By Ivan Eland
August 9, 2006
Editor's Note: Much like Social Security has been in domestic politics, Israel has been the "third rail" in foreign policy that can spell doom for politicians who dare touch it. Just ask former Sen. Charles Percy, R-Ill., or Democratic President Jimmy Carter, who for different reasons got on the wrong side of the Israeli lobby.
In this guest essay, the Independent Institute's Ivan Eland looks at how even the 9/11 Commission watered down references to the U.S. support for Israel in explaining Osama bin Laden's motivation for attacking the United States:
As both the Bush administration and its client government in Israel, with their invasions of Arab states in Iraq and Lebanon, respectively, make the United States ever more hated in the Islamic world, a new book by the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission admits that the commission whitewashed the root cause of the 9/11 attacks—that same interventionist U.S. foreign policy.
Former Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, chairmen of the 9/11 Commission—publicity hounds that they are—want to keep the long-retired but much celebrated panel in the public mind. They have written a tell-all book, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission (Knopf, Aug. 15, 2006), about the trials and tribulations of the panel’s work.
Despite the commission’s disastrous recommendations—which led to a reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community that worsened its original, pre-9/11 defect (a severe coordination problem caused by bureaucratic bloat)—and apparent whitewashing of the single most important issue it examined, the chairmen are trying their best to write another best seller.
The book usefully details the administration’s willful misrepresentation of its incompetent actions that day, but makes the shocking admission that some commission members deliberately wanted to distort an even more important issue. Apparently, unidentified commissioners wanted to cover up the fact that U.S. support for Israel was one of the motivating factors behind al Qaeda’s 9/11 attack.
Although Hamilton, to his credit, argued for saying that the reasons al Qaeda committed the heinous strike were the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and American support for Israel, the panel watered down that frank conclusion to state that U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. policy on Iraq are “dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.”
Some commissioners wanted to cover up the link between the 9/11 attack and U.S. support for Israel because this might imply that the United States should alter policy and lessen its support for Israeli actions. How right they were.
The question is simple: if the vast bulk of Americans would be safer if U.S. politicians moderated their slavish support of Israel, designed to win the support of key pressure groups at home, wouldn’t it be a good idea to make this change in course?
Average U.S. citizens might attenuate their support for Israel if the link between the 9/11 attacks and unquestioning U.S. favoritism for Israeli excesses were more widely known. Similarly, if American taxpayers knew that the expensive and unnecessary U.S. policy of intervening in the affairs of countries all over the world—including the U.S. military presence in the Middle East—made them less secure from terrorist attacks at home, pressure would likely build for an abrupt change to a more restrained U.S. foreign policy.
But like the original 9/11 Commission report, President Bush regularly obscures this important reality by saying that America was attacked on 9/11 because of its freedoms, making no mention of U.S. interventionist foreign policy as the root cause.
Yet numerous public opinion polls in the Islamic world repeatedly prove the president wrong. The surveys show that people in Islamic countries admire American political and economic freedoms, culture, and technology.
But when Muslims are polled on the level of their approval of U.S. foreign policy, the numbers go through the floor. Much of this negative attitude derives from mindless U.S. backing of anything Israel does. In addition, Osama bin Laden has repeatedly written or stated that he attacks the United States because of its military presence in the Persian Gulf and its support for Israel and corrupt regimes in the Arab world.
The Bush administration has worsened the anti-U.S. hatred in Islamic countries, which drives this blowback terrorism, by its invasion of Iraq and its support of Israel’s excessive military response in Lebanon. Unfortunately, innocent Iraqis and Lebanese are unlikely to be the only ones afflicted with the damage from U.S. interventionism.
Innocent Israelis and Americans have been, and likely will continue to be, the victims of policies that have been sold by President Bush on the basis of making the citizens of both countries safer and more secure, while the 9/11 Commission obediently has covered the administration’s tracks.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.