Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Why don't they just admit they blew it?" Good question Mr. Scheer

April 15, 2004  | 

President Bush failed to focus on terrorism prior to 9/11. Instead, his
administration pursued the war on drugs -- and even coddled the Taliban by Robert Scheer .

Why won't they just admit they blew it? It is long past
time for the president and his national security team to concede that before
the Sept. 11 attacks, they failed to grasp the seriousness of the al-Qaida
threat, were negligent in how they handled the terrorist group's key
benefactors, and did not take the simple steps that might well have
prevented the tragedy. While they are at it, they might also explain why,
for more than two years, they have been trying so hard to convince us that
none of the above is true.

Most recently, we learned that President Bush decided to stay on vacation
for three more weeks despite receiving a briefing that told him about
"patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with
preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks" by Osama bin Laden's
thugs, who were described as determined and capable enough to pull off
devastating attacks on U.S. soil. We also now know that the Bush
administration coddled fundamentalist Saudi Arabia and
nuclear-weapons-dealing Pakistan, the only nations that recognized the
Taliban, both before and after the Sept. 11 murders.

But what is perhaps even more astonishing is that, because the Bush
administration's attention was focused on the "war on drugs," it praised
Afghanistan's Taliban regime even though it was harboring bin Laden and his
terror camps. The Taliban refused to extradite the avowed terrorist even
after he admitted responsibility for a series of deadly assaults against
American diplomatic and military sites in Africa and the Middle East.

On May 15, 2001, I blasted the Bush administration for rewarding the Taliban
for "controlling" the opium crop with $43 million in U.S. aid to
Afghanistan, to be distributed by an arm of the United Nations. Secretary of
State Colin L. Powell announced the gift, specifically mentioning the opium
suppression as the rationale and assuring that the U.S. would "continue to
look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans."

Five months before 9/11, I publicly challenged the wisdom of supporting a
regime that backed al-Qaida: "Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates
the leading anti-American terror operation from his base in Afghanistan,
from which, among other crimes, he launched two bloody attacks on American
embassies in Africa in 1998." I'm not clairvoyant, but I didn't need my own
CIA to know that it's self-destructive to reward a regime that harbors the
world's most dangerous terrorists.

After 9/11, the column was dug up by bloggers and widely distributed and
debated on the Internet. Defenders of the administration attacked it as a
distortion, arguing that because the money was targeted as humanitarian aid,
the United States was not actually helping the Taliban. Yet this specious
distinction ignored the context of Powell's glowing remarks, and it failed
to explain a similarly toned follow-up meeting Aug. 2, 2001, in Islamabad,
Pakistan, which gave the Taliban similar kid-glove treatment. That meeting,
held between Christina B. Rocca, assistant secretary of state for South
Asia, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, took place
four days before Bush received his now-infamous briefing on the imminent
threat from al-Qaida agents who were already in sleeper cells in this
country, armed with explosives.

Yet Rocca said nothing to the Taliban's ambassador about al-Qaida's
continuing threat to kill Americans, ignoring the fact that the Taliban and
al-Qaida leaders were at that point inseparable, financially, militarily and

In her defense, Rocca did ask the Taliban representative to extradite bin
Laden, for which she received nothing but bland disclaimers. "We gave Rocca
our complete assurance," Zaeef told the local media, "that our soil will not
be used against America, and that Afghan soil will not be used for any
terrorist activity."

Zaeef was also pleased that Rocca again congratulated the Taliban for its
success in eradicating the opium crop, calling the meeting "very successful"
and "very cordial." And why should he not have been? As in May, the United
States again was bringing not just words of encouragement but also a big
cash prize.

"In recognition of the Taliban's elimination of opium, the raw material used
to make heroin, the Bush administration is giving $1.5 million to the United
Nations Drug Control Program to finance crop substitution," reported the
Associated Press.

Today, opium production in a tattered Afghanistan is at an all-time high,
benefiting various warlords and a resurgent Taliban, while our money, troops
and attention are focused on a quagmire in Iraq, a nation that had nothing
to do with 9/11 and is not known for its opium.

Go figure that out.

About the writer
Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.


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