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The truth often ain’t pretty

Barbara Amiel is someone I frequently find disagreements with but when she is right, boy, is she right. Whilst I am usually rather prone to point the finger of blame at the state as the font of all evils when things go wrong, Amiel makes the reasonable point that even with the best intelligence in the world, the prevailing zeitgeist in the United State (and elsewhere) on and before September 10th 2001 meant that there was very little support for anything which could really have stopped Al Qaeda’s infamous arrival onto the world’s front pages.

The question is not whether Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush actually knew about the murderous intentions of radical Islam or whether they took what they knew seriously, but what the public mood would have let them do about it before 9/11.

Not much, I wager. What administration could, before 9/11, have sent in American boys to fight a regime in Afghanistan because it was implementing the ideas of an old man with a long white beard, sitting crossed-legged in the mountains talking about Satan America? Had I been in Congress before 9/11, knowing everything that was knowable about the Islamists, I still doubt if I would have voted to send troops to the Hindu Kush to topple the Taliban. Eardrums would have exploded all over Capital Hill from outcries of racism and imperialism if there had been serious efforts, pre-9/11, to round up suspected Muslim militants in the United States and tighten security on Muslims entering the country. As it is, the post-9/11 sensitivity to racial profiling makes travel hazardous for white grannies who dislike body-searches.

All too true. Read the whole article.

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20 comments to The truth often ain’t pretty

  • Patrick B

    Another truth that ain’t pretty is the deep motive behind the Richard Clarke Follies.

    He certainly isn’t averse to $1million+ and all the ego-stroking by CNN and the rest of the gang.

    However, I believe he is part of the Democrats’ campaign against Condi Rice. The Kerry and Clinton pack is terrified that Cheney will stand down on health grounds and George W. will pick Condi for the ticket. Bang goes Hillary’s 2008 crack at the Presidency. A Bush-Rice ticket would be unassailable on national security issues. The Democrats would have to demonise a self-made female Black ex-academic.

    It’s time the Kerry and Clinton links to Clarke were brought out from under the rock and exposed to the light.

  • Jeffersonian

    Brilliant commentary and spot-on. I’ve often countered the “Bush Knew!!” meme by proposing the hypothetical situation where, on 9-10-01, Attorney General John Ashcroft steps in front of Justice Department microphones and announces that the FBI has just foiled an imminent attack on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the Capitol by Muslim extremists, rolling up 20 suspects.

    His evidence? A shoebox full of utility knives and a half-dozen Boeing flight manuals.

    Can you imagine the howls of derision, the gales of denunciation for the religious bigotry, the calls for the firing of this fanatic? Imagine it, then multiply by ten and you have the idea of what the response would have been.

    No, even today there is a large portion of the American populace that just wants it all to go away and is delighted to imagine that if we ignore it long enough, it will.

  • Verity

    Patrick B – I have thought for some time that Mr Cheyney may step down and that President Bush would invite Condi to stand for VP. You are right; they would be unassailable. I can hear Hillary’s roar of rage all the way over here.

    The only thing that worries me about Condi is, she has never displayed the faintest interest in running for elected office. She’s never even stood for a school board, which may tell us she has no taste for campaigning. I hope it’s not true, but being an academic is a fairly isolated career, and being a concert pianist is also a solitary pursuit. I am not sure she has the taste for getting out there on the hustings and glad handing – and taking the inevitable abuse from the media (although they may soft pedal it because she’s black. Also, she’s pretty tart and they may be frightened of her.)

    I hope I am wrong, as I think she’s wonderful in her own right, not just as a weapon against the Hildebeast.

    Mark Steyn’s been quite amusing about Richard Clarke, by the way. What a maroon!

  • Greg

    I’m glad to see people come around to the idea of Rice for the 2008 nomination. I think her and Powell are both excellent candidates, and nigh unbeatable. I’m not sure who the party will opt for, or if they’ll go a different way (4 years is a long time). Yes, the black/female thing is politically interesting, but the fact is that both are well-qualified aside from their gender and ‘race’. I could personally care less about those issues, if there is a more qualified white male then he’s the man, but I admit it will be pleasurable to watch the Democrats self-destruct when they accuse the Republicans of ‘exploiting’ race and gender.

  • Jacob

    “… what the public mood would have let them do about it before 9/11….”

    Public mood can be influenced, created, shaped. Emerson and Carmon (mentioned in the article) could not change the public mood but Clinton could have done it, given his talents. It is not only the public mood for fighting Islamist terrorism that was lacking, it was understanding of the problem by Clinton, Bush and their advisers (and the public).
    Had they understood the problem, in light of the previous terrorist attacks – they could have done more, also by creating a suitable public mood.

    The trouble was that Clinton wasn’t about understanding issues and leading in the right direction, but about understanding the public mood and following it.

  • Richard Cook

    I seem to be drifting out into space. I thought it was pretty obvious to anyone with reasonable intelligence that support for any aggresive counter-terrorism operations did not exist. One of the planks of W’s election campaign was that we would not spend so much time on foreign affairs and concentrate on things at home. I certainly cannot blame the politician’s for not committing troops to various areas. The public would have said “are you crazy???!!!!” Remember Somolia? This hearing seems to be a huge waste of time and money. And yet I see on the TV endless detail of the hearings which, except for the Clarke angle (self promotion, contradictory testimony, etc) is really a day late and a dollar short.

