This isn’t Salem
The first overt terror attack on the United States occurred Oct. 23, 1983, when the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, was bombed.
The fact that America was embroiled in the Cold War certainly factored into President Reagan’s decision not to respond. Nevertheless, the president’s inaction sent a powerful message to Islamic terrorists.
Three years later, when Libya bombed a Berlin nightclub, killing two American soldiers, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Col. Gadhafi’s home and offices in Tripoli, which sent a clear message to Gadhafi, who subsequently curtailed his terrorist activity.
But Spain and France did not allow U.S. overflights, so instead of a five-hour mission, the F-111 fighter bombers had to fly 18 hours around the Rock of Gibraltar and refuel several times. This lack of cooperation from our allies sent a powerful message to other Islamic terrorists.
When al Qaeda terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, the Clinton administration treated the event as a law enforcement matter.
President Clinton was given a perfect opportunity to rally and alert Americans to the al Qaeda threat, but he didn’t even visit the site after the bombing. Another powerful message was sent to Islamic terrorists.
Later, in October, U.S. Army rangers and Delta Force operatives fought a bloody 15-hour battle in the streets of Mogadishu, suffering almost 100 casualties.
News organizations throughout the world broadcast videos of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets. The debacle in Mogadishu was a terrible blow to American prestige, and Clinton’s immediate pullout sent a powerful message to Islamic terrorists.
Osama bin Laden commented, “We have seen … the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier who is ready to wage cold wars but unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. … Also, they can run in less than 24 hours, as in Somalia.”
In June 1996 the Khobar Towers bombing killed 19 American servicemen.
Again the Clinton administration took no action. Another powerful message to Islamic terrorists.
In July 1998 al-Qaeda blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
But President Clinton, being preoccupied with his impeachment, did not respond. One more powerful message to Islamic terrorists.
Three days after the Lewinsky grand jury appearance, Bill Clinton took action and launched several cruise missiles into two Islamic countries, destroying the only pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan and obliterating several makeshift tents in the Afghan desert.
Finally, on Oct.12, 2000, the warship USS Cole was bombed while refueling in Yemen. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured. The Clinton administration took the politically expedient course of action and handed the problem to President-elect George W. Bush, sending yet another clear message that America was not going to defend itself.
Are the above actions those of an administration that took terrorism seriously? James Woolsey, Clinton’s first CIA director, told The New York Times that he never met privately with President Clinton to discuss terrorism or any other issue after their initial interview.
Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who broke the Watergate story in the 1970s, never once mentions terrorism in “The Agenda,” his chronicle of Clinton’s early years.
Between 1992 and 2000, the Clinton administration shrank the U.S. military by 33 percent while instituting military pay freezes, driving out some of America’s finest officers and NCOs. The Clinton White House obviously reasoned there were no threats in the post-Soviet world that might make it necessary for the United States to fight a protracted war or face wars on more than one front. As a result of those policies our soldiers, sailors and Marines face the most severe troop rotation problem since the draft ended 30
years ago. Former Sen. Gary Hart cautioned for years that a terrorist attack on America was imminent, but Americans turned a deaf ear and our inquiring media did little reporting about the al Qaeda threat.
But with the prospect of a long occupation and recent increase in American casualties in Iraq, it appears that Americans want to blame someone, anyone, so why not blame the current administration?
The reality is that it’s highly unlikely any American president could have pursued al Qaeda in a manner that would have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Americans who were blithely unaware of the threat would have screamed bloody murder had our military conducted search and destroy missions in Afghanistan looking for bin Laden. Those Americans would have said, “Osama who?” And the liberal media would have poured gasoline on the political fire, excoriating any American president for “unilateral aggression” no different from the Russian incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980s.
America had dozens of opportunities to strike at the leadership of al Qaeda during the last 20 years, but we failed to act. The idea that the FBI, Coast Guard, CIA, port authorities, FAA and the INS could have sustained a “high level of coordinated readiness” in the months leading up to 9/11 is preposterous.
There is plenty of blame to go around regarding the causes and the lack of prevention for the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately, most of us don’t want to hear the real reasons for the attack: 1) presidential inaction, especially during the 1990s; 2) systemic problems in a bloated bureaucracy; 3) a media more concerned with reporting the Monica Lewinsky scandal than doing serious journalism about world events; and 4) public complacency in an exploding economy.
Oh yeah, one final reason: a group of vicious malcontents unwilling to admit that they allowed the world to b-pass their cultures, hijacked a religion, and decided to lash out at America for having so much.
What’s done is done. That a commission is investigating what we could and should have done is a good thing, but let’s not allow this to become a witch hunt. There’s blame enough for all.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree, a local real estate broker and a ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org