion, Whitehead opposes religious pluralism and argues that the doctrine of separation of church and state causes “the true God” to be an “outcast” and a “criminal.”  [See Frederick Clarkson’s “Paula’s Onward-Marching Christian Soldiers” at Consortiumnews.com]

In his political rise, George W. Bush cultivated Christian fundamentalists by wearing his born-again religious fervor on his sleeve.

Bush courted Christian Right leaders with speeches at leading fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones University in South Carolina. He won Robertson’s key backing in defeating Sen. John McCain’s primary challenge.

Bush also enjoyed the strong support of Moon’s Washington Times, which aggressively promoted stories questioning Al Gore’s mental stability and his supposed tendency toward “delusions.” [See “Al Gore vs. the Media” at Consortiumnews.com]

Since taking power in January, Bush has rewarded his Christian Right followers. He has chipped away at the church-state separation by touting his “faith-based” initiative to put government money into religious organizations engaged in social services.

Bush imposed strict limits on federally funded stem-cell research. He named fundamentalist-favorite John Ashcroft to be attorney general. And Bush has vowed to appoint conservative anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Separation of church and state may be a principle that shines with new relevance today amid the bloodshed that stretches from Jerusalem to Kabul to New York City. But Bush has failed to explain the principle’s practical logic to the world.

Israel-Palestine

Bush also has failed on a third front, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, again letting politics and ideology obscure a possible route to a solution.

During his first months in office, Bush repudiated Clinton’s Middle East policy of pressing for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Clinton’s policy had been staunchly opposed by right-wing commentators, such as the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, a neoconservative supporter of Israel.

Bush chose to follow the hard-line strategy against the Palestinians charted by Krauthammer and others. Some foreign-policy sources say Bush picked that route out of a belief that his father lost in 1992, in part, because of Israel’s suspicion that the elder Bush privately favored the oil-rich Arab countries and couldn’t be trusted.

Possibly with 2004 in mind, Bush cast aside any appearance of balance in the first several months of his presidency. Bush singled out Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat for primary blame for the continued Israeli-Palestinian violence and essentially let Likud leader Ariel Sharon off the hook.

Bush voiced no public sympathy for the worsening conditions of Palestinians living in the squalor of Gaza and other fenced-in areas. In early September, Bush ordered U.S. diplomats to walk out of a United Nations racism conference because of draft language criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The tragedy of Sept. 11 did not alter Bush’s basic strategy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many Americans might have favored a stern demand to both sides to accept a reasonable compromise that protected Israel’s security while granting the Palestinians an economically viable homeland – or perhaps a solution that forged a single secular state with constitutional protections for all religions.

But Bush made no such move. His emissaries continued to insist that cease-fires of specific lengths were necessary before more substantive negotiations. However, the time limits turned into deadlines for Islamic suicide bombers to inflict bloody outrages against Israeli civilians. The Israeli government then responded with helicopter attacks and targeted killings of Palestinian leaders.

Four months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush seems clueless about how to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Meanwhile, the post-Sept. 11 public pressure for action has dissipated and the tit-for-tat killings have taken on a grim look of business as usual.

Missed Warnings

Not only has Bush failed to address the larger threats that continue to give rise to terrorism, he did not protect the United States from the Sept. 11 attacks themselves.

Though columnist Andrew Sullivan and other conservative writers have gone to great lengths to blame former President Clinton for failing to stop the Sept. 11 attacks, the reality is that the Clinton administration did thwart previous attacks, including the millennium bombers, and waged covert campaigns to disrupt and kill leaders of al Qaeda.

While Clinton and his predecessors can be faulted for not doing more about terrorism, George W. Bush deserves blame for ignoring the more immediate dangers. It wasn’t as if there were no warnings.

On Jan. 31, 2001, just 11 days after Bush’s inauguration, former Sens. Gary Hart and Warren Rudman unveiled the final report of a blue-ribbon commission on terrorism that bluntly warned that urgent steps were needed to prevent an attack on U.S. cities.

“States, terrorists and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction, and some will use them,” the report said. “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Hart specifically noted that the nation was vulnerable to “a weapon of mass destruction in a high-rise building.”

Little, however, was done. Between a news media that still obsessed over “Clinton scandals,” such as the later debunked stories of his aides “trashing” the White House, and a new Bush administration focused on domestic concerns, such as tax cuts, the warning drew scant attention.

When congressional hearings on the findings were set for early May, the Bush administration intervened to stop them, an article in the Columbia Journalism Review reported. Presumably, Bush did not want to seem behind the curve.

So, instead of embracing the Hart-Rudman findings and getting to work on the recommendations, Bush set up a White House committee, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, to examine the issue again and submit a report in the fall.

Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had joined President Clinton in creating the Hart-Rudman panel, acknowledged that Bush’s actions delayed progress. “The administration actually slowed down response to Hart-Rudman when momentum was building in the spring,” said Gingrich in an interview cited by the CJR study of press coverage of the terrorism issue.

Alarm Bells

By late spring 2001, other alarm bells were ringing.

Credible evidence of what became the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks began pouring in to U.S. intelligence agencies. “It all came together in the third week of June,” said Richard Clarke, who was the White House coordinator for counter-terrorism. “The CIA’s view was that a major terrorist attack was coming in the next several weeks.” [See The New Yorker, Jan. 14, 2002]

The intelligence community also learned that two suspected terrorists had penetrated the United States, but the FBI could not find them.

As these dangers grew, Bush focused not on terrorism but on stem-cell research and other domestic issues that played well with his Christian Right allies. Bush took off the month of August for a working vacation that interspersed relaxation on his Texas ranch with his speech on stem-cell policy and trips to non-coastal cities to praise “heartland” values.

Former Sen. Hart tried to rekindle interest in what he viewed as the pressing threat of terrorism. On Sept, 6, he went to the White House for a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and urged the White House to move faster. Rice agreed to pass on Hart’s concerns to higher-ups.

Five days later, despite all the warnings, Bush and his administration were caught flatfooted. Two of America’s greatest landmarks were leveled, with thousands of people killed. For the first time in history, the Pentagon was attacked and partially destroyed.

After the attacks, however, the nation rallied around Bush. He won praise for unleashing the U.S. military against Afghanistan and pulling together a coalition that backed the war. Ironically, the attacks that his administration had done nothing to stop boosted Bush’s approval ratings to historically high levels.

God’s Will

The news media’s praise for Bush was unbridled. On Dec. 23, 2001, for instance, NBC’s Tim Russert joined New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and First Lady Laura Bush in ruminating about whether divine intervention had put Bush in the White House to handle this crisis.

Russert asked Mrs. Bush if “in an extraordinary way, this is why he was elected.” Mrs. Bush disagreed with Russert’s suggestion that “God picks the president, which he doesn’t.”

Giuliani thought otherwise. “I do think, Mrs. Bush, that there was some divine guidance in the president being elected. I do,” the mayor said.

McCarrick also saw some larger purpose. “I think I don’t thoroughly agree with the first lady. I think that the president really, he was where he was when we needed him,” the cardinal said.

Theologically speaking, it was less clear why God didn’t simply let Bush actually be elected, rather than having him get a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to stop the vote count in Florida – or why God didn’t give Bush the foresight to act on the Hart-Rudman warnings so he could thwart the terrorist attacks altogether.

More mundane realities can explain Bush’s subsequent failure in squandering an unparalleled opportunity to take decisive action against some of the root causes that have fed – and will continue to feed – terrorism. The hard fact is that Bush, weighed down with political and ideological baggage, missed the moment.

 

Bush’s New War Lies

Sept. 10, 2003

In a healthy democracy, the grave act of going to war wouldn’t be justified under false pretenses and false impressions. Plus, government officials responsible for spreading false rationales wouldn’t be allowed to slide away from the first batch of lies and distortions to begin offering a new set of slippery excuses.

But the United States is not a healthy democracy at this time. It is dominated by a politician who chooses to manipulate rather than lead; who would rather trick the people into following him than engage them in a meaningful debate; who has demonstrated such a shallow regard for democracy that he took office despite losing the national popular vote and then only by blocking a full counting of ballots in one key state.

A healthy democracy wouldn’t put up with this trifling of the people’s will. But in today’s United States, there appears to be little shame in gullibility. Indeed, for some, it is a mark of patriotism. Others just act oblivious to their duties as citizens to be informed about even basic facts, even when the consequences are as severe as those of wartime.

This sad state of affairs was highlighted in a new Washington Post poll, which found that seven in 10 Americans still believe that Iraq’s ousted leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks although U.S. investigators have found no evidence of a connection.

