Reflections on 9/11. Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie

Did the terror attacks make America stronger?

More than 2,400 Americans died that morning in the deadly surprise attack.

Not in New York City, but in Honolulu at the Pearl Harbor U.S. Naval base on December 7, 1941. “A date that will live in infamy,” declared the American president. Congress declared war on Japan the following day. There was no doubt who the enemy was, and American and allies’ resolve was unrestrained. The brutal war that followed would last until September 2, 1945; Japan surrendered after suffering the furies of two atomic bombs.

The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. (Wikipedia)

On September 11, 2001, more than 3,000 people died in the aircraft terror attacks in New York City, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field near Shanksville and from the long term effects of toxic dust. The terrorist attack was perpetrated by Al Qaeda, a well-funded and coordinated Islamic Jihadist group.

Unlike the attack 60 years earlier at the start of World War II, the American response was relatively hesitant and unfocused. Initially, American leaders suspected Saddam Hussein as the mastermind of the attack. Within weeks, the U.S. Government recognized Osama Bin Laden was behind the attack and that the Taliban government in Afghanistan was harboring him and al-Qaeda bases. The Afghanis refused to cooperate. The Americans launched its invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 and drove the Taliban from power. The war continues until today against Taliban insurgents.

But the Administration could not decide what path it had embarked on. George W. Bush launched a “war on terrorism,” then he changed it to a “war on terror,” perhaps just a change in semantics. In August 2004, frustrated by the slow pace of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush admitted in an interview, “I don’t think we can win [the war on terror.]”

The West Lost the War on Terrorism
Just how wobbly did the reaction to 9/11 become (to use Margaret Thatcher’s term)? In 2011, ten years after the largest terrorist attack in history, the former head of Britain’s MI5 counterintelligence service, Lady Eliza Manningham-Butler, declared: “The 9/11 attacks were a crime, not an act of war. So I never felt it helpful to refer to a war on terror.” Like other European countries, the UK saw the terrorists’ threat as domestic criminal activities, requiring police actions and not military involvement. It was certainly not a clash of civilizations.

Burning World Trade Center in New York City before its collapse, September 11, 2001 (Wikipedia)

In March 2009, the Obama Administration instructed the Pentagon to change the name of its operations from “Global War on Terror” to the milquetoast “Overseas Contingency Operation.”

By 2013, Barack Obama announced that the Global War on Terror was over. “Terror” was too amorphic, too difficult to identify and make war against. War too often targeted enemies based on religious criteria. Terror is a tactic, not an enemy, it was claimed. Moreover, calling the action a “war” justifies human rights violations and attacks on civil liberties, it was argued.

Thus, the Western media often chose not to identify terrorists by their religion (usually Muslim) and almost never used the term “terrorist,” preferring to label them as “militants” or “gunmen.”

This refusal to look at the face of the terrorist enemy came down to the coward’s ultimate moral surrender – “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
The post-9/11 response by the media and social activists became a campaign for “political correctness.” The terms “jihadi” or “Islamist” were forboden. Conspiracy theories of Israeli Mossad involvement in the 9/11 spread like a virus. Even a well-known American intelligence agent – now running for Congress – subscribed to the canard “Israelis were dancing as they watched the Towers fall” and retweeted it. The only dancing that took place was done by Palestinians as they handed out candy.

The Post-9/11 Scandals Were Yet to Come
When it was discovered that 15 out of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were Saudis, official investigations into the role of the Saudi Embassy and its government were actually hampered by federal law enforcement officials. While all U.S. aircraft were grounded after the attack, one civilian plane was permitted to make several stops in the United States to pick up passengers and fly them out of the country. The Bush administration’s FBI director, Robert Mueller, acceded to a request from Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar to give safe passage to “dozens” of Saudi officials, including a Bin Laden relative. Sources of funding for the terrorists’ travels and flight school classes were not adequately investigated, but appeared to be Saudi.
The biggest scandal was yet to come though: The ties between the 9/11 al Qaeda terrorists and the government of Iran were obfuscated. Investigative journalist Ronen Bergman exposed these ties in his 2011 book, The Secret War with Iran: The 30-Year Clandestine Struggle against the World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist Power.

