Conspiracy theories won’t keep us safe. Vigilance will.
Conspiracy theories are comforting in some strange way. In a “shades of gray” world they hold out the prospect that there is some simple, black and white explanation for why things have gone wrong.
For example, Kennedy
did not die because a madman was allowed by the incompetence and bureaucratic complacency of the Secret Service to get a concealed and elevated firing position commanding the route of the Presidential motorcade in Dallas. No, he died because a secret Star Chamber of the CIA, the Mafia and Russian intelligence decided he was a threat to their control of the planet and had him executed.
And we did not invade Iraq
in search of non-existent WMD because of botched analysis and political interference in the intelligence process. No, the invasion was part of a secret plan by U.S. oil companies to seize Middle Eastern oil.
And President Obama
does not pursue his tortured Middle East policy because he is naïve, lacks foreign policy experience, and does not grasp the magnitude of dangers posed by Iran and Sunni terrorist groups. No, he has done so because he was really born in Kenya, he’s a secret Muslim and he wants to transform “Christian” America into an Islamic State.
It is the same with 9/11.
The truth is that we suffered the worst terrorist attack on US soil on September 11, 2001, because over the course of many years, successive administrations, Democrat and Republican, failed miserably in their responsibility to defend America.
In 1998, when two US embassies were virtually blown off the face of the earth by Al Qaeda, U.S. intelligence was already sounding the alarm about that terrorist group and its plans. Our retaliation was pitifully weak. We launched Tomahawk missiles at hillsides in Afghanistan, did no damage to the terrorists who had attacked us, and went back to sleep. In 2000 Al Qaeda almost sank the USS Cole. Thirty-seven sailors died. Again, we did absolutely nothing. There was no retaliation and our intelligence collection posture was not changed one wit. No further strikes were ordered or planned. We acted as if the attack had never happened.
Bill Clinton left office. George Bush came to the White House. Eight months passed and again there was no change in posture or policy. The threat continued to grow and we continued to ignore it. Almost three thousand people paid the price.
All of this is a matter of public record. All of this is well established. All of this it is very unsettling because if the fault for 9/11 lies with our leaders, then it lies with us -- since we elect them.
So now we have yet another conspiracy theory. The Saudi government planned, financed and directed 9/11. We were stabbed in the back. We did not fail to exercise the degree of vigilance required in a dangerous world. We were betrayed. No one could have foreseen it or guarded against it.
Hence the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) bill was unanimously passed by the Senate and now sits in the House.
On its face, JASTA is a bill aimed at allowing American citizens to sue foreign governments who have supported a terrorist act. It makes no explicit reference to 9/11. Its supporters made no secret, however, of the fact the bill was built from the ground up to allow individual Americans to pursue legal action against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, based on the theory the Saudi government knew about, supported, financed and perhaps even directed the 9/11 attacks.
I have been as vocal a critic of the Saudis on as many counts as anyone. They have been slow to wake to the danger posed by their relationship with hardline Wahhabi clerics. They have moved far too slowly to interdict money moving from the Kingdom into extremist coffers around the world. The notion that they were behind 9/11, however, is absurd, and the proposed legislation is a terrible idea for several reasons.
First, it is already possible for American citizens to sue foreign nations that our government has designated as state sponsors of terrorism. JASTA will not change that. It will, however, allow American citizens to sue any country on the planet, regardless of whether or not that nation has been objectively found to support terrorism. It will also, as a practical matter, allow individual plaintiffs to decide for themselves what constitutes terrorism.
World Trade Center attack
Pedestrians on Park Row flee the area of the World Trade Center as the center's south tower collapses following the terrorist attack on the New York landmark Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. | Photo: Amy Sancetta World Trade Center |
Think about the implications for a moment. A great many Americans won’t loose sleep over a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia based on the 9/11 attacks. But how many of those same people want to see Palestinian Americans suing Israel over its acts of “terror” on the West Bank and in Gaza?
Second, in foreign affairs reciprocity is everything. Right now the general rule is that a nation state has sovereign immunity, and individuals cannot sue one without that nation’s consent. If we abandon that principle we must assume others will quickly follow suit. Are we ready for a world in which the United States government must defend itself in court against every foreign citizen who wants to label our actions as “terrorism”? How many lawsuits will be brought in Iraq and Afghanistan alone?
Finally, JASTA would effectively allow any American to insert himself into foreign affairs. In an age in which we are concerned about government overreach, it may be hard to remember, but there are areas which should remain the sole province of the federal government. Foreign affairs is one of them.
Managing relations with other countries is an often a difficult game of tactics and leverage. Which nations do we call out publicly? Which do we confront privately? When do we come down hard on a foreign power? When do we let an issue pass in the interest of securing cooperation on something of greater importance?
Now imagine attempting to juggle all those considerations in a world in which every American citizen has the power, by virtue of filing suit, to inject himself into foreign affairs and directly impact our relations with other countries and their rulers. We may often wish for a different Secretary of State. We are unlikely to prefer a situation in which we have 360 million of them.
I grieve with the families of those who died on 9/11. I too have lost friends in the so-called “War on Terror.” But creating a fantasy version of what killed them will not help. It will not bring them back, and it will not bring us any closer to the truth.
Conspiracy theories may be comforting. They are also almost invariably lies. If you must hold someone accountable for 9/11, here is the brutal truth. We are accountable. We put the men and women in power who slept on watch and let the danger grow out of control. We kept them there.
Conspiracy theories won’t change that. Conspiracy theories won’t keep us safe. Vigilance will.