Posts Tagged 9/11

Chas Freeman’s Saudi fable

The other day, I brought this January 2004 quote from Chas Freeman, just named to head of the National Intelligence Council (NIC):

The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.

I offered this as evidence for Freeman’s view of the roots of anti-American terrorism—his thesis that terrorism is America’s punishment for supporting Israel. But some readers saw it as real evidence that terrorists are recruited through a bait-and-switch process. Bait: Fight the Israelis. Switch: Kill fellow Saudis and Americans. So I decided to check whether Freeman’s story held water. Did the television show related to him by his “Saudi friends,” and which he related to us, actually report what he said it did? After all, Freeman told this anecdote in Washington, on a panel in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, and he drew rather far-reaching conclusions from it. So it should hold water, right?

Freeman told the anecdote on January 23, 2004. He prefaced it by saying that he had visited Saudi Arabia “a week ago.” The episode described to him by his “friends” would have been the dramatic broadcast on Saudi TV1 (state television) on January 12. Lasting 67 minutes, it featured several anonymous Saudi members of “terrorist cells” (their faces were shadowed) who gave brief details of how they were recruited, followed by commentary from Saudi experts. The program was a big deal, and was much commented upon by the Saudi press and foreign wire services. (Examples: Associated Press, BBC, and Agence France-Presse.) The official Saudi Press Agency provided a very detailed report, and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service prepared an exhaustive account of the program (both here).

And guess what? There is nothing in the program to substantiate Freeman’s “bait-and-switch” version of it. In almost thirty short segments in which the terrorists described their recruitment, only one made reference to something said by a recruiter on Palestine: “I sat with them and heard them speaking about jihad, the duty of jihad, and jihad as an individual duty [fard ayn] that has become incumbent on every Muslim for almost 50 years, since the Jews entered Palestine.” But another recruiter used this message: “We want to establish an Islamic state and carry out the prophet’s tradition [Hadith]. He says with great pride: The prophet removed the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula.” Some recruiters talked about the afterlife: “We ask them: What are we doing here? What do we get in return? And, they say it is in return for paradise.” Then there was Afghanistan: “Two so-called mujahidin, who were in Afghanistan, came to me and told me stories about jihad, conquest, Afghanistan, the rewards of the steadfast, the graces bestowed on mujahidin, and the glory of jihad.” Recruiters incited recruits against Saudi authority: “They only speak against Saudi rulers and men of religion. They concentrate all their efforts on Saudi Arabia.” And they plied recruits with various radical fatwas and books.

Nothing in the program suggests that the recruitment of these terrorists had “a great deal” to do with Palestine, or much to do with it at all. Palestine was one message in a barrage of messages directed by recruiters toward recruits, and not in any particular order or priority either. There is not a shred of evidence for the “bait and switch” thesis in the program. Judge for yourself.

And yet the notion is out and about in America, thanks to Chas Freeman. He didn’t see the television program; he said he was relying on his “Saudi friends.” If so, he obviously didn’t perform any due diligence on what they told him, before repeating it on Capitol Hill and drawing far-reaching conclusions from it (“the heart of the poison” and all that). It’s not hard to see how this might serve some Saudi public relations interest. But can the United States afford to tolerate this kind of method at the top of the National Intelligence Council? And isn’t the only explanation for this shoddy approach to evidence a combination of political spin and uncritical reliance on foreign “friends”—the most dangerous infections for any intelligence organization?

Freeman is hailed by some as a “contrarian” and “gadfly.” After checking out this one episode, he looks to me like a shill or a sucker. Get your red pencils sharpened for those National Intelligence Estimates.

Update, late afternoon, March 10: Put the red pencils away. This announcment is just in: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

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    Chas Freeman and 9/11

    How important has resentment of Israel been to Al Qaeda’s terrorism? Here is one side of the argument, by an American who knows Saudi Arabia well:

    The heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was told by Saudi friends that on Saudi TV there were three terrorists who came out and spoke. Essentially the story they told was that they had been recruited to fight for the Palestinians against the Israelis, but that once in the training camp, their trainers gradually shifted their focus away from the Israelis to the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and to the United States. So the recruitment of terrorists has a great deal to do with the animus that arises from that continuing and worsening situation.

