Tonight I caught C-Span’s Book TV, Philip Shenon of the New York Times talking about his 9/11 Commission book to Michael Duffy of Time Mag. Shenon’s argument is that there was massive bungling in the intelligence agencies that resulted in 9/11 and has never fully been addressed. His reporting uncovers phone calls between former 9/11 executive director Philip Zelikow, now a prof at the University of Virginia, and Karl Rove, with the suggestion that the Commission tailored its findings to exonerate the Bush administration for doing nothing about the many warnings of a terrorist strike that it got in the months before 9/11.
At the end of the show Duffy brought up all the conspiracy theories that exist around 9/11, that it was an American plot, etc. The men scoffed at these, as they should.
But there was something absurd about the dialogue. The dichotomy between intelligence bungling/a conspiracy as causes of the attack is a false one. The real dichotomy is between intelligence bungling and policy bungling. The people who were truly responsible for 9/11 are Al Qaeda, a potent and vicious force, and who could have stopped them striking? No one, I think. Yes we can hamstring them and chase them and throw them all in prison, but if people hate you, they are going to break through. Look at the Israelis. They have the best intelligence in the world, and they don’t care about Palestinian civil rights. They build walls on the Arab world. Then an Arab driver shoots up a school. Al Qaeda was going to get thru here at some point. Turned out to be 9/11.
The real business of the 9/11 Commission that Shenon ignores is, Why they hate us? Of course, the 9/11 Commission also gave short shrift to this question, though I seem to remember that it did offer some compromise language about bin Laden’s grievances about American policy, from the occupation by the U.S. of the Prophet’s birthplace in Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian struggle for freedom from a country that holds 78 percent of historical Palestine and is now colonizing the choice bits in the remaining fifth. As (Ron Paul advisor) Robert Pape has explained, occupations that involve religious differences will result in acts of
suicide terrorism that are supported by the terrorists’ community.
This is the gaping hole in Shenon’s analysis. Bureaucracies will always break
down; the notion that they are perfectible is some meritocratic
fantasy. The effort to blame Bush or Clinton for 9/11 is akin to the efforts to blame Rumsfeld or Cheney or Bush for bad execution of the Iraq war. (It was the policy stupid). The true causes of the attack were American policies, some of which we actually should change.