The 9/11 Hearings and the Failures of the 1990s
FrontPageMagazine.com | March 26, 2004
domestic politics while analyzing the terrorist threat facing America has
been a major paradigm in my longstanding search for answers. But in an
election year, the American political culture surrounds one with pitfalls
and land mines no matter what your subject is about. This is why I believe
that the 9/11 hearings of today were floating in dangerous waters.
National security was unfortunately simmered with a dressing of
Presidential wars. Something this generation of Americans has not escaped
yet, despite the tragedy of September 11.
It is sad to admit that, while Jihad
is on rampage worldwide, most of the political establishment of the
greatest nation on Earth is sinking in perturbing confusion. Not new in
History. Constantinople, Alexandria and Carthage had a similar problem,
though they all sank in it and were lost forever. One would pray that
the modern world's Rome, Washington, doesn't inflict the same fate on
The 9/11 Commission could have transformed the country into an adult
nation, if the debate had concentrated on the investigation of the real
root causes that allowed the jihad terrorists to massacre
thousands of Americans on that fatal morning of September 2001. As someone
who is the product of a smaller community that underwent similar
tribulations some 29 years ago, I have a slight advantage on my fellow
American citizens, for I had a quarter century of additional experience
Back in East Beirut, I was a few
hundred feet away from the explosion of the first car bomb in history. I
saw bodies falling back onto the ground, and witnessed the first step that
started the long trail of bloodshed leading to Ground Zero. When I talk
about terrorism in America, I can say I have met its ancestor in the
What I missed in my experiences in Lebanon, I have had the unfortunate but
vital opportunity to experience in this great land, for America is a
country that is looking for answers and searching for truth after the
massacre. Americans need to know what happened on 9/11, why it happened,
who did it, and who let it happen.
For more than a decade, I felt I was
a voice in the wilderness, warning whomever I could reach that the
Jihadists were marching towards this country. Throughout the 1990s, year
after year, I saw the attacks unfolding, and the American government
struggling with how to respond.
I observed the clouds gathering in Khartoum in 1992, when terrorists from
all walks of life were assembled by Hassan Turabi to consult on the next
world target. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hizbollah and those men
who would later form al Qaida were sitting shoulder to shoulder with
Mujahideen from Chechnia to Algeria. On the menu: how to defeat the United
I read about these meetings by
purchasing the daily Arabic al Hayat, in subtropical Miami. But
the mainstream press in Washington missed what was to come. The holy war
machinery was moving, while America slept tight.
Twelve years later, and after 16
hours of hearings by two secretaries of state, two secretaries of defense,
national security advisers and an angry former Terrorism Czar, the alpha
of post Soviet Terrorism was not even mentioned. “We started to hear about
al Qaida around 1994,” said Richard Clarke. “Err, I began to know about
them around 1996,” admitted former secretary Madeleine Albright. In the
MSNBC studios where I was glued on the TV screen, I sat in disbelief. This
country was at war and it didn't even know?
For one minute, I imagined why Osama Bin Laden chose to attack head-on.
Simple! He must have realized that the foreign policy and security
establishments of the “greater Satan” were living on another planet. After
the first Twin Towers attacks in New York in 1993 and the Khobar Towers
operation in 1996, Washington sends in the FBI for forensics. The same
year, the Taliban takes over Kabul, and al Qaida forms training camps
around that poor country. The US dispatches the diplomats to Riyadh
instead for mediation. “The infidels are intimidated,” Usama Bin Laden
told Western journalists the following year. “Their soldiers can't fight,
their Government is on the run,” asserted the commander of the believers
on al Jazeera later. His ambition became unstoppable. Ironically, he had
the courtesy to inform the United States of his intention.
On February 22, 1998, the bearded man declared war. The Clinton
administration obviously didn't hear this declaration. In August, Bin
Laden’s organization destroyed two American embassies in East Africa. This
time, the White House had to respond. The world was watching its leading
power flexing muscles in Bosnia to defend others and was wondering why
Washington wasn't using its power to protect its own citizens. Two
missiles landed on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and thirty Tomahawks
dug the rocks of Afghanistan.
The Taliban readied themselves for
the encounter with the Marines but no marching orders were issued across
the Potomac. Mullah Omar and Sheikh Bin Laden barely believed the no-show.
“It must be the hand of Allah!” they must have thought.
“After their diplomats, let's test their military.” In
2000, the USS Cole was hit in Yemen. This time, neither the Seals were
deployed nor the Cruise missiles were fired. “The international situation
could have gotten complicated,” theorized Secretary Albright at the
hearings. “We should not be emotional,” rationalized Secretary Cohen. “We
had no compelling evidence,” said Dick Clarke. Yeah, that works in
hearings in a Washington forum, four years after. But one year later,
three planes led by Mohammed Atta slammed into the twin towers and the
Pentagon, killing three thousand Americans.
At the 9/11 hearings, Senator Kerrey intelligently wondered how al Qaida
operatives crossed “all layers of American defense.” In an attempt to
answer his commission, the representatives of the two Administrations
clashed with each other to explain whose fault it was.
But the truth is not so difficult to
understand. Al Qaida did not force its way onto our mainland; it was
invited in. The long and astonishing chain of missed rendezvous between
Uncle Sam and the neo-Wahabis during the 1990s compelled the Jihadists to
pay us a visit at home. Actually they came to visit us again, after the
first arrival of 1993. For anyone who understands the terrorists’ mind,
that was the logical consequence of a lost decade.
The problem was that our policy establishment of the 1990s had no
expertise in Jihadism. “How would you know what’s on al Qaida’s mind,”
said Secretary Albright at the hearings. That sentence alone should
summarize the proceedings of the commission.
Al Qaida was marching towards our shores, but its steps were never heard
in Washington. What the Commission must investigate in order to serve
justice are the whispers that blocked the ears of the decision-makers.
Only then, we would know who wanted America to sleep tight, while its
enemies readied for the slaughter.
Dr. Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East Studies and an
MSNBC Terrorism analyst. He can be reached at
website is www.walidphares.com.