American Politics Journal


Act of Carnage: Aftermath
SPECIAL to American Politics Journal
Guest Editorial
Stop the Spin
by Charles Utwater II

Sept. 20, 2001 (APJP) -- Anger and fear in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are being used to herd the nation into hasty, unwise decisions. This is not to say that retribution must be abandoned: far from it. It is to say that the American people are being cynically manipulated. Were they aware of the full facts surrounding the attacks, they would demand major changes in government. In analyzing what went on, it is important to identify the tales that are being spun and the motives behind them, the real history behind this act of terrorism and the actual failures that occurred to facilitate this act. In addition, some puzzling questions make it difficult to discount the possibility that we have misidentified the source of this attack. It is possible, though of course unlikely, that the responsibility for this terrible deed lies somewhere within the American governing class. It is my sincere hope that these questions will be laid to rest as the facts emerge, but until they are, let's make no rash decisions.

The first matter to consider is the spinning of tales to assign blame for the terrorist bombing. Some very clear agendas have emerged. The first is a partisan agenda of blaming Clinton. The second is a financially motivated agenda blaming the reductions in the defense budget for the terrorist attack. There is even the culture wars agenda, blaming the attack on opponents of Reverends Falwell and Robertson. These claims are, very simply laughable, and have gained currency only through public ignorance.

The attempt to blame the attack on cuts in the defense budget is particularly ludicrous because the Defense Department has almost nothing to do with repelling terrorist attack except in the gathering of intelligence. Current budgets for intelligence are about $30 B [1]. After a drop in 1990-3, it has remained constant correcting for inflation [2]. Yet, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it became possible to devote much more of the budget to counter-terrorism, such that that spending on counterterrorism has doubled from $6B to $12B from 1995-2001 [3]. The Clinton White House provided the leadership in insisting on funds to combat terrorism. Indeed, to promote bipartisanship, Clinton brought Republicans into his Administration, Louis Freeh to head the FBI and William Cohen to head the Defense Department.

The Defense budget, of course, is related to the response to terrorism. In inflation-corrected dollars, the Defense budget has in fact declined in the last decade. This was a direct response to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only serious military threat to the United States. The United States spends over $300 B on defense and our close allies spend over $200 B. Our nearest potential rivals spend $56 B (Russia) and $40 B (China). Iran, Iraq, Cuba and North Korea combined spend $11 B [4]. Afghanistan spends too little to quantify. Now, it is true that rival nations spend less on salaries, but the personnel budget is only a quarter of the total budget [6] and we far outclass any nation in hardware. Indeed, US spending as a share of worldwide military spending actually increased by over 10%, and now represents 36% of all spending in the world [5]. Our close allies, of course, represent over 20%. But defense contractors would no doubt love to push spending up even in the absence of any credible threat, and one doesn't doubt that blaming insufficient spending originates among them.

There has been a furious partisan effort over the last few years to shift blame for intelligence failures to Clinton. This effort has disserved our country, verging at times on outright disloyalty. Here are some inconvenient facts for those who want to blame Clinton for the failures in intelligence and for the terrorist attack:

The point of this list is not to try to shift blame onto anyone, merely to point out that there is plenty of blame to go around. The failures were widespread and included actions and failures to act by four administrations, by both major political parties, and by numerous intelligence agencies.

A reasonable assessment of the terrorist episode would begin by saying that there was a failure by intelligence agencies to communicate to law enforcement agencies the arrival of terrorists and a failure by law enforcement agencies to communicate the information within themselves. These are not new problems. The CIA, after all, failed to predict the 1967 Middle East War and the fall of the Soviet Union, among numerous other intelligence failures. Its failure to detect Aldrich Ames was a symptom of a good old boy atmosphere that spans many decades. Reuel Gerecht, who left the CIA Directorate of Operations recently, blames its ineffectiveness on bureaucratic sclerosis and an unwillingness to engage with the situation on the ground. The FBI has been repeatedly found to be deficient, with the most recent scandal involving a spy who had been spying since about 1985. He was left in place over the last 5 years perhaps because he belonged to the same church as the (Republican) FBI Director [17, 18].

