Chances are you’ve bought the explanation our political leaders have repeated since September 11, 2001 to explain why they took charge of a response that should have been left to professionals. I have to admit I was confused by this for a while myself, despite having been trained by those professionals who would have guided our response had precedent been followed. Despite having been specifically told how those professionals intended to respond and recognizing the response Washington mandated fell far short, I thought there must be a good explanation until I simply no longer could convince myself this was the case.
Before 9/11 I knew al Qaeda intended to carry out a synchronized series of attacks involving our airlines. I learned this in 1996, while helping the Secret Service ensure Air Force One itself wasn’t tampered with. The year before, those operatives responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing planted a bomb aboard an aircraft intended to terrorize American military personnel, federal employees, and their families while preparing for this attack. Recognizing this attempt failed al Qaeda then began toying with the idea of hijacking aircraft they’d place in the hands of suicidal pilots.
In 1998, I learned how the Department of Defense intended to respond if al Qaeda succeeded. The Naval War College, and institutions like it, studied the problem and began training personnel. While we did as we were advised our leaders were to take on the challenge of settling a panicked body politic. We were taught what to expect if they succeeded and what to expect if they didn’t, so I can say for certain they didn’t succeed in this mission.
Our political leaders panicked on September 11, 2001. In that panic they agreed to work with the nation most likely responsible for providing al Qaeda the logistical and technical support it needed to succeed, Saudi Arabia. From that point forward our attention was diverted from al Qaeda and the network of engineers, financiers, and intelligence operatives that supported it and focused instead on those easily located. The Taliban and Iraq, for instance. Saudi Arabia retained the ability to rebuff investigators seeking to identify those inside its borders who supported al Qaeda.
This is an old problem, one that was repeatedly discussed before 9/11. Saudi Arabia simply has too much influence in the United States. Our political leaders avoid doing anything that might upset this power that controls 80% of the world’s oil. I don’t know if I can even blame them for not responding as they should have to 9/11, as it’s possible that attack was meant to show them they weren’t untouchable.
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