    And here is the opposing view, by an American who knows the Kingdom equally well:

    Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

    So now you’ve heard two sides of the debate. Who made the first statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Who made the second statement? Charles “Chas” Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration’s nominee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

    The first quote dates from January 2004, the second from October 1998. The difference between them is 9/11, when it became the Saudi line to point to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians as the “root cause” of the September 11 attacks. The initial promoter of this approach in the United States (well before Walt and Mearsheimer) was Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed. “At times like this one,” Alwaleed announced a month after 9/11, “we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause.” That statement led then-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani to return a $10 million check Alwaleed had just presented to him for a special “Twin Towers” relief fund.

    Since 9/11 Freeman hasn’t repeated his 1998 assessment (“nothing to do with Israel”), instead sticking with his Saudi-pleasing spin of 2004 (“the heart of the poison is the Israel-Palestinian conundrum”). It’s not hard to figure out why. When the 9/11 Commission interviewed him in 2003, it noted that his position as president of the Middle East Policy Council “requires regular trips to the Persian Gulf for fundraising. While there, he meets with many senior Saudi officials.” In 2006, Freeman finally went the extra mile, offering this explanation for 9/11:

    We have paid heavily and often in treasure for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs. Five years ago, we began to pay with the blood of our citizens here at home.

    Freeman was now touting precisely the sort of nonsense he had previously dismissed out of hand. And he hit paydirt for doing it: within months, Prince Alwaleed wrote a check to Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council for $1 million. Here is a photo of Freeman, supplicant, visiting Alwaleed in the latter’s Riyadh HQ.

    Does Freeman really believe that Israel’s actions caused Bin Laden’s terror? Who knows? He’s put forward two completely contradictory explanations. One would like to believe that in his heart of hearts, he still knows what he knew in 1998, that Bin Laden’s “campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel.” One would like to believe that in 2006, he was cynically shilling for the Saudis when he blamed 9/11 on “our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach.” Because if he wasn’t just cynically shilling, he’s gone off the rails. (Actually, there is a third Freeman explanation for 9/11, so bizarre that I don’t know quite how to categorize it. Parse this: “What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back.”)

    If Freeman’s gone off the rails, he obviously shouldn’t be taken out of mothballs to coordinate U.S. intelligence. But that’s so even if he was just cynically shilling. “An ambassador,” said Sir Henry Wotton, “is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.” In America, an ex-ambassador is all too often an honest man hired from abroad to lie to his own country. Freeman may have an impeccable record of past service, just as his old buddies attest. But if the National Intelligence Council and its products are to earn the respect of the American people, the NIC chair cannot be suspected of ever having deliberately twisted the truth into something else for our consumption, especially on a crucial issue of national security and at the behest of foreign interests.

    Chas Freeman doesn’t pass that test.

    Update, March 9: Some have argued that the two opening quotes in this post are actually consistent with one another. So I offer the full context of the first quote from 1998, which demonstrates that on that occasion, Freeman was actively deflecting the thesis that Bin Laden’s appeal rested on Israel and U.S. support for it. He was chairing a panel, and a member of the audience asked a question.

    Q: I’m astonished that nobody has mentioned the name Osama bin Laden. And it astonishes me also that we do nothing, apparently, to indicate that we are not a colony of Israel, when his whole appeal depends on demonstrating and reminding Muslims the world over that the United States is identified with Israel. If we do not develop a firm disagreement with Israel, we are going to suffer repeated casualties and deaths, including Foreign Service personnel.

    AMB. FREEMAN: Perhaps I could begin by saying that Mr. Osama bin Laden is a renegade from his family and from Saudi Arabia; his family has disowned him, and the kingdom has certainly dissociated itself from him. Mr. bin Laden’s principal point, in pursuing this campaign of violence against the United States, has nothing to do with Israel. It has to do with the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, in connection with the Iran-Iraq issue. No doubt the question of American relations with Israel adds to the emotional heat of his opposition and adds to his appeal in the region. But this is not his main point.

    So Freeman was actively deflecting an argument he himself would later make. It is interesting that this one-time-only absolution of Israel occurred while Freeman was playing host to a panel featuring Martin Indyk, at the time Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs. Maybe that explains it.

    Pointer: See subsequent post, Chas Freeman and preemptive cringe.

    Update, late afternoon, March 10: “Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair announced today that Ambassador Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret.”

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      Cole spills wine at Cana

      Juan Cole today opens a dramatic post with the following passage, in response to the deaths yesterday, from Israeli fire, of several dozen Palestinian civilians sheltering at an UNWRA school in Gaza:

      In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news (graphic). He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. He immediately wrote out a martyrdom will, pledging to die avenging the innocent victims, killed with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center….

      You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.

      The post goes on to argue that America will pay the price of Israel’s “bloody-mindedness,” as it did on 9/11.

      Actually, Atta’s will was dated April 11, 1996—one week before the Qana tragedy, on April 18. We don’t know for certain why he made it, but it cannot be because he witnessed any footage from Qana, which was still in the future. And Cole apparently never read the will. It contains no pledge to die while avenging anyone. The will deals with disposition of Atta’s body and possessions in the event of his death. It’s not a “martyrdom will,” but a standardized one, provided by Atta’s Hamburg mosque. (You can read the full text here.)

      This is not Cole’s first problem with 9/11 chronology and facts. For an earlier instance, go here.

      Update: In the wake of this post, Cole has partly retro-edited his own post (without indicating so). Just for the record, below is the original.


        Making Cole-slaw of history

        For a trained historian, even in Middle Eastern studies, Juan Cole is scandalously incompetent when it comes to cause and effect. Here’s his latest gaffe, made in the context of the London bombings:

        According to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon’s iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon’s threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.

        Did Cole read the same 9/11 report as the rest of us? There’s not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon’s (or Israel’s) policies, and I challenge him to produce one. Cole just made it up. And in point of fact, the report’s narrative definitively contradicts him.

        The report makes it clear that 9/11 was conceived well before Sharon became prime minister of Israel in March 2001. Chapter 5, section 2 (p. 153) says the following, based on the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind:

        According to KSM, he started to think about attacking the United States after [Ramzi] Yousef returned to Pakistan following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing…. He maintains that he and Yousef…speculated about striking the World Trade Center and CIA headquarters as early as 1995.

        The idea was fully hatched by early 1999 (p. 154):

        KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda in late 1998 or 1999, and states that soon afterward Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his proposal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons…. Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal. The plot was now referred to within al Qaeda as the “planes operation.”

        The election of Ehud Barak as Israeli prime minister in May 1999 didn’t put a crimp in the planning. To the contrary: preparations proceeded apace, and Bin Laden pushed even harder for the operation, which wasn’t quite ready. Bin Laden did so again after Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount. But that visit took place on September 28, 2000, when Sharon was leader of the opposition. He only became prime minister five months later.

        In short, the 9/11 operation could hardly have been “conceived” as a response to U.S. support for Sharon’s “iron fist policies.” It was conceived, its operatives were selected, and it was put in motion, long before Sharon took the helm.

        And what of Cole’s claim that Bin Laden wanted to launch the attacks “in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless”? The Jenin operation took place in April 2002, seven months after 9/11. Apparently, in the bizarre universe of the Colesque, Sharon’s horrid deeds are always at fault for 9/11, even if he committed them after the event. (Hat tip to the vigilant readers of Tony Badran’s latest Cole-smashing post.)

        Cole has been summoned by certain media to pronounce on the motives of Al-Qaeda in striking London. He hasn’t got a clue. He can’t keep the basic chronology of the 9/11 plot straight, and he doesn’t have any notion of overall Middle Eastern chronology, which means he regularly mangles cause and effect. Reason? Bias trumps facts. If historians could be disbarred, Cole would have lost his license long ago. Instead, the Middle East Studies Association has elected him its president. So much for scholarly standards.

        Addendum: Experienced Cole-watchers know that when he makes a mistake, he just goes back and tidies up his postings. So he’s purged the Jenin reference. Instead, he writes that Bin Laden wanted to move up the operation “in response to Sharon’s crackdown in spring of 2001.” That’s not what the 9/11 report says. It says Bin Laden may have considered speeding up the operation to coincide with a planned Sharon visit to the White House (p. 250).