One major failure has been the handing over of airline regulation to the industry. Two of the most vocal proponents of the "blame Clinton faction of the Republican Party have been Orrin Hatch and Dana Rohrabacher. It is therefore interesting to note that Orrin Hatch -- whose position on the Judiciary Committee could have assisted recognition of the Gore Commission's recommendation that airline security be treated as an element of national security-- received $31,000 (2% of the PAC total) from the air transport industry in the 2000 election cycle, according to FEC records accessed through the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org). Those included PAC contributions of at least $1,000 from American Airlines, Boeing Co, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines and FedEx Corp. Among individual contributors, at least $7,500 in large contributions from employees of Airbus, Delta, Continental and Skywest can be identified.

Dana Rohrabacher also has feasted on air transport largesse, receiving $18,500 (18% of the PAC total) from air transport PACs and additional funds from air transport or related industries such as tourism, and plenty of Money from the Muslim Council, Arab World and other sources that evoke the phrase "glass houses". Several of his contributors only exist on the Web as contributors and at least one (AirTrac of Chicago) has been the target of regulatory action. George Bush and John McCain were the number 1 and number 2 recipients of the largesse of the air transport industry in 2000 and 16 out the top 20 recipients were Republicans. The question, of course, is what that money bought the industry. It certainly bought the industry weaker regulation and the inadequate airport security that was a laughing matter before September 11.

The greatest failures, however, have been in the pig-headed approach by US (and Israeli) foreign policy in addressing the very real problems that fester in the Muslim world. The Congress, under Republican control, steadfastly blocked US intervention in the Balkans and, after intervention, undermined US peacekeeping. A number of those nations have now been identified as havens for bin Laden's terrorists. Republicans have committed evil deeds in preventing the resolution of the Palestinian crisis in Israel, perhaps the worst of which was George Bush advisor Richard Perle urging Israeli delegation to walk out during the 2000 presidential election for the [19]. That act, so profoundly disloyal to the United States, was but one of many examples of collusion between the far right of this country and religiously intolerant, i.e., anti-Muslim elements in Israel. But the problem is far broader than the right-wing of this country. Both political parties have supported autocratic regimes, including Kuwait, rather than giving preference to nations willing to institute democratic reforms. If we are not a beacon of hope for the world, who will be? As CIA Analyst Raymond Close has said,

"What worries me most, in the final analysis, is that our attacks on the targets in Afghanistan and Sudan [in 1998] were reminiscent of what we call "vigilante justice" in American folklore. This kind of policy weakens our leadership position in the world and undermines the most effective defenses we will have against the terrorist threat: a commitment to the rule of law, dedication to fairness and evenhandedness in settling international disputes and a reputation as the most humanitarian nation in the world." [20]

It is impossible to rule out the possibility that we have misidentified the source of the attack. Certainly the failures of intelligence and law enforcement agencies do not contradict this view. Neither does the ever-present issue of oil politics and the Bush family involvement in it. But at a more mundane level, there have been reports that one or more of the hijackers were drinking and carousing (lap dancers!) the night before the attack, behavior at utter odds with that of presumed Muslin extremists [21, 22]. A number of the terrorists, including those who trained at US facilities, may have been Saudi nationals. Since the Saudi intelligence service cooperates extensively with US intelligence services, and is widely known for its ferocious tactics against terrorism, it is difficult to see how a terrorist could come from Saudi Arabia -- and yet they did. Indeed, 16 of the 19 suspected hijackers are now believed to have entered legally [23] And finally, there is the report that the terrorists knew secret code words that suggested deep infiltration of US operations [24]. How does that happen without collaboration from high levels?

There is a great push to have us surrender our freedoms as the price of stopping terrorism. We are told that we must become like the Taliban in order to defend ourselves from them. Not only is this view laughably false, but until we know for certain that this terrible deed was not planned from within those who govern this country, we should not even consider it.

