Questions waiting to be asked

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Is it reasonable to assume that the vast U.S. intelligence community was completely blind-sided by an attack of the complexity and magnitude of that which occurred on 9-11 when the alleged mastermind of the attack, Osama bin Laden himself, warned the world of his plan to stage a massive strike on the U.S. several weeks prior to actually carrying out his plan?

Isn’t it reasonable to think that the threat of a major attack from a man who was already under indictment in this country for previous attacks on two U.S. embassies and the World Trade Center would be taken seriously and should have triggered increased security measures across the nation and around the world in the weeks before 9-11?

How did the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Justice Department and all the various governmental security and intelligence agencies manage to drop the ball on this one?

A logical assumption would be to conclude that the entire U.S. intelligence, security, and military establishment is completely incompetent, but even if we were to accept that explanation, what about Israeli intelligence? The Israelis are not “hamstrung” by the same constraints that U.S. operatives claim hamper their own intelligence gathering efforts. Indeed, the very survival of the state of Israel depends on the ability of its intelligence network to stay one step ahead of the global threat from terrorist organizations. It seems inconceivable that they too would have entirely dismissed warnings from an individual of Mr. bin Laden’s stature of an imminent attack on their closest ally without sounding the alarm.

With the outpouring of patriotic fervor that has swept the nation since the 9-11 attack it would seem somehow unpatriotic to raise questions concerning the utter failure of the government to heed the warnings and take minimal precautions to head off a possible terrorist attack., but on the other hand it may be unpatriotic not to raise those questions. How, with all the resources at our disposal, were we caught so completely off guard? The next question that comes to mind is, were we really caught napping or was our ignorance deliberate?

With roughly 7000 dead and billions of dollars in damage it would seem likely that the heads of the people responsible for national security should already be rolling in the Capitol, but so far there is no hint that a serious investigation is forthcoming. Why not? Is it possible that 9-11 was not as big a surprise to everyone in America as it was to you and me? The attack on the World Trade Center has been compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor because of the stealth involved in its execution and the devastation it wrought. Could there be another similarity as well?

Most historians agree that President Roosevelt deliberately provoked Japan into taking military action by cutting off its supply of oil and rubber from Malaysia in order to galvanize a divided nation’s resolve to enter World War II and that he knew they would attack eventually. Some insist Roosevelt knew the details Japan’s impending plans for attack prior to the Dec 7, 1941 and sacrified Pearl Harbor to sufficiently outrage America and gain unqualified suport for entering the war. With all that George W. Bush stands to gain politically in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center it is not completely unreasonable to suspect that the “sleeping giant” may well have been sleeping with one eye open prior to 9-11 as well.

The cornerstone of Bush’s campaign was the controversial tax cut that was supposed to revitalize an increasingly sluggish economy and avert a predicted recession. Yet in the weeks prior to 9-11 even the President began expressing grave concern over the tax cut’s failure to spur an increase in economic growth and slow the nations slide into recession. Just days prior to the attack prominent Republicans were calling for even deeper cuts in interest rates and capital gains taxes to salvage the president’s economic plan. Not only was the economy faltering, but the budget surplus had all but evaporated and Congress found it necessary to dip into the Social Security trust fund to meet expenses in direct contradiction of another Bush campaign promise. Certainly a political disaster was brewing for Bush, but isn’t it convenient that Mr. bin Laden’s attack will now, not only divert attention from the failure of the President’s economic plan but also provide a handy excuse for all of the nation’s future economic woes resulting from that failure?

Another thing to consider is the current administration’s well-documented ties to the energy industry. A war in the Middle East will undoubtedly disrupt the flow of oil from that region and allow domestic producers (mostly based in Texas) to raise prices drastically on oil they supply to make up for the deficit. In the event of a significant shortage of oil supplies any opposition from environmentalists to drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge or anyplace the president chose would seem literally unpatriotic. It still seems rather significant that the threat of rolling blackouts in California stopped; the huge increases in the price of electricity subsided and the inexplicable rise in gasoline prices nationally (despite a glut in supplies), came to an abrupt end virtually on the same day Senator Jeffords bolted from the Republican party, placing Democrats in charge of all the various Senate committees and presenting the very real possibility of a Congressional investigation into abuses by the energy industry.

