In 1973 when I was 18 years old, I watched the Watergate Hearings. Thirteen years later, I listened to the Iran-Contra Hearings. Almost in spite of themselves, these hearings resulted in truth telling. I hoped this would be the case with the public hearings of the 9/11 commission.
Instead of hearing truth, however, I was astonished by the questions asked by the commissioners. Again and again, they demanded to know why the various administrations hadn't killed "him" earlier? Why hadn't they bombed "them" immediately? Why hadn't the United States retaliated with "aggressive military efforts" sooner?
Those being questioned seemed perplexed, too. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it was fairly useless to bomb tents. "They can put tents right back up." Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said, "...the decision to commit men and women, who are also sons and daughters, to combat is an extraordinarily important one and not to be done to just feel good." Former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger pointed out that our first judgment as to who was at fault was often wrong. "Oklahoma City," he said, "was foreign terrorism for quite some time until we found out that it wasn't foreign terrorism."
Richard Clarke, a 30-year veteran of four White Houses where he worked on security issues, testified on the second day of public hearings. The White House had launched an aggressive "anti-Clarke" publicity campaign after the release of Clarke's book. It seemed as though every White House official was out and about talking trash about Richard Clarke. They had done the same thing to former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill when his book was published. They threatened him with prosecution for revealing state secrets. (He was later cleared of these charges). This threat seemed to cow O'Neill, and he backed off, mumbling that his words had been distorted in a "red meat frenzy." Clarke hasn't backed down, at least not yet. The White House wants his previous testimony declassified, however, so they can check for inaccuracies with an eye toward prosecuting him for perjury.
All this spurred me to read Clarke's book. In the beginning he detailed what happened on September 11, and the principals came off looking rather well. Then he went backwards in time, tracing the U.S. counterterrorism program and the emergence of al Qaeda. Before 9/11, Clarke tried unsuccessfully to focus the Bush administration on al Qaeda. Members of the administration kept bringing up Iraq as a sponsor of terrorism. The day after 9/11, Bush asked Clarke to see if Iraq was linked to the attack even though it was generally known within the various agencies that state sponsored terrorism from Iraq had basically ended by 1993.
The Bush administration attacked Iraq anyway. "Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda...a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country," Clarke wrote.
Clarke said three things should have happened after 9/11. First, the President should have made real efforts to "eliminate our vulnerabilities to terrorism at home." Second, he should have launched a global effort to "counter the ideology of al Qaeda...to win support to common American and Islamic values." Third, he should have worked with key countries to find the terrorists, "dry up the money...strengthen open governments."Bush didn't do any of these things.
At one point in the book, Clarke mentioned that Cheney was an ideologue. Much of the current administration is made up of ideologues--only that word isn't strong enough. They are fanatics. To people who don't share their ideology, their actions often seem illogical. For instance, Bush created a department of homeland security but didn't fund it. Clarke writes, "Ideologically, the Bush administration is opposed to increasing domestic spending...hiring more civil servants, or regulating the private sector."
As I read about Bin Laden and al Qaeda in Clarke's book, I began seeing uncomfortable parallels between the Bush administration and Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Although they have different ideologies and different ways of expressing their ideologies, they are both fanatical in their belief that they are right, they are guided by the divine, and those who disagree with them are the enemy.
Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are extremist Muslims, Clarke says, intent on overthrowing moderate Muslim states and going after non-Muslim states. They have developed over the years by setting up sleeper cells throughout the world and indoctrinating their followers with their religious and political beliefs--which are one and the same. They believe in reestablishing a way of life that no longer exists, where their extremist views about religion, government, and women are the law of the land. If someone does not believe as they believe, the non-believer becomes the enemy. They are secretive and fanatical. They believe they will be rewarded in the afterlife for their devotion. They believe they have found the right way, the holy way, and this belief justifies any of their actions.
The right-wing fundamentalists in this country have worked for decades to bring their followers into power. In small groups all over the country, they preached their religious and politic beliefs--which are one and the same. They believe in reestablishing a way of life that no longer exists, where their extremist views about religion, government, and women are the law of the land. One of their own is now president. He and the members of his administration are secretive and fanatical in their beliefs. If someone disagrees with them, that person becomes the enemy. They believe they will be rewarded in the afterlife for their devotion, and many of them are waiting to be taken away during the Rapture. They believe they have found the right way, the holy way, and this justifies any of their actions.
I am not saying the Bush Administration wants to kill people, but thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of American soldiers have died in a war this administration was determined to wage despite unprecedented worldwide opposition. By being secretive, insular, unilateral, the Bush administration must seem fanatical to the citizens of other countries. By using the Patriot Act to deprive U.S. citizens of their rights, the members of the administration seem like fanatics to their own citizens. Because of the actions of these fanatics--al Qaeda and the Bush administration--the rest of the world is now in peril.
As I watched the 9/11 hearings, I thought of the people all over the world listening and seeing these commissioners demand to know why we as a country hadn't killed, assassinated, or bombed someone somewhere sooner. I felt like I was watching that old fifties movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where people kept getting replaced by pod people. Had the commissioners gotten replaced by war monger pods? Richard Clarke says the United States is known as the "Mad Bomber"in Muslim countries. Are the commissioners part of the fanatics?
Could it be that our entire country, not only the Bush Administration, have become fanatics? Ideologues? If someone or some country doesn't agree with us, are they now our enemy? Is using force our only solution to any problem? That doesn't seem like the American way, at least not the fabled America I was led to believe in as a child.
I'm all grown up now, and it seems as though fanatics are running things. Perhaps it is time for the rest of the world to stand up and say, 'Enough,' and disarm the fanatics.
Kim Antieau latest novel, Coyote Cowgirl, is coming out in trade paperback in April. Her weblog is at: http://www.furiousspinner.com Her website is at: