Pundits have widely interpreted former President George W. Bush’s Saturday remarks to be a condemnation of participants in last January’s Capitol Riot. But recent news brings other possibilities. Last weekend Mr. Bush said at a 9/11 memorial service for the heroes of Flight 93:
And we have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within. There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.
Monday’s column noted that Byron York is among those interpreting the remarks as an endorsement of the idea “that an equivalence exists between the plane-hijacking, murderous terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Capitol rioters of Jan. 6, 2021 — a comparison that has no basis in fact but has done much to sour the national debate.”
Reader Paul Goldbeck responds:
It struck me that those Bush noted as destroying things in his speech could have included Antifa and others as well as the Capitol rioters. What did I miss?
This column asked Bush spokesman Freddy Ford to whom President Bush was referring when he talked about “violent extremists at home” on Saturday. Mr. Ford responds via email:
Category: International relations
Sept. 11, 2001 started out as a beautiful day, in Wisconsin, New York City and Washington, D.C.
I remember almost everything about the entire day. Sept. 11, 2001 is to my generation what Nov. 22, 1963 was to my parents and Dec. 7, 1941 was to my grandparents.
I had dropped off our oldest son at Ripon Children’s Learning Center. As I was coming out, the mother of one of his group told me to find a good radio station; she had heard as she was getting out with her son that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
I got in my car and turned it on in time to hear, seemingly live, a plane hit the WTC. But it wasn’t the first plane, it was the second plane hitting the other tower.
As you can imagine, my drive to Fond du Lac took unusually long that day. I tried to call Mrs. Presteblog, who was working at Ripon College, but she didn’t answer because she was in a meeting. I had been at Marian University as their PR director for just a couple months, so I didn’t know for sure who the media might want to talk to, but once I got there I found a couple professors and called KFIZ and WFDL in Fond du Lac and set up live interviews.
The entire day was like reading a novel, except that there was no novel to put down and no nightmare from which to wake up. A third plane hit the Pentagon? A fourth plane crashed somewhere else? The government was grounding every plane in the country and closing every airport?
I had a TV in my office, and later that morning I heard that one of the towers had collapsed. So as I was talking to my wife on the phone, NBC showed a tower collapsing, and I assumed that was video of the first tower collapse. But it wasn’t; it was the second tower collapse, and that was the second time that replay-but-it’s-not thing had happened that day.
Marian’s president and my boss (a native of a Queens neighborhood who grew up with many firefighter and police officer families, and who by the way had a personality similar to Rudy Giuliani) had a brief discussion about whether or not to cancel afternoon or evening classes, but they decided (correctly) to hold classes as scheduled. The obvious reasons were (1) that we had more than 1,000 students on campus, and what were they going to do if they didn’t have classes, and (2) it was certainly more appropriate to have our professors leading a discussion over what had happened than anything else that could have been done.
I was at Marian until after 7 p.m. I’m sure Marian had a memorial service, but I don’t remember it. While I was in Fond du Lac, our church was having a memorial service with our new rector (who hadn’t officially started yet) and our interim priest. I was in a long line at a gas station, getting gas because the yellow low fuel light on my car was on, not because of panic over gas prices, although I recall that one Fond du Lac gas station had increased their prices that day to the ridiculous $2.299 per gallon. (I think my gas was around $1.50 a gallon that day.)
Two things I remember about that specific day: It was an absolutely spectacular day. But when the sun set, it seemed really, really dark, as if there was no light at all outside, from stars, streetlights or anything else.
For the next few days, since our son was at the TV-watching age, we would watch the ongoing 9/11 coverage in our kitchen while Michael was watching the 1-year-old-appropriate stuff or videos in our living room. That Sunday, one of the people who was at church was Adrian Karsten of ESPN. He was supposed to be at a football game working for ESPN, of course, but there was no college football Saturday (though high school football was played that Friday night), and there was no NFL football Sunday. Our organist played “God Bless America” after Mass, and I recall Adrian clapping with tears down his face; I believe he knew some people who had died or been injured.
Later that day was Marian’s Heritage Festival of the Arts. We had record attendance since there was nothing going on, it was another beautiful day, and I’m guessing after five consecutive days of nonstop 9/11 coverage, people wanted to get out of their houses.
In the 20 years since then, a comment of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has stuck in my head. He was asked a year or so later whether the U.S. was more or less safe since 9/11, and I believe his answer was that we were more safe because we knew more than on Sept. 10, 2001. That and the fact that we haven’t been subject to another major terrorist attack since then is the good news.
Osama bin Laden (who I hope is enjoying Na’ar, Islam’s hell) and others in Al Qaeda apparently thought that the U.S. (despite the fact that citizens from more than 90 countries died on 9/11) would be intimidated by the 9/11 attacks and cower on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, allowing Al Qaeda to operate with impunity in the Middle East and elsewhere. (Bin Laden is no longer available for comment.) If you asked an American who paid even the slightest attention to world affairs where a terrorist attack would be most likely before 9/11, that American would have replied either “New York,” the world’s financial capital, or “Washington,” the center of the government that dominates the free world. A terrorist attack farther into the U.S., even in a much smaller area than New York or Washington, would have delivered a more chilling message, that nowhere in the U.S. was safe. Al Qaeda didn’t think to do that, or couldn’t do that. The rest of the Middle East also did not turn on the U.S. or on Israel (more so than already is the case with Israel), as bin Laden apparently expected.
The bad news is all of the other changes that have taken place that are not for the better. Bloomberg Businessweek asks:
So was it worth it? Has the money spent by the U.S. to protect itself from terrorism been a sound investment? If the benchmark is the absence of another attack on the American homeland, then the answer is indisputably yes. For the first few years after Sept. 11, there was political near-unanimity that this was all that mattered. In 2005, after the bombings of the London subway system, President Bush sought to reassure Americans by declaring that “we’re spending unprecedented resources to protect our nation.” Any expenditure in the name of fighting terrorism was justified.
A decade later, though, it’s clear this approach is no longer sustainable. Even if the U.S. is a safer nation than it was on Sept. 11, it’s a stretch to say that it’s a stronger one. And in retrospect, the threat posed by terrorism may have been significantly less daunting than Western publics and policymakers imagined it to be. …
Politicians and pundits frequently said that al Qaeda posed an “existential threat” to the U.S. But governments can’t defend against existential threats—they can only overspend against them. And national intelligence was very late in understanding al Qaeda’s true capabilities. At its peak, al Qaeda’s ranks of hardened operatives numbered in the low hundreds—and that was before the U.S. and its allies launched a global military campaign to dismantle the network. “We made some bad assumptions right after Sept. 11 that shaped how we approached the war on terror,” says Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation. “We thought al Qaeda would run over the Middle East—they were going to take over governments and control armies. In hindsight, it’s clear that was never going to be the case. Al Qaeda was not as good as we gave them credit for.”
Yet for a decade, the government’s approach to counterterrorism has been premised in part on the idea that not only would al Qaeda attack inside the U.S. again, but its next strike would be even bigger—possibly involving unconventional weapons or even a nuclear bomb. Washington has appropriated tens of billions trying to protect against every conceivable kind of attack, no matter the scale or likelihood. To cite one example, the U.S. spends $1 billion a year to defend against domestic attacks involving improvised-explosive devices, the makeshift bombs favored by insurgents in Afghanistan. “In hindsight, the idea that post-Sept. 11 terrorism was different from pre-9/11 terrorism was wrong,” says Brian A. Jackson, a senior physical scientist at RAND. “If you honestly believed the followup to 9/11 would be a nuclear weapon, then for intellectual consistency you had to say, ‘We’ve got to prevent everything.’ We pushed for perfection, and in counterterrorism, that runs up the tab pretty fast.”
Nowhere has that profligacy been more evident than in the area of homeland security. “Things done in haste are not done particularly well,” says Jackson. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes in his new book, Bin Laden’s Legacy, the creation of a homeland security apparatus has been marked by waste, bureaucracy, and cost overruns. Gartenstein-Ross cites the Transportation Security Agency’s rush to hire 60,000 airport screeners after Sept. 11, which was originally budgeted at $104 million; in the end it cost the government $867 million. The homeland security budget has also proved to be a pork barrel bonanza: In perhaps the most egregious example, the Kentucky Charitable Gaming Dept. received $36,000 to prevent terrorists from raising money at bingo halls. “If you look at the past decade and what it’s cost us, I’d say the rate of return on investment has been poor,” Gartenstein-Ross says.
Of course, much of that analysis has the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It is interesting to note as well that, for all the campaign rhetoric from candidate Barack Obama that we needed to change our foreign policy approach, president Obama changed almost nothing, including our Afghanistan and Iraq involvements. It is also interesting to note that the supposed change away from President George W. Bush’s us-or-them foreign policy approach hasn’t changed the world’s view, including particularly the Middle East’s view, of the U.S. Someone years from now will have to determine whether homeland security, military and intelligence improvements prevented Al Qaeda from another 9/11 attack, or if Al Qaeda wasn’t capable of more than just one 9/11-style U.S. attack.
Hindsight makes one realize how much of the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented or at least their worst effects lessened. One year after 9/11, the New York Times book 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers points out that eight years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, New York City firefighters and police officers still could not communicate with each other, which led to most of the police and fire deaths in the WTC collapses. Even worse, the book revealed that the buildings did not meet New York City fire codes when they were designed because they didn’t have to, since they were under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And more than one account shows that, had certain people at the FBI and elsewhere been listened to by their bosses, the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t have caught our intelligence community dumbfounded. (It does not speak well of our government to note that no one appears to have paid any kind of political price for the 9/11 attacks.)
I think, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek argued, our approach to homeland security (a term I loathe) has overdone much and missed other threats. Our approach to airline security — which really seems like the old error of generals’ fighting the previous war — has made air travel worse but not safer. (Unless you truly believe that 84-year-old women and babies are terrorist threats.) The incontrovertible fact is that every 9/11 hijacker fit into one gender, one ethnic group and a similar age range. Only two reasons exist to not profile airline travelers — political correctness and the assumption that anyone is capable of hijacking an airplane, killing the pilots and flying it into a skyscraper or important national building. Meanwhile, while the U.S. spends about $1 billion each year trying to prevent Improvised Explosive Device attacks, what is this country doing about something that would be even more disruptive, yet potentially easier to do — an Electromagnetic Pulse attack, which would fry every computer within the range of the device?
We have at least started to take steps like drilling our own continent’s oil and developing every potential source of electric power, ecofriendly or not, to make us less dependent on Middle East oil. (The Middle East, by the way, supplies only one-fourth of our imported oil. We can become less dependent on Middle East oil; we cannot become less dependent on energy.) But the government’s response to 9/11 has followed like B follows A the approach our culture has taken to risk of any sort, as if covering ourselves in bubblewrap, or even better cowering in our homes, will make the bogeyman go away. Are we really safer because of the Patriot Act?
American politics was quite nasty in the 1990s. For a brief while after 9/11, we had impossible-to-imagine moments like this:
And then within the following year, the political beatings resumed. Bush’s statement, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy,” was deliberately misconstrued as Bush saying that Americans should go out and shop. Americans were exhorted to sacrifice for a war unlike any war we’ve ever faced by those who wouldn’t have to deal with the sacrifices of, for instance, gas prices far beyond $5 per gallon, or mandatory national service (a bad idea that rears its ugly head in times of anything approaching national crisis), or substantially higher taxes.
Then again, none of this should be a surprise. Other parts of the world hate Americans because we are more economically and politically free than most of the world. We have graduated from using those of different skin color from the majority as slaves, and we have progressed beyond assigning different societal rights to each gender. We tolerate different political views and religions. To the extent the 9/11 masterminds could be considered Muslims at all, they supported — and radical Muslims support — none of the values that are based on our certain inalienable rights. The war between our world, flawed though it is, and a world based on sharia law is a war we had better win.
