Jewish World Review April 20, 2003 / 30 Nissan, 5764

Jonathan Gurwitz

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What if president had prevented 9-11? | The most important testimony given to the National Commission on Terrorist Acts Upon the United States can be found in this exchange between former White House adviser Richard Clarke and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a member of the commission:

Gorton: Assuming that the recommendations that you made on Jan. 25 of 2001 ... including aid to the Northern Alliance, which had been an agenda item at this point for 21/2 years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted, say, on Jan. 26, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9-11?

Clarke: No.

Gorton: It just would have allowed our response after 9-11 to be perhaps a little bit faster?

Clarke: Well, the response would have begun before 9-11.

Gorton: But — yes, but we weren't going to — there was no recommendation on your part or anyone else's part that we declare war and attempt to invade Afghanistan prior to 9-11?

Clarke: That's right.

This from a man who served four presidents, worked for 11 years in the White House, was the national coordinator for security and counterterrorism and worked another 19 years in the Pentagon, intelligence community and State Department.

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During Clarke's tenure in government, he witnessed the dramatic, global escalation in terrorist attacks against the United States from the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on U.S. military residences at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

It therefore strikes many people as duplicitous when Clarke asserts the Bush administration didn't take terrorism seriously before Sept. 11, 2001, though in 2002 — before he was a best-selling author — he praised President Bush's decision to "vigorously pursue the existing policy" of counterterrorism; nonpartisanly claims al-Qaida accomplished more in eight months with Bush on watch than in the previous eight years; says Iraq was a distraction, despite the fact that American forces attacked the Taliban and al-Qaida forces in Afghanistan three weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, and Iraq 18 months later; and dismisses links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein's regime as nonexistent, when Clarke himself tied the two together in his justification for the 1998 attack on the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.

For a moment, let's enter an alternate universe where Bush endeavored to stop the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Civil libertarians would have condemned the illegal detention of people of Middle Eastern descent. Islamic groups would have denounced racist screening procedures at our nation's airports.

Democrats would have howled about immigrant rights and fingerprinting foreign visitors. Airlines would have protested the costly requirement to harden cockpit doors.

French President Jacques Chirac would have detested l'impérialisme et unilateralisme des Etats-Unis for its unprovoked attack on Afghanistan. Sen. Ted Kennedy would today be bloviating about how the president had put the nation on a global goose chase for al-Qaida, distracting us from the well-established threat to international security posed by Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction.

Middle Eastern scholars would warn that our actions were breeding implacable hatred for the United States throughout the Islamic world, guaranteeing a terrorist backlash like, well, like Sept. 11, 2001.

And therein lies the hypocritical conceit of those who claim Bush has squandered all the political and international good will engendered by the murder of 3,000 people.

To understand the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, you don't need to read Clarke's tome. You only have to look at the failure today to recognize the nature of the threat posed by international terrorism and the steps required to combat it.

Ira Chernus, professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, showcased the arrogance of this conceit in an article on the left-wing Web site

"Suppose the Bush administration had heeded the urgent pleas of Richard Clarke. Suppose they had made stopping Osama (bin Laden)'s agents their very highest goal. Suppose they had done everything that Clarke and other anti-terrorism experts advised. How would we on the left, in the peace and justice movement, have responded?

"We would have called it fear-mongering. We would have decried their skewed priorities. Every time they stopped an Arab tourist on suspicion, or made us take off our shoes at the airport, we would have denounced the emerging police state. And we would have been right."

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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department. Comment by clicking here.


03/01/04: The other peace fence
12/22/03: On feeling pity for evil
12/19/03: Behind the Iraq rhetoric, democracy starts to build
12/16/03: Anti-war myths quickly eroding
12/03/03: Want fair, balanced? Separate intelligence, politics
08/12/03: N. Korea, Iran paradox to anti-war crowd
06/29/03: Real sports heroes don't make headlines
06/26/03: Strange bedfellows are a sure sign of rocky times
06/26/03: What Einstein taught Bush
06/26/03: JFK's message of struggle for freedom still stands
06/19/03: Most Americans understand this cynical equation
04/22/03: War opponents share burden of guilt
04/10/03: Iraqis get liberation and respect
03/28/03: Constitutionally protected SOBs
03/25/03: Morality changes with the times
03/12/03: Will all of those, ahem, "sincere" peace activists remember the Iraqis tomorrow?
02/27/03: Blood already on UN inspectors' hands

© 2003, Jonathan Gurwitz