As the Post notes, this widely held public misperception explains why many Americans continue to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq even as the other principal casus belli – trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction – has collapsed. [Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2003.]

Bush’s Speech

The search for Iraq’s WMD apparently has become such a farce that George W. Bush barely mentioned it during his nationally televised speech on Sunday.

He slipped into the past tense in saying the former regime “possessed and used weapons of mass destruction,” without attaching a year or a decade to his statement. Iraq’s alleged use of chemical weapons dates back to the 1980s and its possession of effective WMD may have ended in the 1990s, according to some information that U.S. intelligence has received from former senior Iraqi officials.

While downplaying the WMD case, however, Bush continued to work the subliminal connection between the 9/11 murders and Iraq.

Indeed, after listening to Bush on Sunday juxtapose references to the 9/11 murders, their al-Qaeda perpetrators and Iraq, it shouldn’t be surprising how seven out of 10 Americans got the wrong idea. It’s pretty clear that Bush intended them to get the wrong idea. In speech after speech, Bush has sought to create public confusion over these connections.

Though no Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks two years ago – and though Osama bin Laden and most of the attackers were Saudis – Bush and his top aides routinely have inserted references about Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the same paragraphs. They often used unsubstantiated assertions that Iraq was sharing or planning to share WMD with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda as the connection.

That practice of blending Sept. 11 with Iraq continued into Bush’s speech Sunday night defending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and asking for $87 billion more to pay for it. “Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn,” Bush said. “We have carried the fight to the enemy.”

Given that Iraq was the context of the speech, a casual listener would assume that Iraq attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States was simply hitting back. An average American, who wasn’t steeped in the facts of the Middle East, would be left with the impression that Saddam Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were allies.

The reality is that Hussein and bin Laden were bitter rivals. Hussein ran a secular state that brutally suppressed the Islamic fundamentalism that drives al-Qaeda. Indeed, many of the atrocities committed by Hussein’s government were done to suppress Islamic fundamentalists, particularly from Iraq’s large Shia population.

Bin Laden despised Hussein as an “infidel” who was repressing bin Laden’s supporters and corrupting the Islamic world with Western ways.

Bush History

Other inconvenient facts that Bush has left out of all his speeches about Iraq include that his father, George H.W. Bush, was one of the U.S. officials in the 1980s who was assisting and encouraging Hussein in his bloody war with Iran to contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

The younger Bush also doesn’t mention that the CIA and its allies in Pakistani intelligence – not Iraqis – were involved in training al-Qaeda fundamentalists in the arts of explosives and other skills useful to terrorists. That was part of the U.S. covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Bush also trusts that the American people will have forgotten that other little embarrassment of the Iran-Contra Affair, when the elder Bush and President Reagan were involved in a secret policy of shipping missiles to Iran’s government. At the time, Iran’s Islamic fundamentalist regime was designated a terrorist state by the U.S. government.

Nor does the public hear much about how the U.S. government taught the dictators of Saudi Arabia techniques of suppressing political dissent to keep that oil-rich kingdom in pro-U.S. hands. Saudi leaders also financed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East as part of the Saudi strategy for buying protection for their dictatorial powers.

Out of this mix of repression and corruption emerged an embittered Osama bin Laden, a scion of a leading Saudi family who turned against his former patrons.

If Americans knew more about this convoluted history, they might draw a very different conclusion than the one George W. Bush wants them to draw. Rather than seeing black-hatted villains who need a taste of Bush’s Western-style justice, the American people might conclude that Bush’s father and other top U.S. officials were at least as implicated in supporting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.

Indeed, if the full history were known, Hussein might appear less like a rogue leader than a U.S. client who was useful during his violent rise to power but then went awry. Not only did the CIA collaborate with Hussein’s Baathist Party as a bulwark against communism in the 1960s and 1970s, but Hussein personally sought U.S. advice at key moments from the 1980s to as late as 1990.

In ordering invasions of two neighboring countries – Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 – Hussein may well have believed he had received “green lights” from the United States. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Missing U.S.-Iraq History."]

U.S. intelligence also understood the implausibility of Hussein sharing WMD with his arch Islamic fundamentalist rivals. A year ago, a CIA assessment was released acknowledging this reality.

 The CIA told Congress that Hussein would not share weapons of mass destruction with Islamic terrorists unless he saw a U.S. invasion as inevitable. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Misleading the Nation to War."]

In seeking to manipulate U.S. public opinion now, however, the Bush administration has done all it can to “lose” this history and these nuances. With a few exceptions, the U.S. news media has gone along, as journalists appear more interested in proving their “patriotism” – and keeping their high-paying jobs – than telling the full story.

The American people have been fed a steady diet of false impressions and misleading arguments.

New Half Truths

Now, as the bloody reality of conquering Iraq intrudes on the pre-war fantasies of happy Iraqis showering U.S. troops with rose petals, the administration’s misleading rhetoric has switched from exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s government to exaggerating the gains attributable to the invasion.

New half-truths and lies are quickly replacing the old ones, lest Americans begin to wonder how they got fooled by the earlier bogus rationales. In Bush’s speech Sunday night, he highlighted two of these new arguments for a long-term military occupation of Iraq.

One of the new reasons is that the resistance to the U.S. occupation can be attributed to two groups – die-hard Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists slipping into Iraq.

“Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows,” Bush said. “Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations.”

But what Bush leaves out is that there is a third force in Iraq: nationalist Iraqis who resent foreign occupation of their country. Many of them had no fondness for Hussein and may have welcomed the overthrow of the brutal dictator.

Some of these nationalists may have served in Iraq’s army while others appear to be young Iraqis who have begun fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq much as young Palestinians have battled the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Other Iraqi fighters may be driven by revenge for the thousands of Iraqis killed in the U.S. invasion.

This likelihood of widespread resistance was known by Bush and his advisers before the war. “U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation, according to administration and congressional sources familiar with the reports,” the Washington Post reported on Sept. 9, 2003.

But this information shared the fate of other facts that didn’t support Bush’s propaganda themes. It disappeared. The American people now are supposed to believe that the resistance is only a mixture of Saddam “dead-enders” and “foreign terrorists.”

The second new myth is that by killing “terrorists” in Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. homeland will be made safer. “The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans,” Bush said Sunday night. “We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”

While this argument is another not-so-subtle appeal to the residual fears from Sept. 11, 2001, and America’s hunger for revenge, it is not a logical formulation. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that killing Iraqis and other Middle Easterners in Iraq won’t incite other people to attack Americans in the United States or elsewhere. Indeed, many savvy U.S. military analysts expect just such a response as revenge for the deaths inflicted by Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

It also is clear that Bush still is resisting the time-tested lessons of counterinsurgency — that blunt force is no more likely to achieve peace than is abject cowardice, that peace and security are achieved through a combination of factors: a measured application of force combined with a sensible strategy for achieving political justice and economic improvements.

History also teaches that there are limits of national power no matter how noble a cause might be, that in geopolitics as in personal lives, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

In Bush’s televised speech, however, he presented the ongoing war as a choice of weakness or strength, good or evil, with no sense of the subtleties of history or the gray areas of past diplomacy. “We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness,” Bush said.

P.R. Tricks

Beyond the speech, the Bush administration has issued reports that engage in such obvious P.R. tricks that they must assume the American people have the sophistication of pre-schoolers.

For instance, to commemorate Aug. 8, the 100th day since Bush donned his flight suit and celebrated “mission accomplished,” the White House released a report entitled “Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom.” The paper, which offered 10 reasons in 10 categories to support the thesis, declared “substantial progress is being made on all fronts.”

The artificial construct, requiring 10 reasons in each of the 10 categories, led to much stretching of facts and some repetition of examples. For instance, Reason No. 9 under “signs of cultural rebirth” used a quote from a member of Baghdad’s city council declaring that “if you want to civilize society, you must care about education.” The same trite-and-true quote crops up again three pages later as another example in another category.

But more significantly, the report repeats much of the elliptical reasoning and selective intelligence used before the war to exaggerate Iraq’s WMD threat and to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda.

“Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world,” the report asserts. “The old Iraqi regime defied the international community and 17 U.N. resolutions for 12 years and gave every indication that it would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.”

There is no acknowledgment in the report that U.S. troops have failed to find any WMD. Nor is there any reference to the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix, believed that Iraq was demonstrating greater compliance in the weeks before the U.S. invasion, or that the invasion was carried out in defiance of a majority on the U.N. Security Council.