As reported on the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website today, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (the “9-11 Commission”) published their report on July 22, 2004. The commission found that “senior managers in al Qaeda maintained contacts with Iran and the Iranian-supported worldwide terrorist organization Hizbullah… Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hizbullah.” A large percentage of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives “traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”

But, Bergman reported, the commission was under time constraints, and they “crammed” critical information from the National Security Agency into three pages.
The Commission’s reported, “We have found no evidence that Iran or Hizbullah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack…” but, the Commission wrote, “After 9/11, Iran and Hizbullah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda. A senior Hizbullah official disclaimed any Hizbullah involvement in 9/11.”

Tellingly the Commission concluded, “We believe this topic requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”

No further federal investigation was forthcoming.

By luck, an extensive investigation was being conducted by family members of the flight crew on one of the hijacked planes and their lawyers who inspected 75 National Security Agency intelligence documents in preparation for a $100 billion lawsuit against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iran.

Yes, Iran, who Obama administration officials claimed was assisting them in their battle against ISIS and holding al Qaeda suspects in prison.

Writes Bergman:

The huge amount of evidence included in the lawsuit comes together to form a fascinating charge: Starting in the 1990s, Iran and Hizbullah helped Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri create a new terror organization from scratch. [With the assistance of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniya] Iran trained group members, equipped them with advanced technological means, enabled them to move freely and provided them with plenty of terror-related expertise and experience accumulated by Hizbullah in its operations against Israel and the United States. Later, according to the lawsuit, Iran assisted in the preparations ahead of September 11.

Bergman continued to explain the Iranian connection to 9/11:

So how did the 19 terrorists manage to enter the U.S. after all? How could it be that U.S. immigration officials in Germany and Saudi Arabia suspected nothing? The answer to these questions remained unknown, until the treasure trove was discovered at the NSA basement. As it turned out, many of the terrorists headed from Afghanistan to Iran, with Iranian officials ordering border control officers not to stamp these passports. Following the attacks, many senior al-Qaeda men found shelter in Iran. Tehran denied their presence for some time and later admitted that hundreds of al-Qaeda members are in the country and are under “house arrest.”

In December 2011, Federal Justice George Daniels signed a default judgment finding Iran, the Taliban, and al Qaeda liable for the 9/11 attacks. He found that the 2001 attacks were caused by the support the provided to al Qaeda by the defendants. The judge also signed findings that “Iran continues to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda by providing a safe haven for al Qaeda leadership and rank-and-file al Qaeda members.”

The U.S. Government was not part of the law suit. The Obama administration, it appears, wanted no part in efforts to harm its relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

That impression is underscored by the inexcusable delay in releasing documents seized when U.S. Special Forces killed Bin Laden in a 2011 raid. Only in 2017, after Obama left office with the Iranian nuclear deal behind him, did the CIA release a 19-page al-Qaeda report written in Arabic on the history of Iran-al-Qaeda relations. The report, written in 2007, revealed that Iran offered al-Qaeda fighters “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hizbullah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia.”

The American response to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was resounding, proud, patriotic, and unapologetic. Yes, there were grave injustices done to Japanese Americans, but it did not divert the determination to defeat the Japan.
Can that willpower and tenacity be re-harnessed to fight today’s enemies of world order?

The memorial bell in New York City (YouTube screenshot)

Only recently did songwriter Don Maclean agree to reveal the meaning of some of the enigmatic lyrics of his opus Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie, released in 1971.

“Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction,” Maclean explained. “It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.”

On September 11, 2001, “The church bells all were broken.” Will they ring again?

About the Author
Lenny Ben-David served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. He is a public affairs consultant, writer, researcher, editor, and historian of early photographs. Ben-David is the author of "American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs." He worked for AIPAC for 25 years in Washington and Jerusalem.