Finally, there is the question of whether a "war" will defeat terrorism. Major General Julian Thompson notes the obvious difficulties of the terrain [25]. Legal analyst Jonathan Turley says, rightly, that war is something that states engage in and that declaring war on bin Laden merely magnifies him [26]. A declaration of war does not facilitate anything except the usurpation of Congressional powers by the president. This effort -- to undo Constitutional protections and strip the American people of legal safeguards to their rights -- is well underway. By so doing, they have poured the blood of sacrifice of American patriots from Nathan Hale to Martin Luther King, on the ground. It is a sorry truth that our elected officials would probably rather turn this nation into an armed camp than admit that they made mistakes.

The defeat that the terrorists cannot endure is a defeat in the court of Muslim public opinion. Terrorists should be treated as criminals, albeit criminals with massive firepower. If possible, they should be captured and tried for crimes against humanity. The United States should take steps to redress massive injustices in Muslim lands, including the slaughter in Indonesia, which we facilitated [27]. To reprise Raymond Close's penetrating words: "[T]he most effective defenses we will have against the terrorist threat [are] a commitment to the rule of law, dedication to fairness and evenhandedness in settling international disputes and a reputation as the most humanitarian nation in the world.



References:


1. Federation of American Scientist, http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/budget2.htm
2. Federation of American Scientists, http://www.fas.org/irp/budget/structure.htm
3. Washington Post, 9/11/01, M. Dobbs, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14120-2001Sep11.html
4. Center for Defense Information, http://www.cdi.org/issues/wme/spendersFY02.html
5. Center for Defense Information , http://www.cdi.org/issues/budget/fy'02/index.html
6. Center for Defense Information www.cdi.org/issues/wme/
7. The Guardian, 9/15/01, G. Foden, http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,1284,551971,00.html
8. MSNBC, 8/24/98, M. Moran, http://www.msnbc.com/news/190144.asp
9. LA Times, 5/21/01, R. Scheer, http://www.robertscheer.com/1_natcolumn/01_columns/052201.htm
10. Washington Post Newsbytes, 11/13/01, http://www.newsbytes.com/news/01/170072.html
11. KMOV-TV, 9/12/01 J. Allman, http://www.msnbc.com/news/190144.asp
12. B. Drogin and E. Lichtblau, LA Times, 9/16/01, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091601probe.story
13. MSNBC, 9/15/01, G. Fritz, C. Skipp, J. Barry, http://www.msnbc.com/news/629529_asp.htm
14. Washington Post , 9/16/01, G. M. Gaul, J. V. Grimaldi, and J. Warrick, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38092-2001Sep15.html
15. Salon Magazine, 9/13/01, A. Huffington, http://www.salon.com/news/col/huff/2001/09/13/media/index.html
16. Atlantic Monthy, 7/01, R. M. Gerecht, http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/07/gerecht.htm
17. NY Times, 4/22/01, J. Risen and D. Johnson, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/22/national/22SPY.html
18. Insight Magazine, 7/17/01, P. Rodrigues, http://www.insightmag.com/archive/200107172.shtml
19. London Guardian, 7/13/001, J. Borger, http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,342857,00.html
20. PBS, Raymond Close, 8/98, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/bombings/close.html
21. Associated Press, 11/14/01, C. Wilson
22. Daytona Beach News-Journal, 11/15, http://www.n-jcenter.com/2001/Sep/15/STAT5.htm
23. Washington Post, 9/18/01, P Slevin and M. B. Sheridan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46879-2001Sep17.html
24. NY Times, 11/16/01, D. Sanger and D. van Natta, Jr., http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/16/national/16RECO.html
25. LA Times, 11/13/01, J. Turley, http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-091301turley.story?coll=la%2Dnews%2Dcomment%2Dopinions
26. London Observer, 11/16/01, J. Thompson, http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,1284,552767,00.html
27. Associated Press, 7/27/01, P. Yost

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ISSN No. 1523-1690