Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The pre 9/11 mistakes that we're ignoring

Plenty of attention is going into investigating the failures of law enforcement and intelligence to put together various bits of information relating to the attacks that were in the system beforehand, and rightly so. The aspect of the whole flap which continues to intrigue me is the way the Bush administration ignored the threat which was made real on September 11, and what worries me is that in some ways they're making the very same mistakes even now.

At the start of the Bush administration, the outgoing Clintonites warned the Bushsters that al-Qaeda was the number one threat against the US, but the new administration decided that building a missile defense system was more important. Spending at least a trillion dollars on a system to shoot down nuclear missiles was necessary because a nuclear strike by "rogue nations" - especially Iraq, South Korea, and Iran - was the biggest direct threat to the US, and eliminating that threat would presumably significantly reduce their ability to harm us.

September 11 blew missile defense to smithereens. Missile defense had critics before then, but now its pointlessness is obvious to everyone, like putting an anti-aircraft battery in your back yard to prevent burglars from using a helicopter to break into your house. Al-qaeda demonstrated that there are far simpler and cheaper ways to attack the US than to build and launch ICBMs.

But another flaw in Bush administration policy was exposed by the 9/11 attacks, but hasn't been changed. Before 9/11 Bush considered "rogue nations" to be the biggest threat to US security, but 9/11 wasn't perpetrated by these, but by an international, stateless terrorism network, the same one which the Clinton administration found much more fearsome than Iraq and North Korea.

But since the US overthrew the Taliban, the George Bush has rebranded the "rogue nations" as the "axis of evil", and tied them in the public mind with 9/11, despite the lack of any evidence that any of them were involved. Al-qaeda's Afghanistan operations have been driven into Pakistan, and the fundamental forces which drove it are still alive and well in places like Saudi Arabia, but the Bush administration appears happy to consider them less of a threat than Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, none of which have ever directly attacked the US outside of their immediate vicinity.

Why is the Bush administration so fixated on these three countries? Granted, these are not warm and cuddly places. But none has directly attacked the US - sure, we've tangled with them in neighboring countries, the Iranians did nasty stuff to Americans in their country during their revolution. But we are facing a group, and a political-religious movement, which has bombed two embassies, attacked a navy ship, killed 3,000 people in New York city and successfully attacked the Pentagon. Their sponsors are still the dominant political and social force in Saudi Arabia, and are allowed to roam in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

The Bush administration's fixation on the Axis of Evil Rogue Nations appears to have distracted the FBI and CIA from al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. Will this fixation hurt us again?

Cheney says we shouldn't question what went wrong because we're at war, but is he talking about the war on al-Qaeda, or Iraq and the Axis? When the Bush administration's awareness that al-Qaeda might hijack planes became a public topic, they bombarded the media with apparently every rumor of terrorist attack they had in their files.

They seem to regard anti-terrorism, Islamic ultra-fundamentalism, and the Palestinian conflict as a distraction from the war they really want to fight. Unfortunately, even if they are able to persuade the American media and public that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are the most important threat facing this country, that doesn't mean the remnants of al-Qaeda and whatever evolves next out of ultra-extremist Islam will agree, and idly wait for us to finish before continuing their fight.

Tom Tomorrow is going at this hammer and tongs and American prospect rebuts Cheney's assertion that wartime governments shouldn't be questioned. (via Flit).

As I mentioned before, Joshua Micah Marshall is delving heavily into the issue as well. He's also finally finished that article on how the misguided neoconservatives may be right about polishing off Saddam, although they sound completely ignorant about how to do it.