The White House report also continues to use selective information to support the administration’s case, while leaving out contrary facts or a fuller context.

For instance, the report states that “a senior al-Qaeda terrorist, now detained, who had been responsible for al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, reports that al-Qaeda was intent on obtaining WMD assistance from Iraq.” The report leaves out the fact that nothing resulted from this overture.

The report also repeats the story that an al-Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, but leaves out that no evidence has surfaced that the Iraqi government was aware of his presence or cooperated with him.

Similarly, the report notes that “a safe haven in Iraq belonging to Ansar al-Islam – a terrorist group closely associated with Zarqawi and al-Qaeda – was destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Left out is that the Ansar al-Islam base was in a northern section of Iraq that was outside the control of the Baghdad government and under the protection of a U.S. no-fly zone.

But the report, like Bush’s Sunday speech, is just another indication that the administration never wanted a real debate about its war policy in Iraq. The goal has always been to tilt the evidence – often with a dose of public abuse for anyone who asks too many questions – so the American people can be herded like sheep into Bush’s desired direction.

Weakened Democracy

As the nation plunges deeper into a costly and bloody war, there is little about this process that resembles a healthy – or even meaningful – democracy. Though Bush claims that his goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, he apparently thinks very little of the process at home. Rather than invite a full debate, he tries to rig the process to manufacture consent.

Bush’s contempt for an informed electorate on the issue of war in the Middle East also doesn’t stand alone. In December 2000, his respect for democracy didn’t even extend to the basic principle that in a democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins.

Not only did Bush lose the popular vote to Al Gore by more than a half million ballots, Bush blocked a full and fair counting of votes in Florida for the simple reason that he was afraid of losing. Instead, he ran to his father’s powerful friends on the U.S. Supreme Court and got them to shut down the troublesome recount, which had been ordered by the state supreme court. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "So Bush Did Steal the White House."]

But Bush is only partly to blame for this steep decline in American democratic traditions and for the nation’s stumble into the dangerous quicksand of a Middle East occupation.

As in any democracy – even a troubled one – it remains the ultimate responsibility of the people to shoulder the burden of citizenship, which includes getting the facts and acting on them. That responsibility also demands that the people hold politicians accountable when they lead the country to war with lies and distortions.

9/11’s Dark Window to the Future

Sept. 11, 2006

As the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks unfolds, it has come to look less like a sad remembrance of the past and more like a troubling glimpse into the future, a window to a new-age totalitarianism that looms before the United States, where a powerful right-wing government tells lies aided and abetted by friendly media corporations.

So, even as the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee finally acknowledge some of the many Iraq War falsehoods told by George W. Bush and his senior advisers, Bush’s misfeasance and malfeasance are obscured by Disney’s ABC-TV “docu-drama” pinning most of the blame for the 9/11 catastrophe not on Bush, but on Democrats.

With Disney’s selection of a right-wing director and with the secrecy that surrounded the project – that gave Democrats little time to react – “The Path to 9/11” also had the sickening feel of a collaboration between a giant corporation and the Republican government in power.

So, less than two months before a pivotal national election, with Americans increasingly wondering how the nation got into the mess it faces today, this joint project of Disney and pro-Bush operatives provides a narrative that focuses not on Bush blowing off CIA warnings of an impending attacks in 2001 but on events dating back to 1993.

“The Path to 9/11,” which ABC touted as a public service shown “with no commercial interruptions,” makes some of its right-wing judgments with sneering asides from characters, such as wondering if Attorney General Janet Reno had “any balls,” and others by mixing real and fabricated events to put Democrats in the worst possible light.

When the mysterious project finally was unveiled to mainstream media reviewers and when Democrats started complaining about fabricated scenes, the right-wing media responded with a counter-attack accusing the protesting Democrats of threatening the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

In other words, at a time when Republicans control the White House, the Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and increasingly the American media, the Democrats still get transformed into the ones threatening free speech, for protesting their harsh and at times false depiction in events that led to the deaths of almost 3,000 people.

Looking Forward

Media manipulation also appears likely to play a major part in the Republican strategy for beating back Democratic challenges in the Nov. 7 election. In the eight weeks ahead, Republicans can be expected to exploit their financial and media advantages to wage personal attacks against Democratic challengers, district by district, state by state.

About four months ago, a Republican political operative told me about this strategy to “disqualify” Democratic candidates through a combination of negative research, called “oppo,” and the timely dissemination of attack lines to conservative allies in the local and national media. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Democrats Lose.]

The pattern first surfaced in a special congressional election near San Diego, where Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham had resigned over a lobbying-bribery scandal and gone to prison.

To succeed Cunningham, the Republicans boldly put up a professional lobbyist, Brian Bilbray, while Democrats chose Francine Busby, who was counseled by Democratic consultants to avoid controversial Democratic positions in a traditionally Republican district. Democrats felt that Cunningham’s disgrace would be enough to guarantee success.

Indeed, despite a lackluster campaign, Busby appeared headed for victory. But then she blurted out to a mostly Latino audience that “you don’t need papers for voting,” hastily clarifying her meaning to say “you don’t need to be a registered voter to help.”

Conservative radio and TV talk show hosts across southern California seized on Busby’s verbal slip and began accusing her of urging illegal immigrants to vote. Busby then spent the last several days of the campaign apologizing and backtracking before losing by about four percentage points. [Washington Post, June 7, 2006]

In explaining Busby’s defeat, some Democratic activists raised suspicions that the election had been stolen by Republican vote fraud (though no hard evidence materialized). National Democratic consultants also pointed to the fact that the Republican Congressional Committee pumped more than $4.5 million into the district.

But whatever the truth, the Republicans had tested out their 2006 model for victory – and for continued one-party rule in Washington. They would exploit their advantages in finances, media and campaign tactics to prevent the Democrats from achieving a majority in either the House or Senate.

‘Defining’ Democrats

In a front-page article on Sept. 10, 2006, the Washington Post added more details about this Republican strategy: “Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.”

The Post reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee had earmarked more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget to negative advertising that would disseminate the findings of researchers who have been combing through tax and legal records searching for exploitable themes against Democrats.

“The hope is that a vigorous effort to ‘define’ opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall,” the Post wrote.

An early example of the strategy has been a Republican ad directed against physician Steve Kagen, a Democratic congressional candidate in Wisconsin who is being labeled “Dr. Millionaire” because over the years his allergy clinic has sued 80 patients, mostly for unpaid bills.

Against inexperienced or little-known Democratic candidates, “it will take one or two punches to fold them up like a cheap suit,” Republican strategist Matt Keelen told the Post. [Washington Post, Sept. 19, 2006]

The Republicans also have a huge advantage because their negative themes reverberate through a giant right-wing media megaphone that extends from the national level down to the states and districts, where Republicans have identified specific hosts on local right-wing radio stations and friendly newspaper editors.

I was told that Republican operatives have an apparatus to electronically communicate instantaneous talking points to these local media outlets, promoting “bad votes” or exploitable quotes from individual Democratic candidates. Republicans will be putting negative spins on Democratic candidates before the Democrats can even reach a microphone.

The Left’s Failure

By contrast, the Democratic response mechanism – concentrated mostly on personal Internet sites and under-funded Air America Radio stations – is amateurish and relatively slow. Much of it depends on volunteers with day jobs finding time to do a little blogging.

While the Right has built up its media machinery over three decades, spending billions of dollars and integrating its media with its political operations, the Left has invested sparingly on media and focused mostly on “grassroots organizing.”

In effect, the Left counted on the mainstream news media to provide the necessary information and thus ceded control of the national narrative, while the Right created its own narrative and aggressively pressured the mainstream media to go along, labeling any out-of-step journalists as “liberal.”

The consequences of these two competing strategies cannot be overstated. Beyond enabling the Right to build a political following with consistent messages day in and day out, its media machine gives the Right enormous advantages at key moments, such as during a run-up to war or in the weeks before an election.

Increasingly, too, the mainstream media finds itself under the influence of the Right’s narrative and under pressure to accept the Right’s “facts.” Individual journalists may first bend their coverage to the Right to avoid the career-threatening “liberal” label but often even that doesn’t work.

Eventually, targeted news personalities, such as Dan Rather, get weeded out and replaced with unthreatening ciphers, like Katie Couric, who, in turn, put opinion segments on the CBS Evening News that range from Thomas L. Friedman, an Iraq War hawk with some second thoughts, to Rush Limbaugh, an Iraq War hawk with no second thoughts.

In another sign of the times, Disney, which has faced right-wing attacks for supposed tolerance of homosexuality and for some executives who have contributed to Democrats, turned to a Limbaugh friend, Cyrus Nowrasteh, to direct its docu-drama on 9/11.