        Knowing Cole’s habits, I saved the original posting. It’s here. The doctored version is here. Blogger etiquette demands that substantive errors be fixed by adding or posting an explicit correction. Cole exempts himself, as he must, given the gross inaccuracies that plague his weblog. So you quote him at your peril: his words might change under your feet. Here, for example, is a poor Cole admirer from Pakistan who quoted Cole Sahib’s Jenin revelation. I don’t have the heart to notify him that his hero got it wrong. (See Jenin update below.)

        Further reading: See my Cole archive, where I revisit some of Cole’s wackier interpretations of Al-Qaeda. See especially the entry entitled “Dial 911-COLE,” which unearths his comparison of the 9/11 perpetrators to the Applegate people—UFO nuts. A year after 9/11, he dismissed Al-Qaeda as “an odd assortment of crackpots, petty thieves, obsessed graduate students, would-be mercenaries, and eccentric millionnaires.” No wonder Cole has had so much trouble digesting the 9/11 report.

        Update: An intermediary wrote to Cole to bring his attention to his flawed representation of the 9/11 report. Cole’s response: “T.P. points out by email that I should have said that the 9/11 Commission concluded that the timing of 9/11 was attributable to Sharon, not that the operation was largely conceived in response to him. This is correct; one writes blogs in haste and my phrasing was insufficiently careful.” Actually, this isn’t correct either: the 9/11 commission found that operational readiness determined the timing of 9/11. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad rebuffed Bin Laden’s attempts to move it up.

        Cole goes on to say that it is still “my conviction based on intensive study of Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad” that they saw 9/11 as “punishment for the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.” I think it’s much deeper than that, based on my own “intensive study,” but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that the 9/11 report doesn’t make or endorse Cole’s argument. And now that we know Cole works in haste, thus misreading a plain English text, what should we think of his hasty translations (renditions?) of Arabic? Take them with a grain of salt, or just bring along the entire salt shaker.

        Jenin? No word on that one. (See Jenin update below.)

        Update: “Another American,” a diarist at Daily Kos, is working to persuade readers that this critique deserves serious consideration. He’s running into some stiff opposition from militant (and occasionally obscene) Cole addicts. Have a peek.

        Jenin Update: The “Pakistani admirer” who quoted Cole’s Jenin claim has cropped up in Tony Badran’s comments, with this: “I contacted Cole regarding his slip-up, and he said simply that it was a slip of the keyboard, which was, I must add, an odd defense.” Oh, it’s not odd. Maybe it’s one of those wireless keyboards, and a transmission from a UFO (you know, flown by the Qaeda-Applegate people) interfered with his computer, and just slipped that Jenin reference in. I think that’s a better explanation than the time warp thesis i.e., that in a parallel universe, Jenin did happen before 9/11. After all, we have entered the Cole-mine, where the usual laws of physics are suspended, and magical things become commonplace.

        Another update: Cole now announces his editorial “policy,” which will be news to readers of his weblog (who still haven’t been told about the Jenin fix). “I post late at night and sometimes am sleepy and make mistakes. My readers are my editors and correct me. If the corrections come the same morning, I make them directly to the text, as a ‘second edition.’ If the posting has been up a few days, I put a footnote when making a correction. That is, I consider the text correctable for the first day or so. That is my editorial policy. Like it or lump it.” Got it? For the “first day or so,” an entry is just a draft! But wait a minute… don’t most people read the entry on the “first day or so”? Isn’t that when it’s most likely to get quoted? And what if a reader doesn’t want to be Cole’s editor? (I’ve got my own stuff to edit, thank you.) So here’s my policy and it’s simple: you broke it, it’s yours; you post it, it’s yours. Like it or lump it.

        Updated again! Believe it or not, Cole has repeated the offense: the “sleepy” explanation has been purged from his site! Here is the original entry (which I saved, of course), and here is the purged version. (He also cut a nasty personal attack on me, which I’ll treat separately.) Well, he can keep deleting. I’ll keep storing.

        Tit for tat: I go to all this trouble to correct Cole, and he attacks me personally. So here’s my rejoinder.


          The War on Terror

          Martin Kramer delivered these remarks on October 20, 2001, at the Weinberg Founders Conference, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. They were published in War on Terror: The Middle East Dimension (Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2002), pp. 17-24. Posted retroactively at Sandbox.

          THERE IS AN OLD ADAGE that the first casualty of war is the truth. If offering up this casualty can spare you real casualties in lives, it is worth sacrificing some truth. I heard it said the other day, by a very accomplished analyst of the Middle East, that this is not the time for too deep an analysis. There is something to be said for that: the focus must be on winning. Yet, it is still important to get basic assumptions right, and not to let certain untruths — let us call them myths — go unchecked for too long. Practicing certain economies of truth is supposed to handicap the enemy. But if these turn into our own myths, they could wind up handicapping us.

          In that spirit, I want to focus on some myths that have emerged in the aftermath of September 11. Some myths, of course, have had a very short shelf life. I no longer see any need to explode the myth that September 11 was a protest against Israel. This myth flourished briefly in the first few days after the attacks, but now it has been relegated to the furthest margins of the public arena. Yes, most people think progress between Israelis and Palestinians would help. But very few people believe that the actual attacks were motivated by the breakdown of the “peace process,” especially as we know that September 11 was set in motion long before that breakdown. And few think that progress in the peace process would deter future attacks. The more we learn about this plot, the more it seems to have operated on several regional levels. September 11 certainly did not constitute a chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it seems to belong properly in another book.

          Yet, two other myths have taken root, largely because they have arisen within influential quarters in this country. The first purports to explain the motives of the attackers, the second purports to interpret the reaction of the Arab world. These myths are already powerfully ensconced in the American understanding of September 11. Unfortunately, they are both dangerous. By misreading the terrorist motive and the Arab response, the United States, in the best instance, could cloud the objectives of this war. In the worst instance, it could effectively invite further terrorist attacks.

          The first myth has to do with motive in the most general sense, and it has been propagated most effectively by a part of the media. Perhaps it reached fullest flower in the cover article of the October 15, 2001 issue of Newsweek: Fareed Zakaria’s mega-essay “The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?” In that piece, Zakaria argues that the failed states and collapsing societies of the Arab world are awash in resentment against the creativity, wealth, and democracy of the West. The success of America, and the influence radiated by that success, drives them to distraction — and to terrible deeds. The world’s greatest losers, the Arabs, are seeking revenge against the world’s greatest winners, the Americans. Francis Fukuyama has written something similar, and it can well be argued that it has become the preferred spin of those who think history has truly ended with the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism. What we are dealing with, they seem to say, is a rear-guard action by the losers in the great battle among organizing principles of humankind. Needless to say, by this analysis, we do flatter ourselves a bit.

          I want to propose to you a different thesis. Yes, America is hated by many Muslims, and it is a reflection of their resentment against American success and power. But it is actually worse, because this rage against America is mingled with contempt — contempt for America’s perceived weakness, a weakness most manifest in the Middle East. It is the contempt, not the hatred, which poses the immediate danger. And while you cannot do anything about the hatred — after all, it is a side effect of your success — you can and must do something to diminish the contempt.

          Let me frame the question this way: are we certain that in Arab and Muslim eyes, the United States really does look like the great winner? It is not difficult to see why Osama bin Laden and his cohorts have a rather different view. After all, they defeated another superpower, the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan. You think you won the Cold War. They think they won it. To them, the United States is a similar giant with similar feet of clay. And they summon their best evidence right from their doorstep, in the Middle East.

          The new contempt dates from the Iranian revolution, “Exhibit A” for American weakness. In Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini threw out the Shah, held America hostage, sent his agents to kill Americans by the hundreds in Lebanon, and got away with it. Iran is a shining instance of successful defiance of the United States, evidence that you can run a major state in the region for more than twenty years completely outside the orbit of American influence. The list of most-wanted terrorists was published recently. Several of those on that list killed Americans sixteen years ago, and still roam free in Iran.

          In the 1990s, the record was no better. Saddam Husayn crossed every line in the sand, spit in the face of the United States, and got pummeled in return — but he still stands on his own two feet. Other Arabs may not have a lot of sympathy for Saddam. But he is living, breathing proof in their eyes that the United States never presses its advantage, that it remains highly “risk-averse” in the Middle East, that it does not always get its man, and that you can defy the last superpower and live to fight another day.

          Do you remember the horror of Pan Am 103? Lockerbie? A single Libyan operative went to prison for this, while Muammar Qadhafi recently celebrated his thirty-second year in power. Perhaps removing Qadhafi would have been a very tall order. But what about removing the Somali warlord Muhammad Aideed, against whom a previous administration sent the Marines? It turned out that getting him was too tall an order as well.

          Consider Osama bin Laden. He has been America’s “most wanted” for years. Yet, aside from a few misguided cruise missiles, no serious operation was mounted against him until now. Many Muslims admire him not just because of what he says about the United States, but because the United States has not killed him yet. The bin Laden we saw in the most recent video was not spewing hate, he was displaying outright contempt, wagging his finger at America while sipping tea.

          Perhaps there is rage against American power in these attacks. But there is even more contempt for America’s weakness — its perceived lack of resolve; its quickness to forgive, or at least forget; its penchant for creating categorical boxes, like the state sponsors of terrorism list, and then ignoring them altogether. This is perceived as weakness, and when you are perceived as weak in the Middle East, you become a tempting target and the vultures begin to circle. Needless to say, the images of the Twin Towers in flames have only compounded the problem. America now appears still weaker, more vulnerable than ever.

          But paradoxically, Americans seem almost too concerned with the hatred. America wants and even expects to be loved in the world. It wants to be admired and respected. And it is shocked to discover that in many quarters, it is hated. The desire to be loved, the bewilderment at being despised, are endearing American foibles. And it is curiously endearing to see American statesmen running to mosques, telling the world that Islam is a religion of peace — in the hope that this love will be returned.

          But September 11 has to bring America to two realizations. First, while it is good to be loved and admired, it is more important to be feared. The United States is not sufficiently feared in the Middle East. If it wants to maintain its interests or even simply deter attacks against its own homeland, it is going to have to rectify that impression. And second, although no one likes to be the target of hatred, it is far worse to be the subject of contempt. Look, for example, at the suicide pilots, the men who spent long months, even years, here in America. What is striking is not their hatred for this country, but their contempt: the fact that this country is so naively trusting of foreigners, that it gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, that it is willing to sell the very training needed to destroy it.

          The people in the streets of Karachi or Cairo who burn U.S. president George W. Bush in effigy are in a blind rage, but they are not dangerous. They do not know enough about America to be dangerous. The dangerous ones are like these suicide pilots — those who are familiar with America, who know where to find a Wal-Mart or how to get a credit card, whose idea of the “women of paradise” probably owes more to MTV than to anything they saw back in their dusty corner of Saudi Arabia. Their own familiarity with America has bred a deep contempt, far more deadly than impotent rage. The hatred will always be there. It comes with the turf, and it is the price of success. Get used to it. But contempt is another story. It is much more dangerous, and it will eat away at your deterrence,

          Contempt can be banished, however, if you work at it. Let me summarize this way: nothing engenders greater respect in the Middle East than the rewarding of your friends and the certain punishment of your enemies. Over the past two decades, the United States has gained a reputation for inconsistency on both counts. And this has left America more vulnerable. American credibility cannot be reestablished overnight. But the United States has now been given an opportunity, a license, to rebuild it. It is the gift given by the thousands who perished, and it seems to me absolutely crucial that this second chance not be missed — not only if U.S. interests are to be defended abroad, but if the American way of life is to be preserved at home.

          And in the region, this means you must smite your enemy in a decisive and demonstrative way. This requires two things. First, you must get rid of the Taliban regime. The United States has not deposed a regime in the Middle East in fifty years. It must do so now. Second, you must get Osama bin Laden — and not in one, two, or sixteen years. Every day he lives is an affront to American credibility.

          Let me be clear: nothing you do will ever even the score for September 11. But do these two things, and you will rebuild the gaping hole left in your wall of deterrence. Do these two things, and you will create awe and fear among the multitudes. Fail, and you will engender derision and contempt — and the fear will be yours. Fail, and the “war against terror” could become something like the “war on drugs” — not a matter of a few years but of decades, a struggle waged indecisively against a succession of bin Laden impersonators who continue along the path of terror because the gains outweigh the risks, and in the end it pays off.

          I come now to the second myth, regarding the Arab response. This one has its origins not in the media but in government. It is best appreciated in a quotation, from Secretary of State Colin Powell: “Out of a deep sense of shared humanity, and a chilling appreciation of common vulnerability to terrorism, we see new scope to strengthen our relations with the Islamic world.”