And winning that war does not include withdrawal. Whether or not Donald Trump was right about leaving Afghanistan, Joe Biden screwed up the withdrawal so badly that everyone with memory compared it to our withdrawing from South Vietnam. The obviously incomplete vetting of Afghan refugees, who are now at Fort McCoy, and our leaving billions of dollars of our military equipment in Afghanistan, guarantees will be back, and more American soldiers, and perhaps non-soldiers, will die.
In one important sense, 9/11 changed us less than it revealed us. America can be both deeply flawed and a special place, because human beings are both deeply flawed and nonetheless special in God’s eyes. Jesus Christ is quoted in Luke 12:48 as saying that “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” As much as Americans don’t want to be the policeman of the world, or the nation most responsible for protecting freedom worldwide, there it is.
You can tell a Democrat is president, because we’re starting to see pieces blaming “us” for his mistakes. In The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, Tom Nichols wrote that “Afghanistan Is Your Fault.” “American citizens,” Nichols suggested, “will separate into their usual camps and identify all of the obvious causes and culprits except for one: themselves.” Today, Max Boot makes the same argument in the Post. “Who’s to blame for the deaths of 13 service members in Kabul?” he asks. Answer: “We all are.”
This is of a piece with the tendency of journalists and historians to start muttering about how the presidency is “too big for one man” when the bad president in question is a Democrat. Under these terms, Republicans just aren’t up to the job, while Democrats are the victims of design or modernity or of the public being feckless. Last year, coronavirus was Trump’s fault. Now, it’s the fault of Republican governors and the unvaccinated (well, only some of the unvaccinated).
Still, this has happened pretty quickly with Joe Biden. Usually, it takes a couple of years before the press starts to sound like a bunch of hippies sitting around a fire saying, “you know, in a sense, you’re me and I’m you, and all of us are we — and so when the president makes a mistake, it’s really, like, the universe making a mistake, isn’t it? And, y’know, we’re in the universe, so we are the presidency. That’s democracy, man.”
Honor has always had an enormous influence on human affairs and the conduct of governments — until, evidently, the advent of President Joe Biden in the year 2021.
There’s no perspective from which his exit from Afghanistan looks good. But abstracting it from any considerations of honor at least takes some of the sting out of a deeply humiliating episode that would have been considered intolerable throughout most of our nation’s history.
It is dishonorable — even if you believe we had to get out — to throw away what we had sacrificed for in Afghanistan in this grotesquely reckless manner.
It is dishonorable to criticize our erstwhile Afghan friends, especially after we pulled the rug out from under them, and kowtow to our current Afghan enemies.
It is dishonorable to do things we told people repeatedly that we wouldn’t.
It is dishonorable to abandon Afghan allies who put it all on the line for us and believed that, if the worst came, we would get them out.
It is especially dishonorable, unfathomably so, to leave Americans behind enemy lines, a potentiality that the administration has been trying to prepare the American public for in recent days (and hopefully somehow won’t come to pass).
A counterexample that reflects a more traditional American approach is President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous handling of the Perdicaris Affair in 1904, which involved the massive deployment of naval firepower over the kidnapping of one American in a faraway land of which we knew nothing.
Roosevelt’s reflexive bellicosity can seem atavistic at a time when national honor has lost a lot of its purchase.
James Bowman, who wrote a book years ago called Honor: A History, argued that the declining influence of honor in our time is a function of the enormous destructiveness of modern warfare and the feminist and psychotherapeutic reactions to it.
But it hasn’t disappeared, and never will. “Honor is the name of one category of concerns and motives that has dominated relations among peoples and states since antiquity,” the great historian and classicist Donald Kagan once noted. “Although concepts of what is honorable and dishonorable can vary over time and place, sometimes superficially and sometimes deeply, and although other people’s ideas of honor, especially those of an earlier time, can seem silly or outmoded, such surface variations often conceal a fundamental similarity or even identity.”
As for TR, his response to the Perdicaris kidnapping combined a sense of outraged honor at the mistreatment of one American with a prudent view of what military force really could achieve. It added up to a successful foray in coercive diplomacy.
