Monday, August 25, 2008

If I were President, how would I have reacted to 9/11

I am involved in several online bulletin board chat rooms and have found no end to the number of people who constantly second guess the President and the military in regards to their actions and positions regarding the War on Terror. More often than not, those second guessers do little more than point out the failures of the President without providing the slightest constructive suggestion for how to fix the perceived problems.

The closest they come to creating a solution is only in the context of hindsight, after events went one way or another. And they almost never acknowledge successes either.

To me folks who act like that are nothing more than "Armchair Quarterbacks" who shout and rant and rave about a game, who curse in front of their children and throw beer cans at the television. They are all talk but lack either the intelligence to lead a real team or the testicular fortitude (figure of speech ladies) to train and get on the field themselves.

That having been said...I'd like to challenge my readers to say how they would have handled the situation different. Realistically that is.

I'm not looking for hindsight observations, but real "What if I was President at that time and had the information the President acutally had". That information is not what the anti-Bush conspiracy theorists claim he knew but what we can verify he knew based on the actions of former President Clinton and the known history of bin Ladin, Saddam Hussein, and others related their shared cause.

Here are a handful of facts to start with, all facts that were known prior to Bush being in office.
1. Clinton felt Hussein was a dire threat: provable by the continuation of the embargo and the "Iraq No-Fly Zone" throughout his eight year term.

2. Two attempts were made by US forces against Osama Bin-Ladin in the late 90's(missile strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan)

3. US Emabassy bombings claimed by Al Qaeda in Africa killed hundreds.

4. The USS Cole strike proved to be carried out by Al Qaeda.

These four items alone, when put together with numerous other publicly available information resources can serve as the basis of your knowledge. Nothing more than what was known prior to 9/11 shoudl be considered when creating your "How would I handle it" scenario.

Please feel free to create as deep a scenario as you like. If you are inclined to the Democratic party I would recommend going under the assumption of a Democrat majority in both houses. But what I am looking for is real life-like possiblities, not a bunch of mindless conspiracy nut drivel...tell me in plausible terms what you would actually have done after the 9/11 attacks.

I hope to hear from you soon.
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  1. Well, my opinion about this is not popular at all. Start by reading "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins. 80% of the problems of 9/11 and post-9/11 are economic and have to do with the way the U.S. has pushed the influence of its corporations round the world. I know many people think that's OK, but things like 9/11 are what you get. That in no way justifies 9/11. But recognizing that we have policies that will inevitably cause this kind of violence (or much worse) is not the same thing as excusing it. Since I believe these policies re flawed an unethical, the answer to what I would have done after 9/11 is actually pretty easy.

    Now, the other piece is religious. Often in the past religious motives have actually covered for economic ones. But in some cases, there are real religious conflicts independent of the economics. And certainly some elements of those exist in the current situation. So I would look to the two main sources of the religious tension - Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    I would make the hard decision to tell Saudi Arabia that their preferred status (their planes were the only non-military things in the sky on the afternoon of 9/11) had ended. Oil prices would have skyrocketed, but probably wouldn't have even gone as high as they have now. I would have spent the 500 billion from Iraq on alternative energy research (and not corn-based ethanol), and we'd be a lot further along there.

    With Israel, I would tell them three things. One - our commitment to your mutual defense will be unwavering, but only if:
    2)You immediately cease any settlement expansion. and
    3)You immediately commit to sitting at the table with ANY legitimate party to the Palestinian conflict, and stay there until everyone is in compliance with the U.N.

    There are plenty of things to attack in what I have said. But most of them will be philosophical disagreements, or disagreements about the nature of the threat and what will work and not work. That's fair enough. Our problem is not George Bush. And it wasn't the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. It is our assumption that we can do things (mostly economically) that we'd consider acts of war if another country did them to us. The recent Georgia situation is a great example. If Mexico had acted like Georgia for the past ten years, we would not have had nearly the restraint that Russia had. But somehow Russia is bad guy. One of the biggest bill of goods ever tried to be put over on us by the government, and to listen to the media it's working.

  2. That's a pretty good perspective Ed. I agree that most of the stimulus for war is both economic and religious. Religion is usually the primary underlaying cause of dislike, distrust or hatred of one people over another. Economics is the catalyst that sparks physical conflict.

    But would negotiation as you stated prevent more attacks? Do you think that a violent response would be appropriate to prevent more violent attacks? If not why and what evidence is there that negotiation works?

  3. Basil -

    I guess I'd put it this way. negotiation is not going to work with Al Qaida, the Taliban, or certain extremists in the Palestinian and Israeli camps.

    Here's the problem - for everyone you kill, you create ten others. And the reason is because the United States has been engaging in policies for the past century that involve projecting our economic power into the world at the expense of pretty much everyone else. We are not unique in doing this, in fact, doing it is a hallmark of great nations historically. But war is also a hallmark of great nations historically. And so is eventual decline by overplaying their hand.

    And let me re-iterate - just because I am criticizing us does not mean that I am excusing the actions of the terrorists or suggesting that we are the ONLY ones doing the wrong thing.

    Anyway, talking about negotiations and about what we knew before 9/11 misses the point. We have essentially singlehandedly allowed Israel to expand their settlements to the point where there may actually not be any possible solution. We have exerted American influence in Saudi Arabia, home of Islam's holiest places, and propped up the house of Saud, which is not only a dictatorship, but is felt by tens of millions of Muslims to be a corrupt and evil influence on Islam.