Another prominent plank in Bush’s campaign platform was resurrection of the “Star Wars” missle shield. Most opponents argued that such a plan was a Cold-War anachronism and the defense budget would be better spent beefing up measures against the threat of terrorism. Certainly the events of 9-11 will probably put that issue on even shakier ground than it was before, but does Bush come out the loser?

Many Americans felt the missle shield was only ploy to funnel billions of tax dollars to the depressed defense industry which, coincidentally also happens to be one of the Republican Party’s main supporters. Both the Reagan and previous Bush administrations pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the program and Americans have yet to see any significant return on that investment. But in the face of the stiff opposition the missle shield was certain to encounter, wouldn’t a war be a suitable alternative excuse to provide the defense industry with a huge financial boost for years to come? When Congress declared war they effectively gave the President a blank check for military spending.

Other immediate benefits Bush has derived from the 9-11 attack is an enormous boost in popularity, a big increase in his sagging approval rating and a previously divided Congress and nation now almost unanimously united in his support. Few presidents get an opportunity like this. While Attorney General Ashcroft is attempting to ramrod his Anti-Terrorism Act through Congress which liberals and conservatives alike fear will be a boom to law enforcement and a disaster for civil liberties, Republicans have wasted no time in an effort to capitalize on the religious fervor generated by the attack to revitalize the President’s troubled Faith Based Initiatives, which had been stalled for some time in the Senate due to the bill’s inability to pass Constitutional muster over problems pertaining to religious discrimination and questions about government sponsored religion.

Indeed the word “God” is on the lips of nearly everyone in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy. Even the President of a country whose government is Constitutionally required to be religion-neutral declares a “national day of prayer”, invokes the name of God ceaselessly, makes frequent references to “holy war” and hardly anyone raises an eyebrow. Let’s face it. America is a religious nation and overwhelmingly Christian. The Christian Bible prophesies in Revelations that a time of war and devastation known as the Tribulation will precede the Second Coming of Christ. Certainly a disaster of biblical proportions early in the new Millennium (such as the attack on the World Trade Center) would present an opportunity to press a previously unpopular agenda intended to blur the line between church and state. Tax payer funding for religious education, legislation limiting female reproductive choice, lifting of the ban on school-sponsored prayer and religious displays on public property among other dead and unpopular issues might all find new life and support in a nation that perceived itself as entering the End Times. Even more frightening is the possibility of a born-again bible-believing Christian President operating under the delusion that he was an instrument of God sent to fulfill biblical prophecy by provoking a final showdown between the forces of good and evil on the plains of Armageddon, but let’s not even go there.

There is nothing on earth that the United States could do anywhere that would ever justify or excuse what was done on September 11. Whoever did it, if they did have links to the Middle East, did not do it in the name of peace or in the name of Arabs and Muslims. It was an act of pure, unremitting evil. But this horrifying act must not now be used to silence or delegitimize criticism of US policy in the Middle East. It will be more important than ever for Americans to interrogate and understand their relationship to a region of the world of which many of them have little knowledge or interest but in which their government is deeply mired. Arab Americans and Muslims must be ready to be a part of this discussion and with patience and forbearance face increased hostility from some quarters and increased questions from others.

The entire nation is focused on tracking down and punishing those responsible for this heinous crime and preventing a recurrence. The President deserves everyone’s support in achieving those objectives but elimination of a thousand terrorists and a sky marshal on every flight won’t change the fact that our government and the individuals charged with ensuring national security let us down and that needs to be dealt with as much or more than any terrorist. If in the end it turns out that the ones who let us down were not simply incompetent fools but did so to further some personal or political agenda then what punishment could possibly be severe enough?

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