The 567-page final report released Thursday by the 9/11 Commission provides a wealth of data—indeed, so much detail that it is easy to get lost in the trees and miss the forest. Comments by the ubiquitous commissioners over the weekend leave the impression either that they themselves have no window on the forest, or that they would like to keep the rest of us in the trees.
Commission vice chair Lee Hamilton braced yesterday with an unusually blunt question by Wolf Blitzer that pretty much gave the game away. Blitzer expressed interest in why the commission had no recommendation regarding Iraq; he suggested, perhaps, “Don’t go to war with countries that had nothing to do with 9/11.”
Caught somewhat off balance, Hamilton explained that dealing with the issue of Iraq “would have been highly divisive,” and that commission members would not have been able to agree on a recommendation. Then, recovering quickly, Hamilton gave the official answer; i. e., that discussing Iraq would have been “well beyond any reasonable interpretation of what we were supposed to do.”
Thankfully, the perceived limits on the commission’s mandate did not prevent it from putting the final nail in the coffin in which lies the scarytale favored by Vice President Cheney that Iraq and Al Qaeda were in bed together. Nor, curiously enough, did those limits prevent the commission from leading off its policy recommendations with ones regarding Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
One can perhaps be forgiven for being struck at the incongruity of the commission’s silence on Iraq, with 140,000 U.S. troops tied down there and terrorists breeding like rabbits.
The commission’s desire to avoid unpleasantness shows through even more clearly as the final report tiptoes past a core issue—motivation. Chartered to “prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,” the commission might have been expected to devote considerable effort to discerning the “why” of the attacks—especially for those among us who remain impervious to the dumbed-down bromide about the terrorists hating our democracy.
A Good Stab at the Why
If you read page 147 of the commission report carefully, you will not miss a key sentence throwing light on the motive of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the report labels the “mastermind of the 9/11 attacks:”
“KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experiences there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”
A footnote points out that his statements regarding the “why” of attacking the United States echo those of Ramzi Yousef, his nephew, when he was sentenced in New York to a prison term of 240 years in January 1998. Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, accused the United States of supporting Israeli terrorism against Palestinians, adding that he was proud to fight any country that supports Israel.
Hats off to commission staff for shoehorning that in—and to the commissioners for letting it slide. Highly unusual prose for establishment Washington.
And another bravo for the attempt to go beyond jingoism in addressing “why they hate us.” On page 374 begins a section titled “PREVENT THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF ISLAMIST TERRORISM.” There the authors pick up on the conundrum expressed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld regarding whether the United States is generating more terrorists than it is killing, and whether the United States needs “a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists.”
In gingerly language, the report points out:
“America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.”
…or, in the vernacular, “It’s the policy, stupid!”
Michael Scheuer, the CIA analyst author of 'Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror' , emphasizes that Bin Laden’s “genius” is his ability to exploit U.S. policies—first and foremost, our one-sided support for Israel—that are most offensive to Muslims, and notes that it is particularly difficult to have a serious debate regarding U.S. policy toward Israel.
As if to prove Scheuer right, Commissioner Bob Kerrey yesterday on ABC’s This Week recited a familiar mantra: You cannot negotiate; you cannot compromise with those who have reached the conclusion that terrorism is their only option.
I was reminded of Rumsfeld’s complaint on the same program some months ago: “How do you persuade people not to become suicide bombers; how do you reduce the number of people attracted to terrorism? No one knows how to do that.”
I find myself hoping that Rumsfeld, Kerrey and others will read and ponder the implications of what is said on pages 374 and following of the 9/11 commission report.
Ray McGovern was a career analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency for 27 years. He is on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
© 2004 TomPaine.com