Disney saw little downside in promoting a favorite right-wing theme – blaming the 9/11 attacks on Democratic President Bill Clinton – despite the evidence that Clinton took the al-Qaeda threat much more seriously than did Bush, who famously brushed aside warnings from the CIA and downplayed terrorism in his first eight months in office.

As another favor to the Right – and as proof that the motive wasn’t financial – Disney’s ABC-TV presented its anti-Clinton mini-series without commercial breaks. It is inconceivable that Disney or any media corporation would give similar treatment to a TV special that worked as hard to put Bush in an unfavorable light.

Fake Testimony

On a smaller scale but also instructive, right-wing operatives continue to spread a disinformation campaign that has doctored Iran-Contra testimony to have former White House aide Oliver North prophetically describing his concerns about terrorist Osama bin Laden in 1987 – while Democrats, supposedly including then-Sen. Al Gore, behave cluelessly.

Over the past five years, I have been asked about this supposed North testimony at least a dozen times. Heading into the 9/11 anniversary, the North “testimony” was circulating again, distributed widely across the Internet as further “evidence” of Republican farsightedness and Democratic fecklessness.

But North did not cite concerns about bin Laden in 1987, when bin Laden was actually a U.S. ally receiving military assistance from the Reagan administration to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. North’s concerns were about another terrorist, named Abu Nidal. Sen. Gore also wasn’t on the Iran-Contra committee.

Yet, this bogus history – much like the Disney docu-drama and Bush’s longstanding lies about Iraq – are combining in big ways and small to create an Orwellian future for the American people.

Internationally, Bush has outlined an endless war against the vague concept of “Islamic fascists” with the underlying reality that the United States is committing itself to a bloody “World War III” against many of the world’s one billion Muslims.

At home, Karl Rove and other Republican strategists project what effectively will be a one-party state, with the Republicans controlling all branches of government, using the federal courts to redefine the Constitution and keeping Democrats around as foils and boogey men to stir up the conservative base with warnings about the enemy within.

On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush and his Republican supporters are trying hard to revive the lost sentimental unity that followed the attacks. But the saddest legacy of that tragic day may be that it marked the path toward the end of the noble American Republic and the start of a new totalitarianism.

 

Did al-Qaeda Succeed?

Sept. 11, 2008

Ten years after the neoconservatives laid out plans for permanent U.S. global dominance – and seven years after the brutal 9/11 attacks gave them the opening to carry out those plans – the neocons instead have guided the United States onto the shoals of a political/military disaster and the prospect of rapid decline.

 This grim result from the neocons’ overreach is an unstated subtext of the U.S. intelligence community’s project for assessing the world in 2025, a point 17 years into the future when the United States is likely to have lost its current world dominance, according to a preview offered by the government’s top intelligence analyst.

Speaking at a Sept. 4 conference in Orlando, Florida, Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said the United States might still be “the preeminent power” in 2025, but that “American dominance will be much diminished.”

Further, Fingar projected that the United States would see the greatest declines in the most important areas of global influence, the economic and the cultural, while likely maintaining military supremacy, which would be of lesser importance.

“The overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjoyed in the international system in military, political, economic, and arguably, cultural arenas is eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace with the partial exception of military,” Fingar said.

“But part of the argument here is that by 15 years from now, the military dimension will remain the most preeminent [but] will be the least significant – or much less significant than it is now.”

In other words, U.S. intelligence is looking toward a future in which the United States may serve as the world’s policeman, but without the more subtle and profitable influence that comes from economic, cultural and political strength – known as “soft power.”

Though Fingar did not tie the “accelerating” erosion of American power to the policies of the neocons and the Bush administration, it is hard to avoid that conclusion.

In 1998, the neocons were unveiling their Project for the New American Century with its vision of never-ending U.S. global dominance. When potential threats did arise, the neocons argued, the United States must react with “preemptive wars,” striking before a rival could pose a serious threat.

After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush embraced these neocon theories, vowing to not just exact revenge on the 9/11 perpetrators but to wage a “global war on terrorism” with the ultimate goal of eradicating “evil” itself.

Quick Pivot

So, after invading Afghanistan and blasting al-Qaeda base camps, Bush made a quick pivot toward Iraq to fulfill the neocon dream of eliminating Saddam Hussein, a longtime thorn in Washington’s side.

The U.S. occupation of Iraq also would establish an American military outpost “East of Suez,” projecting U.S. power into the region, guaranteeing access to its oil and protecting Israel from its Muslim neighbors.

However, the neocons’ neocolonial strategy foundered on the rocks of Iraq’s violent resistance and sectarian warfare. More than five years into the conflict, about 140,000 American troops are tied down in Iraq while a force of about 30,000 U.S. troops finds itself facing worsening security in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders not only survived the U.S. retaliatory strikes after 9/11 but exploited the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq to reestablish themselves inside Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country.

The damage to U.S. interests also extends beyond the war zones. The military adventures are putting the U.S. government more than $1 trillion deeper into debt, drawing away resources that the United States desperately needs to retool its industries, develop alternative energy sources and improve its education, infrastructure and health care.

Plus, the neocon hubris about American dominance has alienated much of the world’s population, squandering goodwill built up since World War II. Instead of the nation that established the Nuremberg principles and wrote the United Nations Charter, the United States is seen as the country of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and torture.

In almost every corner of the globe – and especially in strategic regions such as Europe and the Middle East – respect for the United States as a beacon of political freedom and international progress has fallen to historic lows.

While the rest of the world appears eager to get on with expanded commerce and technological competition, the United States looks like it can’t stop clumsily throwing its military weight around, amid chants of “USA, USA.”

So, as U.S. intelligence continues work on its projections for 2025, the nation finds itself at a crossroads. It can give the neocons around John McCain another four-year lease on the White House – so they can keep doing what they’ve been doing – or the country can take another direction.

As Fingar made clear in his Sept. 4 speech, the future of 2025 is not yet set in stone. It is only the intelligence community’s best estimate based on current dynamics. If those dynamics change, so can the future.

Still, it appears that if al-Qaeda’s motive in attacking New York and Washington on 9/11 was to bait the United States into self-destructive actions in the Middle East and thus undermine America’s position in the world, bin Laden and his associates may have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

 

The Real Lessons of 9/11

Sept. 11, 2009

On this eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s worth reflecting on how even a mildly competent U.S. President might have prevented the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and drove the United States into a spasm of revenge that has wasted untold blood and treasure. 

The evidence of George W. Bush’s incompetence has emerged from official investigations, court cases and memoirs from key insiders but often has attracted less attention than the speculative arguments from conspiracy theorists about the 9/11 attacks being “an inside job.”

Ironically, it was the evidence of Bush’s stunning incompetence that gave momentum to the so-called “9/11 truth movement,” which argued that the U.S. government couldn’t be that inept and that therefore the Bush administration must have been complicit in the attacks.

That assumption then gave rise to a cottage industry of bizarre theories – such as “no plane hit the Pentagon” and “the Twin Towers were destroyed by controlled demolitions” – claims that have invited debunking by scientists and engineers and thus obscured a more important truth: that by 2001 a dangerous confluence of political factors had carried the United States to a place where Bush’s swaggering bluster and neoconservative ideology were positioned to exploit the nation’s fear and anger with disastrous results.

The real lesson learned from 9/11 perhaps should be that rational behavior and competence matter – and that their willful rejection by a major political party (in this case, the Republicans), a sizable portion of the U.S. news media, and a large chunk of the American electorate – can have devastating consequences for the nation and the world.

That is a lesson which also remains relevant today as right-wing extremists continue their takeover of the Republican Party with the help of a powerful right-wing media machine.

Despite electoral reversals in 2006 and 2008, the Republicans seem bound to Bush’s true legacy – the notion that words can reshape reality as long as you have a big enough media megaphone to shout out and repeat the distortions.

And, to a surprising degree, “the 9/11 truth movement” shared a common interest with the Bush administration – both groups needed to dismiss the evidence of Bush’s incompetence, albeit for different reasons.

Bush’s backers understood that incompetence was the President’s Achilles’s heel as would be revealed in the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in summer 2005 and from his inept management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The “truthers” also had a stake in ignoring the evidence of Bush’s incompetence, since their theories were dependent on the notion that Bush and his team were evil masterminds who had pulled off and then concealed the most audacious conspiracy in world history.

An Arrogant Buffoon?