Both Jerry Hendrix in his book Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy and Edmund Morris in his biography of TR have good accounts of the episode. Ion Perdicaris was a 64-year-old expat who lived in Tangier. He was a prominent figure in the English-speaking community in the Moroccan town.
The sultan of Morocco had limited control over the country, with bandits running loose in outlying areas, especially the charismatic Moulay Ahmed el Raisuli.
Those of us old enough to remember the late 1970s — rampant inflation, high gas prices, and this country looking like a worldwide fool thanks to the foibles and failures of the Democratic president of the time — are getting another flashback.
The Wisconsin state senator who represents the towns around Fort McCoy has issued the strongest objection yet to the still murky plan to bring thousands of Afghan refugees to central Wisconsin.
Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, on Friday sent a strongly worded letter to Gov. Evers asking for answers about who the refugees are and where they will go once they arrive.
“There is no clear plan for background checks. There is no clear vetting plan. The plan for issuing visas appears to be dependent on using ‘volunteers’ – a proposal that raises strong concerns since prior to the pullout, qualified staff have been denying 80% of Afghani visa applications. There is no clear plan for health screenings. There is no clear plan for potentially necessary quarantines or vaccinations,” Testin wrote.
He said the Biden Administration has not provided any answers about the refugees. Now, he’s asking the Evers Administration.
“The people of Wisconsin are generous. We feel deep sympathy for those allies that our President abandoned and who now seek refuge. We honor the memory of the soldiers who gave their lives in an abandoned attempt to bring freedom and democracy to the Afghan people, while protecting our own,” Testin added. “We do not, however, trust that the President, or your administration, are taking even minimal steps to assure that the 30,000 Afghans to be moved to Wisconsin and Texas will be properly identified or screened, or that proper background or health checks will be completed.”
Gov. Evers said the number of refugees headed to Fort McCoy is anywhere between “a few hundred” and “two thousand.”
In addition to questions about vetting and background checks, Testin asked Gov. Evers some Wisconsin-specific questions about what happens when the refugees arrive”
- Refugees are eligible for Medical Assistance, BadgerCare, W2, and cash assistance. Has your administration calculated the added cost to Wisconsin taxpayers of 10-20,000 individuals who will doubtless be enrolled in these programs?
- If you plan to accept a population roughly equivalent to that of Marshfield, all of whom will be dependent on government assistance programs, have you asked for full federal reimbursement of all these costs that will otherwise be borne by Wisconsin taxpayers? If not, where do you propose diverting funds from to finance this expense?
- What plans has your administration made for the increased demands such a large influx of people presents to rural Wisconsin, including health care, law enforcement, education, and housing?
- What are your plans for transparency with this massive undertaking? When can we expect to see a dashboard so we may track the numbers, visas, health statistics, costs, problems and in particular the ejection of any refugees found to have terrorist ties?
Testin said the people of Wisconsin deserve the answers to the questions.
The flashback here is to the Mariel Boatlift, in which over six months in 1980 125,000 Cubans emigrated by air and boat to the U.S. That group, some of which ended up at Fort McCoy, included, depending on which source you believe, 2,700 hardened criminals (an academic study) or 16,000 to 20,000 criminals (the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel). It also brought some number of former inmates of Cuban mental institutions, some of which were definitely mentally ill (as opposed to being institutionalized because you don’t sing from the Castro hymnal), and some of which ended up living on downtown Madison streets.
Some of those criminals were guilty of crimes that would not be considered crimes in civilized countries (for instance, selling on the black market, being religious or being “antisocialist”). But while the Mariel Boatlift brought to the U.S. businessmen and artists, it also brought the founder of the New York Kings gang, a serial killer, an arsonist and mass murderer, and two other murderers, part of the 7,000 Marielitos arrested for felonies in the U.S. by 1987. (Also the fictional gangster Tony Montana, grossly overacted by Al Pacino in the 1980s movie “Scarface.”)