          No one can doubt all of our shared humanity, or that it includes the Islamic world. And no one can doubt that it is in America’s interest to strengthen relations with the Islamic world. But I would like to focus on an assumption that I found perplexing: that the Arab world shares with America “a chilling appreciation of common vulnerability to terrorism.” Or as someone else put it, “Saudi and Egyptian support is not a favor to us; it is an act of self-defense.” When I first read these arguments, I was perplexed, because something about them did not ring precisely true. Now, after over a month of American diplomacy predicated on this assumption, I am more certain than ever that it is not true — and because it is false, any attempt to build a coalition on this assumption is destined to falter and fail.

          Obviously, Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, and the perpetrators of the crimes in New York and Washington were Saudis and Egyptians. Bin Laden’s network is made up primarily of nationals of the Arab countries in the Middle East. It is also true that this network would like to topple Arab regimes. But Osama bin Laden wound up in Afghanistan for a reason. And the reason, in a nutshell, is this: his brand of Islamic fundamentalism has been driven out of the Arab Middle East, where it has ceased to be much of a problem.

          Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the lot of them are in Afghanistan precisely because they failed in the Middle East. When the Afghan jihad ended, bin Laden and many other Arabs left Afghanistan to return to the region. Once in place, they did try to terrorize the regimes, assassinate leaders, and seize power. But they failed. By the late 1990s, those regimes had them cornered. The rulers in the Arab world were not about to be terrorized out of their presidential or royal palaces, and they unleashed a massive counteroffensive. Egypt put some 50,000 fundamentalists in its prisons; hundreds went to the gallows. In Saudi Arabia, those who were not beheaded were exiled. Today, no Arab regime faces a credible threat from Islamist extremists.

          In fact, what happened in New York and Washington was, to some extent, a consequence of the Arab success in pushing those like bin Laden to the margins. Since the extremists could not defeat the Arab regimes, they went over their heads and attacked the American patron of those regimes. Since they could not build a network in Saudi Arabia or Egypt without it being betrayed and its members being sent off to torture chambers, they built networks in East Africa, and even in America itself.

          Osama bin Laden and his crowd want to drive America from the entire Middle East, in order to topple regimes. But they have no strong base in the Middle East itself, nor can they easily strike there. So they have gone straight for the jugular — and there is no greater jugular than lower Manhattan.

          This means that, at the moment, there is no one in the Middle East who shares a sense of “common vulnerability” to terrorism, except Israel. In the 1990s, the Arab states had a terrorism problem, and they got rid of it by the usual methods: mass arrests, torture, expulsions, “disappearances,” and so on. These states are not threatened in any way by terrorism, which they have pushed out to Afghanistan and the West where it is somebody else’s problem — above all, America’s. In the region, there is some sympathy for bin Laden because he symbolizes defiance of the West. But only the smallest minority of Arabs would want to live under a Taliban-style regime. Actually, there seems to be less “turmoil” in the Arab street than there was during the Gulf War. The Arab world is riveted by the September 11 story, but so far it has not been moved by it.

          The regimes are not threatened, and this is why the Arabs are not going to be very predictable partners in this coalition. Every time Americans sit down to talk to them about terrorism, they are going to want to talk about other things that really do worry them: what they want from Israel, how many weapons they need, how much their debts weigh on them, or how much they want for their oil.

          One can understand why some American diplomats might look upon this “war against terror” as a possible theme around which to organize the Middle East. Right now, there is no organizing theme, and that is a problem. During the Cold War, the United States tried to organize the region on the basis of the Soviet threat, which inspired the Baghdad Pact, CENTO, and so on. This never worked particularly well, because the states of the region felt more threatened by one another than by the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War, the United States tried to organize the Middle East around the “peace process” and economic cooperation, the so-called “new Middle East.” This, too, never quite worked, since Arabs feared it might become a form of veiled Israeli hegemony.

          Now some seem intent on organizing the region around the “war against terror,” buttressed by the ancillary notion that America is the true defender of Islam. All of this is perfectly understandable, but let us be frank. The war on terror is shaky scaffolding for a new Middle East architecture — even shakier than the Soviet threat and the “peace process.” Already the Saudis are stonewalling, the Egyptians are balking — and these are America’s friends. Arab governments do not need American help to fend off fundamentalist terrorism these days; they are looking for some bigger payoff before they get on board.

