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[The following article by David Horowitz first appeared in our March 24, 2004 issue. We are reprinting it to mark the nine year anniversary of 9/11. — The Editors.]
While the nation was having a good laugh at the expense of Florida’s hanging chads and butterfly ballots, Mohammed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi were there, in Florida, learning to drive commercial jetliners [and ram them into the World Trade Center towers]. It will take a novelist to paint that broad canvas properly. It will take some deep political thinking to understand how the lackadaisical attitude toward government and the world helped leave the country so unready for the horror that Atta and Shehhi were preparing.
—Michael Oreskes, New York Times, October 21, 2001.
THE SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center marked the end of one American era and the beginning of another. As did Pearl Harbor, the September tragedy awakened Americans from insular slumbers and made them aware of a world they could not afford to ignore. Like Franklin Roosevelt, George W. Bush condemned the attacks as acts of war, and mobilized a nation to action. It was a sharp departure from the policy of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who in characteristic self-absorption had downgraded a series of similar assaults—including one on the World Trade Center itself—officially regarding them as criminal matters that involved individuals alone.
But the differences between the September 11 attacks and Pearl Harbor were also striking. The latter was a military base situated on an island 3,000 miles distant from the American mainland. New York is America’s greatest population center, the portal through which immigrant generations of all colors and ethnicities have come in search of a better life. The World Trade Center is the Wall Street hub of the economy they enter; its victims were targeted for participating in the most productive, tolerant and generous society human beings have created. In responding to the attacks, the President himself took note of this: “America was targeted for attack,” he told Congress on September 20, “because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
In contrast to Pearl Harbor, the assault on the World Trade Center was hardly a “sneak attack” that American intelligence agencies had little idea was coming. Its Twin Towers had already been bombed eight years earlier, and by the same enemy. The terrorists themselves were already familiar to government operatives, their aggressions frequent enough that several commissions had been appointed to investigate. Each had reached the same conclusion. It was not a matter of whether the United States was going to be the target of a major terrorist assault; it was a matter of when.
In fact, the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks had first engaged U.S. troops as early as 1993 when the Clinton Administration deployed U.S. military forces to Somalia. Their purpose was humanitarian: to feed the starving citizens of this Muslim land. But, America’s goodwill ambassadors were ambushed by al-Qaeda forces. In a 15-hour battle in Mogadishu, 18 Americans were killed and 80 wounded. One dead U.S. soldier was dragged through the streets in an act calculated to humiliate his comrades and his country. The Americans’ offense was not that they had brought food to the hungry. Their crime was who they were—”unbelievers,” emissaries of “the Great Satan,” in the political religion of the enemy they now faced.
The defeat in Mogadishu was a blow not only to American charity, but to American power and American prestige. Nonetheless, under the leadership of America’s then commander-in-chief, Bill Clinton, there was no military response to the humiliation. The greatest superpower the world had ever seen did nothing. It accepted defeat.
On February 26, 1993, eight months prior to the Mogadishu attack, al-Qaeda terrorists had struck the World Trade Center for the first time. Their truck bomb made a crater six stories deep, killed six people and injured more than a thousand. The planners’ intention had been to cause one tower to topple the other and kill tens of thousands of innocent people. It was not only the first major terrorist act ever to take place on U.S. soil, but—in the judgment of a definitive account of the event—”the most ambitious terrorist attack ever attempted, anywhere, ever.”
Six Palestinian and Egyptian conspirators responsible for the attack were tried in civil courts and got life sentences like common criminals, but its mastermind escaped. He was identified as Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, an Iraqi Intelligence agent. This was a clear indication to authorities that the atrocity was no mere criminal event, and that it involved more than individual terrorists; it involved hostile terrorist states.
Yet, once again, the Clinton Administration’s response was to absorb the injury and accept defeat. The president did not even visit the bomb crater or tend to the victims. Instead, America’s commander-in-chief warned against “over-reaction.” In doing so, he telegraphed a clear message to his nation’s enemies: We are unsure of purpose and unsteady of hand; we are self-indulgent and soft; we will not take risks to defend ourselves; we are vulnerable.
The al-Qaeda terrorists were listening. In a 1998 interview, Osama bin Laden told ABC News reporter John Miller: “We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions. We rely on Allah.”