  • Jacob

    “… I certainly cannot blame the politician’s for not committing troops to various areas. The public would have said “are you crazy???!!!!” ….”

    You can and should blame politicians, and Presidents, and their security advisers, that they failed to detect that there was a threat and a problem with Islamic terrorism, despite several severe terrorist attacks like the first WTC bomb. It is their job to pay attention to this, and do what can be done to protect the nation. They did nothing.
    That’s what intelligence agencies and National security advisers are for and they undoubtly failed.

  • Jacob

    “The public would have said “are you crazy???!!!!” ….”

    If the President had known and grasped the magnitude of the threat, and had informed the public about it the public would not have said “are you crazy?!”. Some people like Emerson and Carmon did grasp the problem. Those who were in charge, and should have grasped it too, failed.

  • the evidence suggests otherwise jacob. you can never go too far wrong by underestimating most people.

  • Ken

    What could have been done?

    A few ideas spring to mind.

    Repealing the regulations against carrying weapons on board aircraft, for one thing.

    Passing the word among pilots that any hijacker who wants to personally take the controls only need those controls to do something he can’t get a pilot to do, even at gunpoint, which pretty much means deliberately crashing the plane.

    Political support for the offense would come even after an attempted hijacking of an American plane on US soil, especially after interrogation revealed the hijackers’ plans. I daresay we’d get even more support; with the attack foiled, we’d assume that the hijackers were competent kamikaze attackers and conclude that, had the attacks succeeded, the impacts would have trapped nearly everyone inside and killed about 40,000-50,000 people.

  • Richard Cook

    Jacob

    I don not believe that the politician had the stomach to take risk. Also, their first duty (as they see it) is to be re-elected. Rocking boats is not the way to do it. I understand your point of view but the same dynamic is happening with Social Security and Medicaid. Everyone knows the problem is, and, what the likely solution is, but, everyone is hoping that the disaster happens on someone else’s watch and doesn’t tar them.

  • Phil Winsor

    All you have to do is look at the wringing of hands and wailing by the Left to know that military action against the Taliban would have been a non-starter.

  • Nate

    The trouble was that Clinton wasn’t about understanding issues and leading in the right direction, but about understanding the public mood and following it.

    You said it, Jacob. What really enrages me about the all the talking heads at the moment is that Clinton should have done something about it. But he didn’t. Not really. They bombed the WTC in 93, the Kobar Towers, diplomatic missions in Africa, and the USS Cole. And what did he do? He launched a few cruise missiles into the Sudan and Afghanistan. Yay! What a leader! (Of course, we bombed Serbia for 78 days to end the persecution of Albanians…but I digress.)

    The whole point of this farce, in my opinion, is that we should all look at Clinton as the real failure.

    Grrrrrrrr….

  • John

    I have held the same opinion as Barbara Amiel since the 9/11 commission started their work, hoping without hope that the commission would, in short order, develop the laundry list of recommendations to correct the outdated attitudes, funding deficiencies, regulatory hurdles, diplomatic mindset, etc, which impeded even our complacent approach to fighting terrorism. To ask whether 9/11 could have been prevented is at best, an idiotic attempt to place blame in the guise of determining which mix of policy changes could have stopped it. And she is right about an attempt to clean up Afghanistan prior to 9/11, but more so, the hue and cry would have been as loud with just about any other mix sufficient to have done so.

    I have turned to thinking about the course of things to come. One thought is that it is inevitable attempts of a similar scale or worse are forthcoming. Whether they come in advance of the elections, I can only guess. If threats of this are perceived in the coming months, will we being doing all that is possible without the hue and cry at every precaution taken? What kind of grief will Bush have to take if some bold moves are necessary? Will the run-up to any action be similar to that needed for Iraq and, if so, will it be in time? And how many will scream, “This is politics at its worst!”

    Another thought I have had was reinforced when Armed Liberal pointed me to this Chernobyl story ( http://www.angelfire.com/extreme4/kiddofspeed/ ). I have a better picture now of what visiting NYC or LA or Chicago (or London, Madrid, Berlin, Rome, Krakow) might be like if a nuclear device is used. Would it be as bad as this if the device was just a dirty bomb? With a dirty bomb, would we just have to avoid the area for 50 years and not 300 to 900 years? (Is there anyone ‘in the know’ out there who would hazard a perspective on this?) Even this is a wake up call to me. and it leads me not to the question, “What did we not do to prevent 9/11?”, but to the question, “Are we doing enough to prevent this from happening?

    My ‘public’ mood is, as Michael Leeden is fond of saying, “Faster, Please!” (muttering, “The public be damned.”) How many of us have the guts to hope that if the Bush crew says, “We have got to do this.”, that he will do it regardless of the public mood?