The acceptance of the alternative interpretation – that Bush was an arrogant buffoon who rejected warnings about al-Qaeda terrorism in part because President Bill Clinton thought the issue was important – would have undermined both the Bush administration’s bid for a second term and “the 9/11 truth movement.”

So the Bush team tried to conceal many of the embarrassing facts and went on the attack against insiders – like ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke – who pulled aside the curtain on internal White House workings.

The administration’s foot-dragging and name-calling kept much of the strongest evidence of incompetence under wraps until after Election 2004. In the years that followed, however, more and more evidence spilled out.

For instance, during the penalty phase of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial, it was revealed that FBI agent Harry Samit, who interrogated Moussaoui weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, sent 70 warnings to his superiors about suspicions that Moussaoui had been taking flight training in Minnesota because he was planning to hijack a plane for a terrorist operation.

But FBI officials in Washington showed “criminal negligence” in blocking requests for a search warrant on Moussaoui’s computer or taking other preventive action, Samit testified at the court hearing on March 20, 2006.

Samit’s futile warnings matched the frustrations of other federal agents in Minnesota and Arizona who had gotten wind of al-Qaeda’s scheme to train pilots for operations in the United States.

For instance, FBI headquarters blew off a prescient memo from an FBI agent in the Phoenix field office. The July 2001 memo warned of the “possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama Bin Laden” to send student pilots to the United States. The agent noted “an inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” attending American flight schools.

CIA Warnings

Separate from the FBI field agents, CIA analysts were piecing the same puzzle together from tips, intercepts and other scraps of information.

By July 10, senior CIA counterterrorism officials, including Cofer Black, had collected a body of intelligence that they presented to CIA Director George Tenet, as Tenet recounted in his 2007 memoir, At the Center of the Storm.

“The briefing [Black] gave me literally made my hair stand on end,” Tenet wrote. “When he was through, I picked up the big white secure phone on the left side of my desk – the one with a direct line to [National Security Adviser] Condi Rice – and told her that I needed to see her immediately to provide an update on the al-Qa’ida threat.”

After reaching the White House, a CIA briefer, identified in the book only as Rich B., started his presentation by saying: “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!”

Rich B. then displayed a chart showing “seven specific pieces of intelligence gathered over the past 24 hours, all of them predicting an imminent attack,” Tenet wrote. The briefer presented another chart with “the more chilling statements we had in our possession through intelligence.”

These comments included a mid-June statement by Osama bin Laden to trainees about an attack in the near future; talk about decisive acts and a “big event”; and fresh intelligence about predictions of “a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead,” Tenet wrote.

Rich B. told Rice that the attack will be “spectacular” and designed to inflict heavy casualties against U.S. targets, Tenet wrote.

“Attack preparations have been made,” Rich B. said about al-Qaeda’s plans. “Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible, and they will occur with little or no warning.”

When Rice asked what needed to be done, the CIA’s Black responded, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”

The CIA officials sought approval for broad covert-action authority that had been languishing since March, Tenet wrote.

Despite the July 10 briefing, other senior Bush administration officials pooh-poohed the seriousness of the al-Qaeda threat. Two leading neoconservatives at the Pentagon – Stephen Cambone and Paul Wolfowitz – suggested that the CIA might be falling for a disinformation campaign, Tenet wrote.

But the evidence of an impending attack continued to pour in. At one CIA meeting in late July, Tenet wrote that Rich B. told senior officials bluntly, “they’re coming here,” a declaration that was followed by stunned silence.

Bush Warned

On Aug. 6, 2001, more than a month before the attacks, the CIA had enough evidence to send Bush a top-secret Presidential Daily Briefing paper, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.” It was handed to Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he was on a month-long vacation after a half year on the job.

The CIA told Bush about “threat reporting” that indicated bin Laden wanted “to hijack a US aircraft.” The CIA also cited a call that had been made to the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May 2001 “saying that a group of Bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.”

The PDB noted that “FBI information … indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York. The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Laden-related.”

Bush apparently was not pleased by the CIA’s intrusion on his vacation nor with the report’s lack of specific targets and dates. He glared at the CIA briefer and snapped, “All right, you’ve covered your ass,” according to an account in author Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine., which relied heavily on senior CIA officials.

“The system was blinking red,” Tenet later told the 9/11 Commission.

In his memoir, Tenet described a special trip he took to Crawford later in August 2001 to get Bush to focus on an imminent threat of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack.

 “A few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the President stayed current on events,” Tenet wrote. “This was my first visit to the ranch. I remember the President graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and my trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna, none of which were native to Queens,” where Tenet had grown up.

Tenet’s trip to Crawford – like the July 10 meeting with Rice and the Aug. 6 briefing paper for Bush – failed to shock the administration out of its lethargy. While Tenet and Bush made small talk about “the flora and the fauna,” al-Qaeda operatives put the finishing touches on their plans.

Bush’s Justice Department and FBI headquarters were in the loop on the CIA reporting, but still didn’t reach out to their agents around the country, some of whom, it turned out, were frantically trying to get the attention of their superiors in Washington.

Then-acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard told the 9/11 Commission that he discussed the intelligence threat reports with FBI special agents in a conference call on July 19, 2001. But Pickard said the focus was on having “evidence response teams” ready to respond quickly in the event of an attack.

Pickard “did not task field offices to try to determine whether any plots were being considered within the United States or to take any action to disrupt any such plots,” according to the 9/11 Commission’s report.

It wasn’t until Sept. 4 – a week before 9/11 – when senior Bush administration officials, including Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “finally reconvened in the White House Situation Room” to discuss counterterrorism plans “that had been lingering unresolved all summer long,” Tenet wrote in his memoir.

Averting 9/11

While it will never be known conclusively whether a different reaction by Bush and his national security team could have disrupted the 9/11 attacks, a variety of options were available.

Counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke said the 9/11 attacks might have been averted if Bush had shown some initiative in “shaking the trees” by having high-level officials from the FBI, CIA, Customs and other federal agencies go back to their bureaucracies and demand any information about the terrorist threat.

If they had, they might well have found the memos from the FBI agents in Arizona and Minnesota. They also might have exploited the information that two known al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawar al-Hazmi, had entered the United States. On Sept. 11, they boarded American Airlines Flight 77 and helped fly it into the Pentagon.

In his book, Against All Enemies, Clarke contrasted President Bill Clinton’s urgency over the intelligence warnings that preceded the Millennium events with the lackadaisical approach of Bush and his national security team.

“In December 1999, we received intelligence reports that there were going to be major al-Qaeda attacks,” Clarke said in an interview about his book. “President Clinton asked his national security adviser Sandy Berger to hold daily meetings with the attorney general, the FBI director, the CIA director and stop the attacks.

“Every day they went back from the White House to the FBI, to the Justice Department, to the CIA and they shook the trees to find out if there was any information. You know, when you know the United States is going to be attacked, the top people in the United States government ought to be working hands-on to prevent it and working together.

”Now, contrast that with what happened in the summer of 2001, when we even had more clear indications that there was going to be an attack. Did the President ask for daily meetings of his team to try to stop the attack? Did Condi Rice hold meetings of her counterparts to try to stop the attack? No.” [CNN’s “Larry King Live,” March 24, 2004]

In a March 19, 2006, speech in Florida, former Vice President Al Gore also noted this contrast between how the Clinton administration reacted to terrorist threats and how the Bush administration did in the weeks before Sept. 11.

“In eight years in the White House, President Clinton and I, a few times, got a direct and really immediate statement like that [Aug. 6, 2001 warning], in one of those daily briefings,” Gore said.

“Every time, as you would want and expect, we had a fire drill, brought everybody in, [asked] what else do we know about this, what have we done to prepare for this, what else could we do, are we certain of the sources, get us more information on that, we want to know everything about this, and we want to make sure our country is prepared.

“In August of 2001,” Gore added, “such a clear warning was given and nothing – nothing – happened. When there is no vision, the people perish.”

Other Priorities

In his book, Clarke offered other examples of pre-9/11 mistakes by the Bush administration, including a downgrading in importance of the counterterrorism office, a shifting of budget priorities, an obsession with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and an emphasis on conservative ideological issues, such as Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense program.

A more hierarchical White House structure also insulated Bush from direct contact with mid-level national security officials who had specialized on the al-Qaeda issue.

The chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission – New Jersey’s former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean and former Democratic Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton – agreed that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented.

“The whole story might have been different,” Kean said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 4, 2004. Kean cited a string of law-enforcement blunders including the “lack of coordination within the FBI” and the FBI’s failure to understand the significance of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 while training to fly passenger jets.

