Mistaken War on Terror

A View From the Edge

I was always puzzled by the look on George Bush’s face in that kindergarten classroom. It wasn’t the look of shock over 9/11; there was something else there.

After listening to a recap of the hunt for Bin Laden on the always excellent BBC program “The Reith Lectures” (here’s the link: www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/r4choice; look for Documentary of the Week dated Sept. 13), I think I know what it is: “Those CIA guys were right nine months ago, and I’m going to get the blame.”

To be fair to George, there were many inside his White House who disregarded the good advice of serious nonpolitical people who knew about Bin Laden and had been hunting him since 1998 (Kenya and Tanzania U.S. embassy bombings).

Clinton had failed to implement their recommendation to go against Bin Laden and al-Qaeda because he had political problems of his own and didn’t want to be accused of manufacturing an enemy to divert attention from Monica.

And before that, the CIA’s knowledge that al-Qaeda wanted to use big planes to attack Langley was considered a real threat.

Think I’m making all this up? If the names Cofer Black, Abdullah Anas, Mike Sheuer, Nawal al Hazmi,  Khalid al Mihdhar, Noman Benotman, John Antisev,  Henry Shelton, George Tenet, Richard Clark, Paul Pillar, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Myers do not mean much to you then your grasp of the real news is like the reader who scans covers of books, reads the dust cover and assumes he has absorbed all the book has to offer.

The commercial media in this country takes the position that you are either too stupid or so wrapped up in your narrow life that you only want the book cover version of the news. And that is fine for most of the time because you assume the people running the country would surely be better informed, right?

Wrong, very wrong. The congressmen and women know about as much as you do because the political filtering system prevents the people who do know facts from ever giving nonadministration leaders those facts. So every decision on terrorism gets a political washing. And in our current he said-she said political climate, that means some really bad decisions or nondecisions are being made.

Here are some facts: The White House, Condoleezza Rice in particular, was told about Bin Laden’s plans for a major attack in America in January 2001 and the president was told again in May.

How did the security people really know? They had been listening to Bin Laden’s Inmarsat satellite phone. The FBI had gotten the number in a face to face interrogation of an embassy bomber in 1998. But of course when the CIA found out that two known al-Qaeda operatives were indeed already in the United States for a year, they took almost two weeks to tell the FBI — two weeks before 9/11. Good luck with that; 9/11 was inevitable by that time.

What we did do is come up with a digestible slogan for the masses to get behind: The War on Terror. Like the British who mistakenly called the IRA’s murderous campaign in Northern Ireland the War in Northern Ireland, the word “war” justified making the terrorists a foe one faces on the field of battle.

Such terms like war sound good because they mean the nation should agree to the expenses and loss of soldiers’ lives. The problem is that the IRA and al-Qaeda were legitimized by the word. They were seen as an enemy army and not the murdering thugs they really were.

In the end, when the War in Northern Ireland was demoted to a campaign against murderers, and emphasis was placed on police actions and investigations, truth and justice began to emerge. People in Boston were shocked to learn that their dollar donations to IRA recruiters were taken to Cuba, traded for drugs, which were then taken back to Boston and sold to kids on the street, tripling the funds available for bombings and killings in Belfast.

When the U.S. sent George Mitchell to mediate between the U.K. government, Eire and the so-called political wing of the IRA, Sinn Fein, he took the position that the criminals must be stopped, America won’t be funding drug dealers who target U.S. kids only to commit murder in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein distanced itself from the more radical IRA killers and, slowly, peace came a-knocking.

There is no such thing as a war on terror. It is a made-up term that means nothing. If there is a war, it is an internal war within the United States between those who are experts and those who want to spin the news to keep the public happy and win elections.

The CIA and FBI know perfectly well how to deal with criminals, terrorists and dissidents (even those here in the United States). Will they stop every attack? No, but they will have a far better chance if political leaders, and political spin masters like Rove and Carville, will leave experts to make such anti-criminal campaigns, decisions and arrests.

So how did we get Bin Laden? A CIA plan from before 2001was dusted off and handed to the military who, simply, implemented it within a month or so, proving, once again, that when left to experts, action can be more effective than political spin and slogans.

Some would argue that the public feels safer with folks in D.C. framing the conflicts we face with slogans and media-dumbing down of the news. Try telling that to the families of people who perished on 9/11 or the families of our soldiers engaged in the conflict (not a real war) still raging in Afghanistan.

Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.