The concern here is less about criminals or mentally ill Afghans, but about terrorists smuggled in with the other Afghan refugees. Americans with short memories forget that Osama bin Laden hatched his 9/11 plans from Afghanistan. And the idea of Afghans whose visas were denied suddenly being allowed here, if Testin’s number is correct, should raise questions at least.
Since we are an immigrant nation, we should welcome refugees who want to come to this country and live as Americans, not as expatriates of where they came from, or trying to foment terror in less likely places for terrorist attacks than New York or Washington were on 9/11.
Before President Joe Biden addressed the nation on the crisis in Afghanistan, someone should have reminded him of the adage “When you are in a deep hole, stop digging.” Because on top of his strategic failures in Afghanistan, he has now made a massive political misjudgment.
Here is the problem with a White House rebuttal that just blames anybody other than Biden for the collapse in Afghanistan: Every claim can be fact-checked. Military and intelligence leaders can be asked to testify. Documents can be reviewed. None of this will make the administration or Biden’s abrupt and irresponsible decision look good.
Remember when certain politicians found out that just blaming President George W. Bush for 9/11 and believing Michael Moore’s documentary didn’t work so well after the September 11 commission started calling witnesses and showing there was plenty of blame to go around for both Republicans and Democrats? Likewise, the Biden team will discover that truth finds a way, and a cover-up won’t cut it.
Biden’s speech was a categorical disaster. His remarks were the equivalent of President Reagan claiming that Iran-Contra never happened. Of course, Reagan didn’t do that. He took responsibility. He fired people. He tried to be as transparent as possible and to cooperate with the subsequent investigation. He structured the crisis so he could move on and govern.
By denying responsibility, Biden solidly made his decision-making the issue. He will have to live with the tsunami of inquiry that will follow.
Now that Biden has put himself in the cross-hairs, he doesn’t have a lot of options. He can’t easily shift responsibility and fire people or have them resign. Anyone he tries to throw under the bus might well turn and point out the obvious—it was the president’s call to run away, not theirs.
Biden will have to keep the team members he has. That’s also a problem because they’re terrible. This is not like the Jimmy Carter presidency, where inexperienced advisors made rookie mistakes. This is an experienced team of Obama veterans.
Unfortunately, they are making the exact same kinds of missteps they made under Obama, ignoring risks, underestimating enemies, and being unprepared for the whirlwind that followed. The crisis mismanagement we are seeing play out in real-time today looks like an instant replay of Iraq, Syria, and Libya—where we got ISIS, a genocide, and a dead ambassador as payback for bad calls by the White House.
Sure, Biden can now go back to his vacation, but the nightmare scenario will be waiting when he returns to the Oval Office. The failure in Afghanistan won’t look any better then. He will face massive political blowback. And he will have a demoralized, defeated team that doesn’t know how to turn defeat into victory.
This is fixable. Biden could admit he screwed up and immediately commit to fixing his failures. He could start by dealing with the very real possibility of a near-term resurgence of transnational terrorism. There are demonstrable steps he can take right now to show he is getting ahead of the next 9/ll—like instead of demonizing Trump supporters, have the Homeland Security Department focus on its real job of hunting real terrorists.
Unfortunately, the odds of a Biden presidency opting to fix problems instead of just shifting blame and dodging responsibility are pretty low. Months after making disastrous decisions triggering the worst border crisis in modern history, the Biden team is still in denial. The president has still not fixed THAT problem. In fact, the Oval Office has simply been a bystander while the border problem gets bigger.
The White House may have thought abandoning Afghanistan was low-risk. Biden may have thought Americans didn’t care—but he forgot that Americans also don’t like to be lied to. They don’t like to be humiliated. They don’t like to have their safety and security jeopardized.
Maybe they didn’t care before Biden’s folly, but they care now. If Biden does not address their concerns and deliver real fixes to the real mayhem he has created, they may conclude he’s just not up to the job.