Though the 9/11 Commission steered away from overt criticism of policymakers, it did note that “no CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] or other NSC [National Security Council] meeting was held to discuss the possible threat of a strike in the United States as a result of this [Aug. 6] report.”

As the clock ticked down to 9/11, the Bush administration continued to have other priorities.

On Aug. 9, 2001, Bush gave a nationally televised speech on stem cells, delivering his judgment permitting federal funding for research on 60 preexisting stem-cell lines, but barring government support for work on any other lines of stem cells derived from human embryos.

On side trips from his August vacation, Bush also made forays to Middle American cities that Bush said represented “heartland values” and the basic decency of Americans. Some residents living near the Atlantic and Pacific oceans viewed the hype about “heartland values” as a not-so-subtle snub at the so-called “blue” coastal states that favored Al Gore.

Despite the Sept. 4, 2001, meeting of senior Bush aides to review the counterterrorism initiatives that had been languishing since March, the administration still didn’t seem moved by the urgency of the moment.

On Sept. 6, 2001, Rumsfeld threatened a presidential veto of a proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, seeking to transfer money from strategic missile defense to counterterrorism.

Also on Sept. 6, former Sen. Gary Hart, who had co-chaired a commission on terrorism, was again trying to galvanize the Bush administration into showing some urgency about the threat. Hart met with Rice and urged the White House to move faster. Rice agreed to pass on Hart’s concerns to higher-ups.

Leadership Vacuum

Yet, if President Bush had demanded action from on high, the ripple effect through the FBI might well have jarred loose enough of the pieces to make the overall picture suddenly clear, especially in view of the information already compiled by the CIA.

Ironically, that is almost the same argument that federal prosecutors made in unsuccessfully seeking Moussaoui’s execution, rather than life imprisonment. It’s not that he was directly involved in the Sept. 11 plot, the prosecutors said; it’s that the government might have been able to stop the attacks if he had immediately confessed what he was up to.

In effect, the Bush administration was demanding Moussaoui’s death on the notion that the failure to do something that might have prevented the tragedy of Sept. 11 should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

However, the Bush administration took almost the opposite position on its own negligence. Bush and other senior officials insisted they had nothing to apologize for.

Indeed, Bush made the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath the centerpiece of his presidency. Arguably, he rode the whirlwind from the attacks right through the war in Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq to his second term.

Only in summer 2005 – after another case of botched leadership during the Hurricane Katrina disaster – did the air whoosh out of Bush’s cult-of-personality balloon. Add in the disastrous decisions around the Iraq War and many Americans began to see a pattern of arrogant, incompetent leadership that failed to heed evidence or pay attention to details.

For some Americans, however, the Bush incompetence explanation didn’t go nearly far enough to explain the breathtaking lapses that preceded 9/11.

Some 9/11 “truthers” argued that the destruction of the Twin Towers and the damage to the Pentagon must have been an “inside job” with some elements of the Bush administration conspiring with the attackers to create a modern-day Reichstag Fire that would justify invading Iraq and consolidating political power at home.

But the evidence from the Moussaoui case and other investigations – as well as later admissions by al-Qaeda leaders and the absence of any first-hand witnesses describing the supposed “inside job” collaboration – all tend to support the theory of Bush’s incompetence.

Without doubt, however, even as the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were still smoldering, Bush and his neoconservative advisers decided to exploit the nation’s anger and fear to implement a long-held desire for preemptive wars abroad and a crackdown on dissent at home.

And that might well be the ultimate lesson of 9/11: how unscrupulous political leaders, supported by a fawning or complicit media, can exploit a tragedy and stampede a population into disastrous miscalculations.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book,Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

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24 comments on “Chronicling America’s 9/11 Descent

  1. Dana Cochrane on said:

    It was nice, for a change, to see SOMEONE mention the Project for the New American Century (PNAC – William Kristol, Chairman), but I want to see an analysis of the article on that website “Rebuilding America’s Defenses…”, where the writers called for a “new Pearl Harbor” to overcome the resistance of the American people to the schemes they had in mind. This article appeared in September 2000, and was signed by many influential people in the neo-con movement, many of whom ended up in the Bush Administration. Rats and cockroaches hate the light of day. PLEASE, shine a light on the vermin that have infested our great country. Thank you!

    http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf

    • Will Koenitzer on said:

      I whole-heartedly support Dana Cochrane’s request for a full analysis and disclosure of the Project of the New American Project, and this analysis and explanation must be done by our Congress followed by punishing the persons for writing and implementing this draconian and tragic plan – basically another well crafted USA war atrocity. The PNAC plan was wrapped up about 1997 by Wolfowitz, et al, and within the strategies of the plan, a letter was written to Bill Clinton on January 26, 1998, about attacking Iraq (the plan has intermittently appeared on the internet since 1998; http://www.newamericancentury.org/, which I believe is maintained by Bill Kristol’s office, the Weekly Standard, and which the WS may still be funded by Rupert Murdoch.).

      Chronicling America’s 9/11 Descent by Robert Parry, September 11, 2011, http://consortiumnews.com/2011/09/11/chronicling-americas-911-descent/ along with reads from the Hightower Lowdown monthly report are other sources, which focus on the PNAC subject. All of the sources that I use are very good, but only reach only a few of us. The only way I can survive the injuries of this sort to our country is to follow Molly Ivins’ rule on dealing with political matters of this nature by treating all of these heinous political crimes in the state of humor. A tough thing to do!

  2. David McGuire on said:

    Which flavor kool-aid do you folks drink? You’re neck-deep in conspiracy ranting and raving. You folks need to get a life and come back to reality. We were attacked by cowardly and evil murderers. We responded, and I’m glad we did. And by the way, George W. Bush has shown far more class and guts than you folks will ever be able to come up with in a thousand years. Enjoy your life in your cave.

    • Really, what did Iraq have to do with this event 10 years ago? You’ve got a funny definition of “responded”.

      Also, it’s still well established that GHBush had serious warnings of an impending attack in the spring and summer of 2001–no matter what FoxNews tells you to think.

    • Peter Ehrhorn on said:

      GW has shown more class and guts? When? Fact is you republicans elected an idiot who was guilty of gross negligence. To ignore a daily briefing memo and then say after the fact that no one anticipated someone flying planes into buildings should have resulted in GW’s immediate impeachment and removal. He clearly was not doing his job by spending all that time on vacation.

      Thanks to your hero GW many are now homeless. He played right into the hands of Bin Laden. Great going.

      • Blind loyalists like David are, unfortunately, not deterred by facts and the neo-cons were well aware that their propagandizing and manipulating of public opinion would allow them to “make their own reality”. To this day, there has never been a public reckoning of the large role the propagandists played who went to work supporting George Bush’s new “crusade” for Empire.

        In his Huffpost “What 9-11 Makes Us Forget”, David Bromwich sheds light on one particularly cruel but effective neo-con propagandist who never needed (and to this day doesn’t need) to muster any facts whatsoever, to be seen as a Mid-east expert: “In brutality of sentiment, no neoconservative ever topped the explanation Thomas Friedman gave to Charlie Rose of why the U.S. had to smash the electrical grid, strangulate the water supply, demolish the major administrative centers of Baghdad and much of the rest of Iraq and kill tens of thousands of civilians. The details and justification hardly mattered, said Friedman. “What we had to do was go over to that part of the world… and take out a very big stick… [and say]: Suck. On. This.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-bromwich/what-911-makes-us-forget_b_956976.html

        Fast forwarding a decade, the neo-con plan supported by propagandists like Friedman is still working. For instance George Bush is coming to the Twin Cities, Minnesota on Sept 21 to be feted by the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, the same synagogue that hosted Condi Rice a couple years ago, and before that, Ari Fleischer and a whole host of pro-Israel neo-conservatives. The “platinum level ticket” being sold by the Synagogue buys hors-d’oeuvres and a photo for a big money booster with George W. The Synagogue wrote that they expected tickets for the chance to stand next to Bush would go fast.

        Unfortunately the U.S. public is still being manipulated by powerful media and politicians who simply push people’s emotional buttons of fear, hate, greed, false pride and blind loyalty (approximately in that order, 24-7) in order to maintain public momentum for the wars of Empire.

        Incidentally, Thomas Friedman hails from St. Louis Park and has never admitted he was wrong about anything. He’s not only devoid of “civic conscience” but obviously devoid of any human conscience which, in my book, makes for a psychopathic mentality that is hell-bent on continuing the murder and mayhem. Ironically the Synagogue’s big money boosters and Friedman followers do not remember the Nuremberg Principles prohibiting wars of aggression and torture that came out of WW II atrocities.