Among the terrorist entities that supported the al-Qaeda terrorists were Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO had created the first terrorist training camps, invented suicide bombings and been the chief propaganda machine behind the idea that terrorist armies were really missionaries for “social justice.” Yet, among foreign leaders, Arafat was Clinton’s most frequent White House guest. Far from treating Arafat as an enemy of civilized order and an international pariah, the Clinton Administration was busily cultivating him as a “partner for peace.” For many Washington liberals, terrorism was not the instrument of political fanatics and evil men, but was the product of social conditions—poverty, racism and oppression—for which the Western democracies, including Israel, were always ultimately to blame.
The idea that terrorism has “root causes” in social conditions whose primary author is the United States is, in fact, an organizing theme of the contemporary political left. “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’”—declared the writer Susan Sontag, speaking for this faction—”but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?” (Was Susan Sontag unaware that Iraq was behind the first World Trade Center attack? That Iraq had attempted to swallow Kuwait and was a regional aggressor and sponsor of terror? That Iraq had expelled UN arms inspectors—in violation of the terms of its peace—who were there to prevent it from developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons? Was she unaware that Iraq was a sponsor of international terror and posed an ongoing threat to others, including the country in which she lived?)
During the Clinton years the idea that America was somehow responsible for global distress had become an all too familiar refrain among leftwing elites. It had particular resonance in the institutions that shaped American culture and policy—universities, the mainstream media and the Oval Office. In March 1998, two months after Monica Lewinsky became a White House thorn and a household name, Clinton embarked on a presidential hand-wringing expedition to Africa. With a large delegation of African-American leaders in tow, the President made a pilgrimage to Uganda to apologize for the crime of American slavery. The apology was offered despite the fact that no slaves had ever been imported to America from Uganda or any East African state; that slavery in Africa preceded any American involvement by a thousand years; that America and Britain were the two powers responsible for ending the slave trade; and that America had abolished slavery a hundred years before—at great human cost—while slavery persisted in Africa without African protest to the present day.
Four months after Clinton left Uganda, al-Qaeda terrorists blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Clinton’s continuing ambivalence about America’s role in the world was highlighted in the wake of September 11, when he suggested that America actually bore some responsibility for the attacks on itself. In November 2001, even as the new Bush administration was launching America’s military response, the former president made a speech at Georgetown University in which he admonished citizens who were descended “from various European lineages” that they were “not blameless,” and that America’s past involvement in slavery should humble them as they confronted their attackers. Characteristically the President took no responsibility for his own failure to protect Americans from the attacks.
The idea that there are “root causes” behind campaigns to murder innocent men, women and children, and terrorize civilian populations was examined shortly after the Trade Center events by a writer in the New York Times. Columnist Edward Rothstein observed that while there was much hand-wringing and many mea culpas on the left after September 11, no one had invoked “root causes” to defend Timothy McVeigh after he blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995, killing 187 people. “No one suggested that this act had its ‘root causes’ in an injustice that needed to be rectified to prevent further terrorism.” The silence was maintained even though McVeigh and his collaborators “asserted that their ideas of rights and liberty were being violated and that the only recourse was terror.”
The reason no one invoked “root causes” to explain the Oklahoma City bombing was simply because Timothy McVeigh was not a leftist. Nor did he claim to be acting in behalf of “social justice”—the historical code for totalitarian causes. In an address to Congress that defined America’s response to September 11, President Bush sagaciously observed, “We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.”
Like Islamic radicalism, the totalitarian doctrines of communism and fascism are fundamentalist creeds. “The fundamentalist does not believe [his] ideas have any limits or boundaries,… [therefore] the goals of fundamentalist terror are not to eliminate injustice but to eliminate opposition.” That is why the humanitarian nature of America’s mission to Mogadishu made no difference to America’s al-Qaeda foe. The terrorists’ goal was not to alleviate hunger. It was to eliminate America. It was to defeat “The Great Satan.”
Totalitarians and fundamentalists share a conviction that is religious and political at the same time. Their mission is social redemption through the power of the state. Using political and military power they intend to create a “new world” in their own image. This revolutionary transformation encompasses all individuals and requires the control of all aspects of human life:
Like fundamentalist terror, totalitarian terror leaves no aspect of life exempt from the battle being waged. The state is felt to be the apotheosis of political and natural law, and it strives to extend that law over all humanity…. No injustices, separately or together, necessarily lead to totalitarianism and no mitigation of injustice, however defined, will eliminate its unwavering beliefs, absolutist control and unbounded ambitions.