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas), a U.S. Navy SEAL in Afghanistan:
Almost everyone agrees that what’s happening in Afghanistan is an unmitigated disaster. There is no way to whitewash it, and few are trying. The scenes from Kabul speak for themselves, casting shame and embarrassment on the world’s greatest superpower. There is plenty of blame being passed around, including to the “neocons,” the generals and the Afghans themselves. But what got us here was the widespread belief that American foreign policy should be dictated by a simple slogan: “No more endless wars.” The current spokesman for that belief is President Biden.
The argument for bringing the troops home is an emotional one, arising from exhaustion with overseas conflict. Most people don’t understand the situation in Afghanistan, and that causes distrust and anger. Few deny we needed to take action after 9/11, but few understood what our strategy would be after we got there. Leaders failed to explain that simply leaving would allow the Taliban to re-emerge and again provide safe haven for terrorists. Americans felt stuck and became exhausted over the years with the vast sums of money spent and lives lost, seemingly in a futile attempt to build democracy.
With this growing impatience, the case for cutting our losses grew stronger. But it fails to acknowledge trade-offs—and this simple question: If we evacuate Afghanistan, what will happen? The “no more endless wars” crowd always refused to answer. They prefer to live in a dream world rather than face the reality that our enemies are ideologically opposed to Western civilization and will gladly stage another 9/11 if they have the opportunity and means. They are at war with us whether or not we are at war with them. Leaving Afghanistan would inevitably create a terrorist safe haven.
That simple reality was never properly explained to the public. When Quinnipiac asked in a May survey, “Should we leave Afghanistan?” 62% of respondents said yes. But what if the question was framed more completely: “Should we leave Afghanistan even if it means an increased threat of terrorism to the homeland?”
The “no more endless wars” position has another blind spot: Its advocates are unable to distinguish between wasteful nation building and a small residual force that conducts occasional counterterror operations. As a result, when many Americans hear that there is a single soldier on the ground in Afghanistan, they interpret it to mean “nation building” and “world police.”
That’s wrong. There are a lot of foreign policy options between nation building and giving up. We found the proper balance in recent years—maintaining a small force that propped up the Afghan government while also giving us the capability to strike at Taliban and other terrorist networks as needed. When Echelon asked about the troop presence this way in July, more Americans, Republican and Democratic, supported a small military presence in Afghanistan than ending our presence entirely.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan was meeting the original strategic goal of denying a safe haven for terrorists and preventing another 9/11. The 18 months before withdrawal saw no U.S. combat deaths. Does that really sound like “endless war” in any traditional sense? More important, does it sound better or worse than the current outcome?
Mr. Biden’s decision was reckless and unnecessary. Policy aside, there wasn’t even political pressure to take such thoughtless action. The facts on the ground didn’t warrant a hasty withdrawal, and intelligence predicted the Taliban would eventually take over. Even worse, this decision was made as the spring fighting season began, all but guaranteeing a Taliban offensive emboldened by the knowledge of an imminent U.S. withdrawal and a collapse of morale by our Afghan allies in uniform and in government.
America didn’t lose a war, or even end one. We gave up on a strategic national-security interest. We gave up on our Afghan allies, expecting them to stave off a ruthless insurgency without our crucial support, which came at minimal cost to us. This administration’s actions are heartless, its justifications nonsensical. The consequences are dire for innocent Afghans and for America’s prestige. Twenty years after 9/11, I pray they don’t become equally dire for Americans at home.
When I first got a whiff a while back of the plot, I thought, no way: Even the Iranian regime wouldn’t undermine the nuclear talks in Vienna by kidnapping a journalist as distinguished as Masih Alinejad. Then another thought nagged me: What if the Biden administration, eager to cut a deal with Tehran, would prevent the Feds from indicting, and airing the case in public.
Turns out I was wrong — up to a point — on both counts.
All I knew earlier was that FBI agents had shown Ms. Alinejad high-resolution photographs and videos that were taken by someone that might have worked for, or with, the Iranian camarilla. The G-men told her she was in danger. She and her husband, the journalist Kambiz Foroohar, were hustled to safe houses for their protection and told to cancel all planned international travel. Later, when they returned home to Brooklyn, an NYPD squad car was stationed constantly in front of their house.