  3. Jerry Sanford on said:

    David “Eyes Wide Shut” McGuire is the one who has been living in a cave the last ten years. There isn’t enough time and space to catalog the Bush crew’s lies and distortions about 9/11 and the folly of leading us into wars against third-rate countries to look for non-existent WMDs. Bush had no problem borrowing trillions of dollars for those inane wars, burgeoning the deficit to astronomic levels, while cutting taxes for his obscenely rich donors and filling their coffers with untold riches from no-bid DoD contracts. So here’s the obvious question: who benefited from 9/11? The guys who still live in caves and get off by blowing themselves and their neighbors with suicide bombs? Or the low- or no-taxed cretins in the Republican Party? What say you, Mr. McGuire?

  4. Will Koenitzer on said:

    I whole-heartedly support Dana Cochrane’s request for a full analysis and disclosure of the Project of the New American Project, and this analysis and explanation must be done by our Congress followed by punishing the persons for writing and implementing this draconian and tragic plan – basically another well crafted USA war atrocity. The PNAC plan was wrapped up about 1997 by Wolfowitz, et al, and within the strategies of the plan, a letter was written to Bill Clinton on January 26, 1998, about attacking Iraq (the plan has intermittently appeared on the internet since 1998; http://www.newamericancentury.org/, which I believe is maintained by Bill Kristol’s office, the Weekly Standard, and which the WS may still be funded by Rupert Murdoch.). The only way I can survive the injuries of this sort to our country is to follow Molly Ivins’ rule on dealing with political matters of this nature by treating all of these heinous political crimes in the state of humor. A tough thing to do!

  5. Yes, for sure PNAC is in need of investigation. So too is the need for Bush and Cheney to provide sworn public testimony – something they continue to refuse to do.

    We can connect the dots to see clearly what public officials and mainstream media still refuse to confront. That the Bush administration was WAITING for us to be attacked so they could use the event to initiate an attack on Iraq. Here are but a few more of those “dots” that can be connected:

    * The USS Cole was “STALE”, as repeated by several of Bush’s executives. = They needed a FRESH attack in order to invade. The same people involved in PNAC were using the same word to describe as “STALE” the sacrifices of our military – which by the way should be something deeply offensive to ALL Americans: The sacrifice of any soldier or citizen in defense of our country, our freedoms, and our constitution are NEVER STALE, instead they are the very reason why our country continues to exist. Bush and the PNAC group were waiting for a FRESH attack to motivate his and PNAC’s ideological goals.

    * 10 years later, see the Rachel Maddow MSNBC show transcript at this link,
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44373520/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show/t/rachel-maddow-show-thursday-september/#.Tm2nkuyHhI5
    In the broadcast and transcript, a former CIA agent, Hank Crumpton said Bush was searching for an alliance between Iraq and al Qaeda months BEFORE 9/11:
    “I do recall — this was in the spring of 2001, a query that came from the White House, about the alliance between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. And I remember at the time that that sounded so absurd. And I remembered speaking with an analyst about it, and dismissing it out of hand.”
    *** Why was Bush seeking this information in the SPRING OF 2001 MONTHS BEFORE 9/11, yet otherwise seemed unconcerned about al Qaeda until 9/11?

    * 9/11 Commission Report, p. 206 Bush admits there was a need for “appetite for war” in order to invade Afghanistan. …Waiting for there to be an appetite for war.

    Though not really one of the “dots of evidence”, here is another point that I find terribly disturbing in how it reveals his character. It tells us with more clarity and conviction that he is hiding something:
    How can George, a self proclaimed Christian, refuse to put his hand on the Holy Bible and swear to tell the truth before The Almighty, Congress, AND the American people regarding his policies, strategies and tactics employed in the months, weeks, and days before 9/11?
    I am sorry to all for writing here what many are afraid to look at, but it is self evident, not really open to doubt or uncertainty:
    No genuine Christian would ever refuse to swear on the Holy Bible, no Christian fears speaking truthfully to God. Sorry to all for saying what many are afraid to look at

    We The People have the right to know what Bush was doing while employed as Commander In Chief for the defense of America. We all do have a right to know what he did and did not do that allowed America to suffer this most devastatin­g attack since the birth of our nation. We need to COMPEL him to testify under oath, in public, on camera, with transcript­s being recorded, without Cheney at his side. Cheney too must be compelled to testify.

    Or the truth will remain buried.

  6. Marcus Lind on said:

    The author claims that “Irate Muslims countered by launching a suicide bombing attack against the U.S. Marine barracks” as a response to the USS New Jersey’s bombardment. Just the opposite is true: the Beirut bombardment was in October 1983, while the USS New Jersey started to use her artillery in December. Just a small example and illustration how the shameless liberal propaganda works.

    • From: http://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/history/full_history.php

      You may be right that the USS New Jersey didn’t shell Lebanon in Oct 1983, however other US navel vessels starting shelling Lebanon in Sept of 1983. That’s enough to make many “irate”, none of those many are going to say: “Let’s wait until the New Jersey starts shelling us with really big shells.”

      So, in short you, picked up an insignificant ship name error and conflated that to mean that the claim of when the shelling started is wrong.

      Do some actual work next time.

      • Alex Mandel on said:

        There is no room for such “insignificant errors” in accurate and unbiased journalism. This is a factual error in the argument used to convince the innocent reader in the author’s point; a principal thing, amen, period. I just don’t like when somebody uses false “facts” to “convince” me in something.
        So instead of complaining the right policy for the author would be to apologize and admit an error. I’d not hold my breath for this of course, as for liberal journalism this is unthinkable; the left wing is “always right by definition” – just like in the USSR the Lenin’s theory “was always correct”, regardless to any contradictions with facts of real life. Such is a nature of political leftism, in whatever form it shows itself.

        • Are you joking or are you simply an idiot? Are you claiming that the shelling by US naval canons didn’t start in Sept 1983?

          If you’re not claiming either, then you are simply a pettifogger for the right wing, who can’t stand to see his basically made up version of reality challenged with genuine facts. You and this Lind guy remain wrong on the basic fact of when big (yes the New Jersey had even bigger) naval guns stated shelling Lebanon in the fall of ’83.

          Parry’s mistake remains insignificant, given that naval bombardment started in Sept 1983 before the Marine barracks bombing. Parry’s mistake would not be insignificant if he were writing a history of the New Jersey. Simply likening those who point out your incorrect positions to Lenin or Stalin doesn’t make your claim any more valid.

          By the way again and again Cheney, Bush and Rice have been well proven wrong but not one them will admit so–who is the totalitarian there? There is more than one.

          • Old Navy Guy on said:

            I was there. I watched the shelling and the air strikes from the decks of USS Detroit. We refueled USS New Jersey. We didn’t know exactly who we were bombing or why. We were about twenty five miles off shore. The sea was calm, like an oil slick, and the skies were clear. It was night-time. The targets were probably inland, and not on the coast. I watched the carrier launch airs trikes. I was just an American kid then. The targets were probably much farther away than the distance we remained, “cutting circles” in anticipation further support missions.

            No American, regardless of how many “State Fairs” or 4th of July celebrations he or she has attended, can imagine what it is like to watch fireworks like the full force of a Naval Bombardment. And it was carried out upon what must have been targets which were rife with civilians. Bombs and bullets weren’t “smart” back then. You ain’t seen fireworks until you’ve seen that.

            I was there. I was young and idealistic. And I was proud. I didn’t know any better. But I’m an old man now, and I know what the human suffering must have been. You can’t watch something like that without realizing that human beings were being vaporized. Those on the periphery were being dismembered, and those at a distance were being maimed and crippled. Whatever it was that we accomplished was disproportionate to the offense-and I’m not against retaliation. But this wasn’t, in my opinion, retaliation. It was revenge. It wasn’t, like we said in high school, “Paybacks are three times equal”. This was a thousand times more than anything I could have imagined.

            We didn’t teach them any lessons. We bought enemies who will hate us for a thousand years.

          • With respect: Old Navy Guy,

            The shelling from the New Jersey didn’t start until late 1983, and claim it did is the Parry error that some here are making a big deal about. However shelling with 5 inch guns of some destroyer started in Sept 1983, before that barrack bombing, and this shelling from smaller guns was sure to make some “irate”.

            If you have evidence that the shelling from the New Jersey also started in Sept 1983, that would be good to link here.