  • Jacob

    Prior to 9/11 the options weren’t either invade Afghanistan or do nothing.
    As Ken pointed out: they could have tightened security on airplanes, installed locked doors for the cockpit, armed the pilots, screend more minutely foreigners of Arab origin, or hate mogering mullahs (like they are doing now), prosecute more vigorously, and rapidly investigations of various suspects that were already under investigation by the FBI. Train and deploy more secret agents and special operation people abroad, follow the money trail, etc.
    Seems that very little was done. Why ? People just fell asleep on their watch. It is only natural to investigate such a colosal failure.

  • dick

    I think your prescriptions are probably correct. The problem is that with organizations such as the ACLU, CAIR, NAACP, and the DNC under McAuliffe, especially after the Florida debacle for them, would have been screaming bloody murder if anyone even attempted to do this. The protestors would have been out in the streets yelling that Ashcroft was rending the Constitution. They would have been yelling about “profiling”. The trial lawyers and their puppets (the democrats in the Congress and Senate) would have been rubbing their hands thinking of the fees involved. The UN would probably have been holding special sessions. The Media (all democrats except Fox and radio talk shows) would have demonized the Administration. No matter what the President would have tried, no way could he have gotten support for it because the Media would not have reported it straight. Can you just see Babs, Susan, Jane, Tim, Sean and Natalie and what they would have done? That is the problem with matters of this sort when the Media is so biased.

  • Aral Simbon

    What did GW say publicly about al-Qaeda between Jan. 1, 2001, and Sept. 10, 2001? Answer: nothing. Prove me wrong.

  • Guy Herbert

    Very few people had much to say about al-Qaeda before September 2001.

    On the other hand, Bin Laden is mentioned in an early episode of The West Wing. If Aaron Sorkin was aware of him, we can be reasonably confident that Bush would have been briefed. But there was absolutely no reason for him to make public announcements, and give unnecessary credibility to the man.

    What nobody expected was that ObL would get so lucky. Nor was anyone expecting the particular type of attack: could have armed pilots, locked doors, is hindsight speaking. I recall ObL’s mentors the Moslem Brotherhood had seized an Egyptian airliner and crashed it once–in the early 90s–but not into anything important, so it looked like isolated lunacy then. (It still isn’t convincingly connected except by the contiguity of strange motivation.)

    How long did the airliner-as-weapon tactic work? Three planes. Maybe an hour. When the passengers of the fourth plane that day, found out the rules had changed, they stopped cooperating, and tried to take the plane back. No one would ever get as far as controlling a plane with a small knife again, because other travellers would stop them.

    Most of the precautions and panic since are preparing for the last time. All those searches and seizures of ordinary travellers ignore the fact that the danger from that source, indeed from any source, has actually decreased since 2001. The enemy’s potential is much less. Aggressive targetting of Bin Laden and co’s funding and training grounds has weakend them. We are all now paying attention. The Intelligence Services have rediscovered humint.

    Congressional inquiries, throwing out the law for “security”, and even fingerprinting people at airports, are political abuses of the tragedy to further other agendas.

  • Ken

    “As Ken pointed out: they could have tightened security on airplanes, installed locked doors for the cockpit, armed the pilots, screend more minutely foreigners of Arab origin, or hate mogering mullahs (like they are doing now), prosecute more vigorously, and rapidly investigations of various suspects that were already under investigation by the FBI.”

    That’s not what I pointed out at all. That stuff would have had as little support as an invasion of Afghanistan.

    I was talking about giving airline travelers and pilots the means and the motivation to defend themselves. Passengers and pilots should have had the right to travel armed all along.

    “What nobody expected was that ObL would get so lucky. Nor was anyone expecting the particular type of attack: could have armed pilots, locked doors, is hindsight speaking.”

    Locked doors is hindsight speaking (and probably counterproductive; suppose the bad guys start the flight in the cockpit, where passengers can’t reach them?). Letting honest people go armed so any wolves that appear won’t be the only ones with teeth is a prescription based on knowledge that goes back centuries, although there are plenty of fools that ignore it.

    “How long did the airliner-as-weapon tactic work? Three planes. Maybe an hour.”

    I think it was more like two hours. And the passengers of the third plane had news of the first two kamikaze attacks over their cellphones, if I recall correctly, and still didn’t resist.

    “Most of the precautions and panic since are preparing for the last time. All those searches and seizures of ordinary travellers ignore the fact that the danger from that source, indeed from any source, has actually decreased since 2001. The enemy’s potential is much less. Aggressive targetting of Bin Laden and co’s funding and training grounds has weakend them. We are all now paying attention. The Intelligence Services have rediscovered humint.”

    “Airline security” is a giant kabuki dance whose only practical effect is to further disarm the good guys. Our problem wasn’t a lack of today’s “airline security” – our problem was disarmed passengers who hadn’t yet got the message that the hijackers were playing for keeps.

  • Verity

    Australia has developed bullets for inflight guns that will kill, but not piece the skin of the plane. They break up on impacting something solid. Their sky marshals fly armed with guns loaded with these bullets.

    I have no moral objection to passengers and crew being armed, but a practical one, nevertheless. Not everyone is that great a shot.