On Tuesday night the Justice Department unsealed an indictment against five Iranian agents. Although FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney, Jr., was quoted in the indictment as saying “this is not some far fetched movie plot,” it sure sounded like one.
The pictures and videos I heard of included depictions of Ms. Alinejad and Mr. Foroohar, their daily routines, their Brooklyn home, the garden in front of it — the works. They were shot by an apparently unsuspecting American detective, hired by Iranian agents. They’s said he’d aid an investigation into an uncollected debt from someone who escaped to Dubai.
Other details were even more ominous. One of the conspirators researched military-type speed boats to learn which, after an abduction of Ms. Alinejad, could transport her by sea from the Brooklyn waterfront to Venezuela, where she’d be speedily transferred to Iran. Similar abductions of dissidents, including one from France, have ended up in death.
The Iranian regime has attempted to kidnap Ms. Alinejad before. In her autobiographical book, “The Wind In My Hair,” the Iranian-born Brooklynite details how she canceled a trip to Turkey, where she was told she could meet family members. Just in time she realized the plan was merely a setup by Iran to abduct her.
When Ms. Alinejad first learned of the new plot eight months ago, she was really scared, she told Voice of America’s Farsi Service, where she has a radio show.
Then she concluded that the mullahs are now more scared of her than she is of them. That is because her simple but powerful message, combined with an engaging personality and unparalleled on-air charisma, are so subversive to a rigid regime like Iran’s. It means that she really does threaten its hold on power.
I witnessed Ms. Alinejad’s ability to engage audiences and rouse feelings a while back, in one of our first meetings. She constantly fiddled with her iPhone, posting endless messages and videos to her millions of followers on Telegram, Facebook, and other social media — all without missing a beat on our conversation.
At one point she even managed to get a whole flock of Long Island wild turkeys to answer her bird call loudly, and approvingly. (I suggested she should enter, and win, Kentucky’s annual turkey calling contest.)
While the entire world was busy arguing about resolving Tehran’s nuclear threat, Ms. Alinejad, a journalist who escaped Iran after calling out regime officials, developed a much simpler message: Why should any woman hide a beautiful shock of hair like hers under a hijab, as the Iranian law dictates.
That query became a powerful symbol of the clerical regime’s oppression of women (and also of men). Her followers regularly post selfies as they remove mandatory hair coverings in public squares or defy the ban on women entering sports stadiums. Many of the women get arrested but, inspired by Ms. Alinejad, they remain defiant.
Ms. Alinejad says the kidnapping plot will not deter her from fighting for human rights in Iran. Will America now back her? President Biden vowed to place human rights on top of his foreign policy. Ms. Alinejad’s campaign, however, got no recognition from the administration.
Unlike Secretary of State Pompeo, who warmly and publicly hosted her at the State Department in 2019, Secretary Blinken has yet to meet or acknowledge her feminist message. On Tuesday night the State Department issued a bland statement, generically calling on the Iranian regime to respect human rights and freedom of expression, adding that the kidnapping plot “is a law enforcement matter and we refer you to the Department of Justice for any further inquiries.”
Really? As the FBI’s Mr. Sweeney said in the indictment, “We allege a group, backed by the Iranian government, conspired to kidnap a U.S. based journalist here on our soil and forcibly return her to Iran.” What part of “backed by the Iranian government” is no “matter” for our top diplomats? At least Washington could now demand the release of Alireza Alinejad, who was arrested, convicted in a show trial and sentenced to eight years in Iranian dungeons for the “crime” of being Masih Alinejad’s brother.
To add insult to injury, the administration announced, on the day Justice unsealed the indictment, the removal of Iranian oil executives from a list of sanctioned regime officials. It was almost as if Washington rewarded Tehran for a failed plot to seize an American woman on our own soil.
Sure enough, administration officials are making clear to reporters who ask about the indictment fallout that they remain eager to renew a nuclear deal that, if nothing else, fail to end the ayatollah’s nuclear ambitions while making Tehran’s oppressors flush with cash and assuring their survival in power.
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