          But even if the Arab governments were willing, and there were something to be gained from their cooperation, chasing after these fickle friends has a major downside: it signals that the United States needs the blessings of others to respond to an attack on its own territory. America is saying that even its own self-defense is legitimate only if it is approved by a “rainbow coalition,” which ironically includes not a few veteran America-bashers. There is something unseemly in this image of the United States seeking the support of a lot of tin pots. If the United States smashes the Taliban and gets bin Laden, no damage will have been done. But if this whole grand coalition fails to meet minimal goals, it could contribute to the kind of contempt that made September 11 an appealing strategy in the first place.

          These then, it seems to me, are two myths that must be challenged before the end of hostilities. The war’s outcome must create awe and banish contempt. No amount of kowtowing to Islam can substitute for victory. And since America is going to win this war anyway, this victory should be made to look unquestionably like America’s triumph, not the triumph of a gerrymandered coalition. The less credit you share out, the more awe you will induce.

          Finally, do not neglect your friends. There is an old adage: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Be careful not to confuse the two. Israel does not need to be a big cog in this coalition — the latter is unlikely to last very long anyway. But America will do itself more harm if it even appears to be shunning its friends. This will not produce more Arab respect; it will only invite more Arab contempt — adding to the problem, rather than subtracting from it.

          The best guarantee that there will not be a next time is for America to rely on itself to win this war, and on your proven friends to build a common wall of deterrence. So far, the going has been easy in the American offensive against terror. At some point, it will get tough. When it does, the United States will find out who its real friends are. And on that day, it will need more than Arabic.


          Kanan Makiya, Iraq Research and Documentation Project: Martin, in your address, why did you not include regime change in the Arab world at large — not just in Afghanistan — as one prong of a new, more decisive U.S. policy in the region. If the United States wants to send a message to the Arab world, should it not also have a target in the Arab world?

          Martin Kramer: I do not think anyone wants to become involved in a war on two fronts simultaneously. First, achieve these two minimal goals [of removing the Taliban and getting Bin Laden] in Afghanistan. Then America can look across the region, take the measure of other opportunities, and see what can be done to reverse — not just stall — this trend of growing contempt for the United States. There are other possibilities, but the United States will not be able to pursue other options until it has had clear success in the war that it has declared. First, there has to be something that looks and tastes like victory in Afghanistan.

          Philip Gordon, Brookings Institution: Even if America deals successfully with Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan, is there not great potential for the larger issue — that is, the nature of the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt — to remain an American problem? Should we not think much more seriously about how to deal with that problem?

          Kramer: The United States has first to decide what the meaning of September 11 is for the Middle East. Is it “day one” of an entirely new era in which all past sins are forgiven and everyone is judged by their conduct henceforth? To some extent, that is the message the United States has sent in constructing its coalition. Lots of regimes have had their slates wiped clean. It seems that at this moment the only troublemaker who has carried a balance over into this new era is Iraq, although it is not at all clear just how much has been carried over. A decision will have to be made as to whether September 11 has created a new world in which everyone begins anew with a tabula rasa.

          I am worried by the notion that the next phase, whether or not Iraq is a target, should involve American-initiated efforts to reform the politics of the Middle East, to create political space, and so forth. Right now, the United States does not have enough Arabic speakers to translate and analyze all of the plots fomenting against it; how will Washington reform the politics of the Arab world? It is a very tall order indeed.

          A little humility is in order here. The United States, unlike Britain and France, has always been most effective when it operates “over the horizon” and “offshore.” Those arguing for engagement in political reform are talking about a deep and intimate kind of involvement in an incredibly complex labyrinth.

          The Arab world looks like a swamp, but it actually could be worse. When the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone assumed that things would get better in the Balkans. In much of Europe they did, but in that corner of Europe things got much worse. There has not been a Bosnia or a Rwanda in the Arab world in the last decade, and there has to be some caution in tinkering with the existing order. Yes, it would be wonderful if there were more space in the politics of the Arab world. But it would be disastrous if we had one or two or more Bosnias on our hands as a result.

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