In 1998 Osama bin Laden explained his war aims to ABC News: “Allah ordered us in this religion to purify Muslim land of all non-believers.” As The New Republic’s Peter Beinart commented, bin Laden is not a crusader for social justice but “an ethnic cleanser on a scale far greater than the Hutus and the Serbs, a scale that has only one true Twentieth Century parallel.”
In the 1990s America mobilized its military power to go to the rescue of Muslims in the Balkans who were being ethnically cleansed by Serbian communists. This counted for nothing in al-Qaeda’s calculations, any more than did America’s support for Muslim peasants in Afghanistan fighting for their freedom against the Red Army invaders in the 1980s. The war against radical Islam is not about what America has done, but about what America is. As bin Laden told the world on October 7, the day America began its military response, the war is between those of the faith and those outside the faith, between those who submit to the believers’ law and those who are infidels and do not.
While The Clinton Administration Slept
After the first World Trade Center attack, President Clinton vowed there would be vengeance. But like so many of his presidential pronouncements, the strong words were not accompanied by deeds. Nor were they followed by measures necessary to defend the country against the next series of attacks.
After their Mogadishu victory and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, unsuccessful attempts were made by al-Qaeda groups to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and other populated targets, including a massive terrorist incident timed to coincide with the millennium celebrations of January 2000. Another scheme to hijack commercial airliners and use them as “bombs” according to plans close to those eventually used on September 11, was thwarted in the Philippines in 1995. The architect of this effort was the Iraqi intelligence agent Ramzi Yousef.
The following year, a terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers, a U.S. military barracks in Saudia Arabia, killed 19 American soldiers. The White House response was limp, and the case (in the words of FBI director Louis B. Freeh) “remains unresolved.” Two years later al-Qaeda agents blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing 245 people and injuring 5,000. (One CIA official told a reporter, “Two at once is not twice as hard. It is a hundred times as hard.”) On October 12, 2000 the warship USS Cole was bombed while re-fueling in Yemen, yet another Islamic country aligned with the terrorist enemy. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured.
These were all acts of war, yet of the President and his cabinet refused to recognize them as such.
Why the Clinton Administration Slept
Clinton’s second term national security advisor, Sandy Berger, described the official White House position towards these attacks as “a little bit like a Whack-A-Mole game at the circus. They bop up and you whack ‘em down, and if they bop up again, you bop ‘em back, down again.” Like the Administration he represented, the national security advisor lacked a requisite appreciation of the problem. Iraq’s dictator was unimpressed by sporadic U.S. strikes against his regime. He remained defiant, expelling UN weapons inspectors, firing at U.S. warplanes and continuing to build his arsenal of mass destruction. But “the Administration held no clear and consistent view of the Iraqi threat and how it intended to address it,” observed Washington Post correspondent Jim Hoagland. The disarray that characterized the Clinton security policy flowed from the “Administration’s growing inability to tell the world—and itself—the truth.” It was the signature problem of the Clinton years.
Underlying the Clinton security failure was the fact that the Administration was made up of people who for twenty-five years had discounted or minimized the totalitarian threat, opposed America’s armed presence abroad, and consistently resisted the deployment of America’s military forces to halt Communist expansion. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was himself a veteran of the Sixties “anti-war” movement, which abetted the Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia, and created the “Vietnam War syndrome” that made it so difficult afterwards for American presidents to deploy the nation’s military forces.
Berger had also been a member of “Peace Now,” the leftist movement seeking to pressure the Israeli government to make concessions to Yasser Arafat’s PLO terrorists. Clinton’s first National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake was a protégé of Berger, who had introduced him to Clinton. All three had met as activists in the 1972 McGovern presidential campaign whose primary issue was opposition to the Vietnam War based on the view that the “arrogance of American power” was responsible for the conflict rather than Communist aggression.
Anthony Lake’s own attitude towards the totalitarian threat in Southeast Asia was displayed in a March 1975 Washington Post article he wrote called, “At Stake in Cambodia: Extending Aid Will Only Prolong the Killing.” The prediction contained in Lake’s title proved to be exactly wrong. It was not a small mistake for someone who in 1992 would be placed in charge of America’s national security apparatus. Lake’s article was designed to rally Democrat opposition to a presidential request for emergency aid to the Cambodian regime. The aid was required to contain the threat posed by Communist leader Pol Pot and his insurgent Khmer Rouge forces.
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