  7. Alex Mandel on said:

    No Jay I’m not an idiot, I just remember the history better then you the lib guys. What about the day 18 April 1983 when a van carrying a 2,000 pound load of explosives slammed into the U.S. embassy in Beirut killing 63? Was it also a “reply” to the US Navy bombardment of Lebanon, that started in September of the same year (with USS New Jersey joining in December)? If still yes – then congratulation, you left guys invented a time machine.
    And no, again, Parry’s mistake is NOT “insignificant”; is is just a factually erroneous statement in what was intended to be a “conclusive argument”; and the one obviously politically motivated. So it DOES discredit the whole journalistic level of the article: as it gives a full base for a reader to suspect that the rest of argumentation is also of the same quality and “accuracy”. Your attempts to “sneak out” of this fact are just funny.
    So thank you so much Jay for your reply – as your anger and rudeness so perfectly illustrates what I wrote before. You left wing guys just can’t stand when you are “captured” on incorrect claims, you never admit it, you are still always right – just because of your ideology is “right”, and your notorious and so advertised “tolerance” are only for those who agrees in advance with your view of the world. Pathetic.

    • No Alex, the major Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut was Oct 23rd of 1983, again after the naval shelling started.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Beirut_barracks_bombing

      Yes, you are an idiot. No, your FoxNews “facts” don’t make your position real.

      Next time use the internet before posting such stupidity. Else you like being called out here.

      No, I don’t care if you now claim there was some other Beirut bombing which also killed Marines in April 1983–that’s not the subject here. And it never was.

      I hope you take this a rudely as I mean it.

      • Marcus Lind on said:

        Wow, the aggressive rudeness of a true liberal marches on. So typical: you can’t argue to your opponent in a civilized way so you just start to swear. No reason to argue to you any more, you don’t deserve a discussion.

        Just some farewell info about the true sequence of events – who was bombed and bombarded, by whom when and why. (Rather for anybody else still having some brains and intellectual honesty.)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_New_Jersey_(BB-62)#Lebanese_Civil_War_.281983.E2.80.931984.29

        “In 1983, a bloody civil war was raging in Lebanon. In an effort to stop the violence in the region a Multinational Force of peacekeepers composed largely of U.S. and French armed service members was created and sent to the region to attempt a restoration of order.

        As part of the multinational force the United States mobilized an expeditionary force composed of members of the United States Marine Corps and elements of the United States Sixth Fleet which operated out of the Mediterranean Sea.

        On 18 April 1983 a van carrying a 2,000 pound load of explosives, slammed into the U.S. embassy in West Beirut, killing 63.

        {READ, READ this. Many times. ML }.

        In August 1983, Israel withdrew its Defense Forces from the Chouf District (southeast of Beirut), thus removing the buffer between the Druze and the Christian militias and triggering another round of brutal fighting.

        In August 1983 militiamen began to bombard United States Marines positions near Beirut International Airport with mortar and rocket fire as the Lebanese Army fought Druze and Shia forces in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

        On 29 August 1983, two Marines were killed and fourteen wounded, and in the ensuing months the Marines came under almost daily attack from artillery, mortar, rocket, and small-arms fire.

        After this attack the Marines began returning fire. The Reagan Administration decided to dispatch New Jersey, a decision the Marines cheered.

        On 16 September 1983 Druze forces massed on the threshold of Suk El Gharb, a village defended by the Lebanese Army. Suk El Gharb was a village with strategic importance: the militias coming up from the south had to traverse Suk El Gharb to get to the Beirut–Aley road. Moreover, Suk El Gharb controlled a ridge that overlooked Baabda, Yarze, which was the location of the Ministry of Defence, and East Beirut.
        From that ridge, the Militia gunners could shoot directly downhill at those locations with artillery. United States Navy warships shelled Druze positions and helped the Lebanese Army hold the town of Suk El Gharb until a cease-fire was declared on 25 September, on which day the battleship New Jersey arrived on the scene.

        The arrival of the battleship New Jersey was one of several factor contributing to a reduction in the number of attacks on the Marines.

        On 28 November — after 23 October, 1983 Beirut barracks bombing — the U.S. government announced that New Jersey would be retained off Beirut although her crew would be rotated.

        On 14 December, New Jersey fired 11 projectiles from her 16 inch (406 mm) guns at hostile positions inland of Beirut. These were the first 16 inch (406 mm) shells fired for effect anywhere in the world since New Jersey ended her time on the gunline in Vietnam in 1969.

        This shelling was in response to attacks on U.S. reconnaissance planes by Syrian/Druze antiaircraft batteries.”

        – end of quotation.
        If you want to challenge this truth – go ahead and challenge this Wiki article and authors. But be prepared that they doesn’t tolerate arrogant fools and rude fanatics gladly there – even so-called “progressive” ones. Bye forever.

        • Hey moron, when was the Marine Barracks bombing and when did the US naval shelling start?

          Answer: Oct 1983 for the Marine barracks’ bombing and Sept 1983 for the naval guns killing people in Lebanon.

          Both an AK 47 and an M16 will kill you, even if the the AK will do the killing better. (That’s analogy for you idiots who still don’t get the point that the US Navy was shelling Lebanon with 5 inch guns–not those of the NJ–in Sept 1983, before the barracks bombing.)

          I welcome being called “rude” if the facts are on my side. You ignoramus, the argument in these comments isn’t about the New Jersey’s bombardment; it’s about when the naval shelling started and the facts are on my side, Parry’s too. (You’ve said well he–Parry–got the phone number wrong, that means the correct phone number doesn’t exist–in other words bull.)

  8. Alex Mandel on said:

    Old Navy Guy, thank you for your kind reply and memories. IMHO you did everything right. It wasn’t the US who started it all; so they attacked – and they got what they deserved. Such is a real world if not to see it through an eyes of hippies or left professors of “social studies” with their “blame American imperialism” everyday mantra.
    It’s not a workable method to appease the enemy in a real world. Those who still remember such a name “Adolf Hitler” still knows that (altho the poor modern kids brainwashed by so called “social sciences” instead of learning the History alas may not already). If the USA and other countries who fought against the tyranny in World War Two would be too concerned “not to buy more enemies” and used flowers instead of bombs – it is easy to imagine who would won the war then. So Thank You For Your Service Mr. Veteran. Have a nice day!
    Leaving this site – as the different view here is certainly not welcomed. Actually I should know from beginning. Stay well.

    • Reread what Old Navy Guy posted, reread a lot.

      • Old Navy Guy on said:

        There is a concept going around on the Internet. It says that, as soon as you invoke Adolph Hitler, you automatically lose the argument. Having read William Shirer’s book, John Toland’s book and Ian Kershaw’s book (both volume’s) as well as the revisionist historian David Irving’s book, (and make no mistake, he is a Hitler apologist), I have drawn a conclusion that is not without concurrence in some academic circles.

        The war, instead of curtailing The Holocaust, provided him with the cover to carry it out. It was his primary goal. There are numerous military, intelligence and historical records which demonstrate that he diverted essential logistical assets to this goal at the expense of support for his over-extended armies. Examples include railroad assets diverted from replenishing his starving, freezing troops in order to maintain a steady flow of victims to the camps.

        The war created an information blackout and cessation of diplomatic ties. Foreign journalists were expelled or arrested, and the world was cut off from any media coverage of the atrocities. Of course, there were rumors. Some of you may have seen old German TV recordings of Nazi supported comedians. I remember one which made a joke about people who couldn’t seem to concentrate about Germany’s efforts to succeed. It was, “We have places where they can go to learn about
        concentration”, an off-hand referral to the camps.

        So, the strategy of creating, “Total War” may have back-fired. Some of the deniers ask, “Where did this term, ‘Holocaust’ come from?” Some astute historians may refer to Bernard Lansing’s Life Magazine article during those years speculating that Hitler might, “Unleash the Holocaust.” But as Robert Fisk points out, the same term was appropriately applied to the Armenian Genocide. That atrocity was also carried out under the impenetrable clouds of war, and has never been adequately acknowledged.

        Evil is the same in every generation. I think Hannah Arendt’s comments on, “The Banality of Evil” are appropriate. I’m no “Hippie”. And, I’m certainly not a “liberal”. I can’t win this argument against someone of your persuasion. But I didn’t have to. You lost it on your own.

      • Old Navy Guy on said:

        My apologies to Jay-I meant my comment below to be a response to Alex. Wouldn’t be the first time I clicked the wrong box.

        • Yep, I’ve hit the wrong reply button too. Right now, elsewhere, I’m arguing with others who would nearly deny the Holocaust.

          Basic calendar tracking is all that’s needed here.