This is the first of three posts that were inspired by Sunday’s anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks. Tomorrow’s post will focus on occupied East Turkestan, which the Communists have used as their smokescreen to cover up their support of anti-American terrorists. The final post, on Sunday, will describe in detail those ties between Communist China and America’s enemies in the War on Terror. Today’s News of the Day can be found here.
This Sunday will be the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. For America, it is a time to remember the fallen, and to assess where we are in the War on Terror. For those not familiar with this blog and its author, one would expect perhaps that this day would pass by without notice here. That would be wrong. In fact, this is the first of three posts that will deal with 9/11 (the second will come tomorrow, and the third on Sunday, the anniversary day itself), and I suspect, it will be viewed as the most controversial.
Whenever I am asked if President Bush could have prevented 9/11, I always answer, “it’s certainly possible.” This usually stuns the person who asked me, because that’s not really their question. The real question they want answered (and thought they asked) is if the Bush Administration had enough foreknowledge of 9/11 to prevent it and was unable to act upon it due to incompetence or unwilling to act for pernicious political reasons. My answer to that question is “no,” but no one has ever asked it. So I am usually forced to explain that I believe the President could have taken action that would have led Osama bin Laden to postpone the attack, perhaps long enough to prevent it from happening. Often, I get quizzical looks, and a response of “how could he have done that?” That’s when the conversation goes to Hainan Island.
One argument defenders of the Bush Administration have used ever since September 11, 2001 was that the terrorists wouldn’t have planned the attacks of that dark day but for the weakness of the Clinton Administration, best revealed by the complete lack of reaction to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. That argument is very effective, and quite true – until 2001, in particular the first day of April, 2001, when a Communist Chinese air force fighter plane collided with an American EP-3E surveillance aircraft flying off the coast of Communist China.
Among the kernels of information the Communists would rather not be known include the following: at the time of the collision, the EP-3 was on “autopilot;” after the collision, the American plane tried to leave Communist air space, but according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, it was forced to land on Hainan by another Communist jet fighter; the Communists “wrestled a U.S. crew member guarding the entrance” and “threw the airman to the ground” in order to get into the plane (Agence France Presse: the link has since died). The Communists were far less adept at hiding the fact that the twenty-four member crew was taken off the plane and held captive on an island hotel.
This is where Osama bin Laden, and indeed all of us, saw President Bush in his first international crisis. The result made an impression, and it wasn’t good.
At first, the President held firm, demanding that the American crew be returned, and that the plane be left untouched (the Communists were so eager for the technology bonanza that came with the plane that they began ripping it apart before the latter demand before it was even made). However, as days went by, his tough talk on the crew went soft. The President never called the American crew “hostages”- preferring the value neutral and utterly silly “detainees.” Meanwhile, the demands for the crew’s return devolved into offers of “regret” and even a willingness to say “sorry.” Even this wasn’t enough for the cadres, who demanded an American apology for daring to fly a plane on autopilot in international waters when a hot-dogging Communist slammed into it.
In fact, contrary to nearly all American media reports, the Bush Administration actually did apologize, albeit in the Chinese-language version (Washington Times: link has been archived). Even the English-language version included the ridiculous concession to the Communists that the EP-3 had landed “without verbal clearance” on Hainan – especially outrageous given what the South China Morning Post reported.
All in all, it was the great two weeks for the Communists, who were “able to force the Bush team to yield one thing after another” (CNN’s Willy Lam). Here in the U.S., the “engagement” crowd was praising the President to the skies. However, two pundits William Kristol and Robert Kagan, cast a worrying eye to the future as the crew returned home:
. . . we have suffered a blow to our prestige and reputation, a loss that will reverberate throughout the world if we do not begin immediately to repair the damage. The problem is not merely that we have lost face – though the Chinese are right to believe that great powers should place a high value on their reputation. The bigger problem is that our reliability as defender of the peace and protector of friends and allies, especially in East Asia, has been thrown into doubt . . . Nor should anyone doubt that Saddam Hussein has studied this whole affair intently to see how the United States responds when faced with this kind of bullying. So far the lesson is all too clear: When you bully the United States, the United States searches for a way to apologize.
Whatever conclusions Saddam may have reached have now been relegated to the hypothetical realm. Osama bin Laden is another story. While the 9-11 Commission (which suddenly has a lot more to explain on other matters) did not examine possible reactions from Hainan, they did find that the “muscle” hijackers didn’t enter the United States en masse until late April 2001. The whispers in the terrorist camps that something big was going down didn’t start until mid-summer. Admittedly, this is circumstantial, but I wonder, had Osama seen something that led him to believe that President Bush, like Clinton, was unwilling to risk confrontation? Did it steel his resolve to go forward with the attacks?
Now, many upon reading this would counter: Osama was going to hit us anyway, even if he waited a few more months, what would it mean? In fact, it could have meant a great deal: on September 4, 2001, the President approved a de facto alliance with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan, something the Clinton Administration had turned down twice (Washington Post). Nobody in Afghanistan had any knowledge of the Administration’s decision before al Qaeda murdered Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud on September 9 (four years ago today). The World Trade Center fell two days later – and I refuse to believe that was a coincidence.
Would Osama bin Laden have pushed back plans for the 9/11/01 attack if he had seen the Bush Administration act with firm resolve? By this point, Communist China was already helping Osama bin Laden launder money through its financial fronts around the world. What, if anything, would the cadres have told him about Bush if they had seen a tougher reaction from him regarding Hainan (I do not mean this to imply the Communists had any foreknowledge of the attack, an issue I will address on Sunday)? If Osama had postponed the attack – and admittedly, that remains a very large “if” – would it have been long enough for the new Administration policy to knock the Taliban out of the box in Afghanistan, or at least to keep Massoud alive? Finally, would either change to the timeline of events have led the 9/11 attack to be prevented or cancelled?
As far as I know, no one has even thought to ask these questions, let alone answer them. I’m not even sure they can be answered. That Osama bin Laden wanted to strike America is beyond doubt. That al Qaeda was, in 2001, planning to make such a strike is also beyond doubt. However, the factors bin Laden et al took into account when the time came for the final “green light” – in particular the anticipated American reaction – is still very much in doubt, and one very big but largely unexamined reason for this is the Administration’s weakness in April of 2001.