Friday, August 12, 2005

Some Good Intelligence?

The following article was first published in the Times Daily, a newspaper in Florence, Alabama on July 22, 2005. The Times Daily is owned by the New York Times.

It's the season for revealing classified information, so I have decided to tell readers of an "incident" in 1997. You did not hear about it on the news, but it certainly happened. I know, because it happened to me.

I was in the Army, deploying to Kuwait on a chartered Boeing 747. On our final approach to the airport, the pilot suddenly made a hard, banking turn over the Persian Gulf. We landed more than an hour behind schedule.

Because I worked with the counter-intelligence team in Task Force 2-12, I was given the details after landing: Kuwaiti security forces spotted a local man aiming a Stinger missile at our plane. They shot and killed him.

In the course of further investigation, we found the man had no ties to Iraq -- he was a Saudi-born member of al-Qaida. His weapon was made in, and supplied by, America; it was a Cold War artifact of the CIA and the Afghan mujahideen. America refused to clean up that mess after the Cold War, and paid the price on 9-11.

Oops, I "blamed America." Sorry!

This "incident" happened two years after Osama bin Laden issued his fatwa declaring war on the United States. But most Americans didn't know about that -- or care -- because there were more interesting subjects for our 24-hour news cycle. We cared more about Monica's blue dress than Osama's Stinger missile, didn't we?

Oh, wait -- sorry. That's "blaming America again." My bad.

My experience was almost routine. For years, American soldiers took fire without Geraldo Rivera and Oliver North reporting it. Quite simply, the "war on terror" did not exist.

That's because a decade before this "incident," the Pentagon had invoked the Posse Comitatus Act, declaring terrorism "a matter solely for law enforcement." Passed in 1878, to protect Americans from military government, the law was an excuse to do nothing about terrorism.

I know this will be hard for some readers to accept, for it is contrary to popular imagination ("informed" by Hollywood fantasies like "Navy Seals"). Nevertheless, it is true: Before 9-11, our military's only response to terrorism was an occasional salvo of missiles.

Seen from Osama's point of view (I am not begging the reader's sympathy, only your imagination), our cruise missiles carried this message: "You are beneath us. We don't care enough about you to really get off our duffs and come after you."

This was not merely a "Clinton-thing," either. As late as June 2001, just months before our nation's day of tragedy, President Bush withdrew Marines from Jordan and canceled a joint exercise because of al-Qaida "chatter." This was called "force protection" in the Pentagon, but was labeled "cowardice" in Afghanistan.

Darn it, there I go with the "Bush-bashing." Sorry.

And if the Pentagon saw little gain in fighting bin Laden, there was even less incentive for a commander-in-chief. Let's be realistic: Before 9-11, if any president had sent 20,000 troops into the hills of Afghanistan, Americans would have called for his head. Popular opinion held Afghanistan even less important than Bosnia or Kosovo.

By the same token, no general wanted his troops in harm's way just to kill some cave-dwelling religious nut. Even today -- almost four years after 9-11 -- America still hasn't really sent everything we have after bin Laden. We've gone back to finish the war we wanted in Iraq, rather than finish the war we have with al-Qaida.

We should have gone after those wicked men in Afghanistan with everything we had, while our blood was hot and our cause just. We did not do that, and I fear we will pay a terrible price.Aww, there I go again, "Bush-bashing" and "blaming America." I just can't help myself.Saddam was no threat. In 1997, our single brigade was enough to keep Saddam contained for the entire year; Osama was shooting at us. Now, Saddam's in jail, surrounded by 140,000 troops, while Osama is still shooting at us. Clearly, we are not "better off," as the president claims.Before 9-11, Osama had already killed more Americans than Saddam, but we did not pursue him. Now, we lose almost as many Americans every day of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" as we have lost in pursuit of bin Laden since 9-11. Clearly, we are not "safer," as the president claims.But of course, these are facts; and they are not easy to swallow. Therefore, I am only "Bush-bashing" and "America-blaming." Obviously, I "do not support our troops," and I must be "with the terrorists."

Or, am I merely using good intelligence and common sense? I report; now, you decide.

- Matt Osborne

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