September 11, 2011, marked the tenth anniversary of the worst terrArabist attack on United States soil. Inevitably, this is a time to remember all those whose lives were so cruelly snuffed out.
But it should also be a time to remember those who made this atrocity inevitable–by refusing to acknowledge and address the impending threat from Al Qaeda.
British historian Nigel Hamilton has chronicled their arrogance and indifference in his 2010 biography: American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.
Writes Hamilton: “Richard Clarke [the chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council] had no doubt that Osama bin Laden had been behind the [USS.] Cole bombing in Aden” on October 12, 2000.
“Day after day, week after week, month after month, Clarke attempted to convince his new colleagues there was going to be another attack, either on American installations abroad or at home.”
But Clarke faced a serious handicap: As chef counter-terrorism advisor to President Bill Clinton, he had held cabinet-level access. Although he retained his position under President George W. Bush, he was now denied such access.
This put him at a severe disadvantage when dealing with higher-ranking Bush officials–such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.
These turned out to be the very officials who refused to believe that Al-Qaeda posed a lethal threat to the United States.
“Indeed,” writes Hamilton, “in the entire first eight months of the Bush Presidency, Clarke was not permitted to brief President Bush a single time, despite mounting evidence of plans for a new al-Qaeda outrage.”
Nor did it help that, during his first eight months in office before September 11, Bush was on vacation, according to the Washington Post, forty-two percent of the time.
Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject. Then she “insisted the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting” in April, 2001, writes Hamilton.
Wolfowitz, the number-two man at the Department of Defense, said: “I don’t understand why we are beginnning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.”
Even after Clarke outlined the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz–whose real target was Saddam Hussein–said: “You give bin Laden too much credit.” Wolfowitz insisted that bin Laden couldn’t carry out his terrorist acts without the aid of a state sponsor–namely, Iraq.
Wolfowitz, in fact, blamed Iraq for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Clarke was stunned, since there was absolutely no evidence of Iraqi involvement in this.
“Al-Qaeda plans major acts of terrorism against the United States,” Clarke warned his colleagues. He pointed out that, like Adolf Hitler, bin Laden had actually published his plans for future destruction.
And he added: “Sometimes, as with Hitler in Mein Kampf, you have to believe that these people will actually do what they say they will do.”
Wolfowitz heatedly traded on his Jewish heritage to bring Clarke’s arguments to a halt: “I resent any comparison between the Holocaust and this little terrorist in Afghanistan.”
Writing in outraged fury, Hamilton sums up Clarke’s agonizing frustrations:
“For Clarke, the sheer obtuseness and sneering contempt of Bush’s senior advisors and colleagues towards officials who had served in the Clinton administration was galling.
“It was as if a sort of willful blindness seemed to afflict the new president [Bush], the vice president [Cheney], the national security advisor [Rice] and her deputy, and the secretary of defense [Rumsfeld] and his deputy [Woflwitz].”
This left only Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Richard Clarke and a skeptical Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, to wage “a lonely battle to waken a seemingly deranged new administration.”
Clarke alerted Federal Intelligence agencies that “Al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us.” He asked the FBI and CIA to report to his office all they could learn about suspicious persons or activities at home and abroad.
Finally, at a meeting with Rice on September 4, 2001, Clarke challenged Rice to “picture yourself at a moment when in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans, and imagine asking yourself what you wish then that you had already done.”
Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically–and needlessly.
In words that should be angrily remembered by Americans ten years after the atrocity of September 11, Hamilton writes:
“Neither the President, Rice, nor other senior members of the Bush administration would ever admit afterwards to their somnambulance. Nor would any of them be brought to account.”
Disgustingly, these are the same officials who, afterward, posed as the Nation’s saviors–and branded anyone who disagreed with them as a traitor, practices they continue to this day.