    Those are the two biggies, but there are many others - Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. Because of this, we are between a rock and a hard place. We need to accept the cold hard truth that things have gotten to the point where there are no good options. But no one (in either party) wants to hear that. After 9/11, we essentially had two choices:

    1.Go on the attack. That is what we did. And it will wind up making us safer for a decade or two. As long as we are thrashing about in the Middle East, the terrorists will focus there. But aside from believing that triggering hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths just to make ourselves safer is wrong, it is my belief that in the long run, we are fomenting the kind of hatred of America that will wind us up attacked from all sides. The number of people in the world who believe that killing Americans is OK has likely never been higher. It's hard to imagine a less safe road to be going down.

    2.We could have taken a hard look at our role in what happened - some of the things a I mentioned before. And we could have started making changes - I suggested a couple of them, but there are a lot more. In the year or two after 9/11, saying things like that was liable to get me punched in the face or accused of being a traitor. But it's like an addict. We're addicted to cheap good and cheap energy obtained by exploiting other people. No different than some countries, but at his point, I'm concerned with solving our problems, not saying "they do it too". Anyway, when you're addicted, you get tempted to blame everyone except yourself. That is where we were in 2001 and 2002. Eventually you may stop being able to fool yourself about that, but then you convince yourself that you don't really have a problem. I think that is where the American people are right now.

    For an addict to quit, they need to recognize the problem. And we don't yet. And neither presidential candidate has come close to really mentioning it - McCain is still stuck in the blaming phase of the addiction, while Obama is much more interested in talking about repairing differences within the U.S. to do the tough work of telling us that we've gotten spoiled and things have gotta change. Kucinich and Edwards were the only two candidates that spoke to this at all. Ron Paul's isolationist foreign policy certainly on paper could have had some impact on it, but he never actually spoke to it.

    But back to this alternative course of action, if we actually did what I suggested, we would have been MORE likely to have an attack over the past few years. Because while many of the Islamic extremists really believe the religious stuff, many others would recognize the beginning of the end of their power if we started fundamentally changing our attitude. And they'd attack. But in the long run, the world would have been more stable.

    I'll say one more general thing here, and even if one disagrees with what I've said above, the following provides food for thought. Many have said that we face a new enemy and a new threat and that it requires a new way of doing things. Usually they say this to justify warrantless wiretapping, targeting people based on religion, and pre-emptive war. And the sad thing is that those things are NOT a different approach. They are exactly what we've done the past 50-60 years, just a little more brazen now. We've almost always violated the Constitution when faced with a threat. We've engaged in two major ill-conceived wars before this one for eerily similar reasons.

    The problem then as now is that we get faced with new threats and we seem unable to evaluate the threats objectively and in context. The ability and willingness of small groups to form networks to inflict terror is never going to be seriously addressed by either the military or by intelligence agencies. Certainly I believe that if we address the underlying causes, that would be a good thing. But on a high level, there is only one way it can be addressed - by making as many people in the world as possible believe it is wrong.

    And we have done pretty close to the exact opposite of that.

  4. I am involved in this same conversation on another board,, and was asked today what would I have done.

    Well, I am a firm believer in fast paced heavy force preceded by surgical strikes.

    I would have agreed to the invasion of Afghanistan on the basis that their government was overtly protecting the primary suspects, thus eliminating the possiblity of surgical strikes succeeding. I would also have dealt harder with Pakistan, perhaps threatening alliance with India if the Pakistani government didn't cooperate.

    In the case of Iraq, the imminent threat and multiplied evidences of WMD would have justitifed invasion but with a different time scale. I would not have worried about consensus bulding. There is plenty of significant evidence available that suggests that Saddam had an active WMD program that may have been near completion. I remember very vividly in late February 2003 when Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on one of the news shows decrying the fact that it was too late, the WMD's were moved to Syria immediately after the President named Saddam as part of the "Axis of Evil".

    My military solution to the potential proliferation of WMD's would have been immediate special forces strikes against suspected targets and air strikes against those truck convoys headed west in the weeks before the mass invasion.

    It takes less than twelve hours to get a very significant number of special forces imbedded almost anywhere in the world, and 72 hours to have a battallion of Marines storming in. The problem of course would have been the US casualties involved a lot more than we have had in the five years of war so far, but by acting faster instead of building on the idea of keeping our armed forces "safe" by over prepping, we let the bad guys go.

    Sadly, the American population in general tends to not be willing to make much heavy sacrifice.

    Our armed forces at the time were itching to get into the fight, I would have taken advantage of that and moved as fast possible with the best available intel and let the repurcussions fall as they would. That's the leaders fate.

    To be honest, unless the whole thing was a resounding success it would most likely be the end of my political career, but if the enemy infrastructure was crushed in rapid strikes that left the rest of the terrorist world reeling in shock and unable to act against America again. If it gave the perpetrators and their sympathizers nowhere to hide, it would have been a success. Think Operation Jericho, and the Elie Weisel foundation.

    Reagan did it often in the eighties, although not so large a scale, and with very little publicity. His actions led to the downfall of numerous communist dicatorships that threatened American interests. To he's a hero, to others he's villain...either way, it worked.

    More as the discussion continues.