It was 18 years ago that the massive terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, took place on American soil, with passenger jets striking the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
That day, then-U.S. President George W. Bush declared: "The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law-enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice."
Well, the identities of the 19 hijackers were indeed discovered. It turned out that 15 of them were citizens of Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, identified as the mastermind of the attacks, was also a Saudi citizen. If that many of the terrorists were from any other nation, wouldn't the U.S. military have turned that country into a parking lot soon after the attacks?
Instead, U.S. leadership ignored Saudi Arabia and bombed Afghanistan -- the country where the al-Qaeda perpetrators had been hanging out, chatting and plotting as if they were in a bar. Perhaps if drones had been more widely used back then, the military could have just sent a few into Afghanistan and obliterated al-Qaeda hideouts, rather than treating Afghanistan like a house that had to be burned to the ground because a wasp nest was found under the eaves of the roof.
Oh, well. In any case, mission accomplished, right?
Not quite. Al-Qaeda is now back in business. This is largely because the U.S. government has never properly attributed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
In recent years, al-Qaeda terrorists have rebranded themselves as freedom fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They gained a foothold when the U.S.-backed putsch against Assad morphed into a civil war. Who facilitated the resurgence of al-Qaeda in the Middle East? The U.S. and Saudi Arabia did, thanks to a CIA operation called "Timber Sycamore" that trained, paid and equipped anti-Assad fighters.
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So, with the U.S. government collaborating with the country that spawned 15 of the 19 terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda has been able to make a triumphant return in recent years. U.S. President Donald Trump has praised Saudi Arabia as a key ally, has vetoed congressional resolutions to ban weapons sales to the Saudis, and has defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even after the prince ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
And what about the "bar owners" -- the Afghan members of the Taliban who hosted al-Qaeda back in the day, allowing Saudi terrorists to sit around plotting strikes against America? Well, their bar has been destroyed, and they're now brawling with the U.S.-backed Afghan government over who gets to run the place.
Some of the Taliban members who had been hauled off to the shores of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for a seaside stay in an American prison are back on the scene. Now, they're negotiating with America -- for a peace deal.
(Pause for laughter.)
The Taliban is being asked to stop fighting a civil war it's in the process of winning against a government installed and propped up by a U.S.-led coalition. The implicit threat is that if the Taliban doesn't comply, America will insist on staying, continuing to lose blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Even if Taliban leadership does comply, how can the Trump administration be assured that the old-school Taliban have any control over the newer generation of fighters? Some of the younger fighters were born while the old-schoolers were doing time in Gitmo, so there might not be a strong sense of allegiance among the second generation.
Trump recently canceled planned peace talks with Taliban leaders at Camp David, and he drew heavy criticism for scheduling such talks in the first place. But that criticism misses the mark.
Bleating on about fighting terrorism is pointless when the U.S. keeps trying to overthrow foreign leaders, leaving power vacuums for terror groups to exploit. And it's a farce for the Trump administration to claim that it's fighting radical Islamic terrorism when it has so closely aligned itself with the one nation most responsible for causing the Twin Towers to collapse in front of the world's eyes.