Saturday, April 10, 2004


One of the favorite claims of the right is that Bush is a resolute leader who uniquely had the courage to invade Afghanistan in response to 9/11.

Like many claims of the right the one problem with the claim is that it is utterly untrue and there is ample evidence to disprove it. Gore did not merely support the invasion of Afghanistan, he told his supporters 'George Bush is my commander in chief'.

It is of course highly unlikely that any other President would have invaded Iraq in response to 9/11, but that is only because there is no evidence that suggests Saddam was involved. One might as well say that it is highly unlikely that Gore would have invaded Saudi Arabia in response to 9/11 even though the links connecting the Saudi regime to al-Qaeda and 9/11 are strong.

So what might have happened if the votes had been counted?

One quite plausible scenario is the one given by Richard Clarke. the predator would have been flown armed in July, Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri would have been eliminated, the 9/11 plot would have continued undiscovered and the GOP would have claimed it was Gore's fault.

It is impossible to know with certainty what would have happened if history had taken a different turn, but almost all political decisions turn on probabilities rather than certainties and it is reasonable to ask whether there would have been a greater probability of foiling the 9/11 plot if the FBI and CIA had been concentrating their resources looking for it.

The first possible turning point in the narrative was the decision made by Clinton to leave retaliation for the Kohl bombing to the incomming Bush administration. It does not appear very likely to me that Gore's first decision as President would have been to abandon the existing counter-terrorism policy in favor of no response. It is much more likely that retaliation for the Kohl bombing would have taken place before the inaugural with Gore's full approval.

The second possible turning point comes at the inaugural. Gore might not have kept Clarke on as counter-terrorism co-ordinator but it seems unlikely that he would have allowed the job to be reduced in importance. Unlike the Bush partisans, Gore had spent eight years in office dealling with the consequences of the end of the cold war. He had no interest in pushing an anti-missile agenda and no personal score to settle with Saddam. Terrorism had been the principal foreign policy under Clinton and it is unlikely Gore would expect that situation to change and certainly not until Bin Laden had been eliminated.

If we assume that a different path had been taken at the first two turning points it seems unlikely that when the armed predator was ready in July that a bureaucratic argument between the CIA and defense department would have been allowed to delay its use against Bin Laden. The chance of the predator having succeeded in July was much higher than the chance of success after 9/11.

It is impossible to know how the elimination of Bin Laden would have affected al-Qaeda. It seems unlikely that any attack plans would have been abandoned unless both Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri were both eliminated. Bin Laden's principal contribution to al-Qaeda was his money, Al Zawahiri had plenty of hate left to continue his campaign without him.

We must assume that any attack against al-Qaeda would not have caused the sleeper cells already established to abandon their plan. Eliminating the al-Qaeda leadership might well have caused all sorts of operational difficulties that would force the plan to be delayed, but it might just as easily have led to the attack taking place earlier.

The real unknown is whether the FBI, CIA and the other security agencies would have reacted differently to the warnings that appeared in the summer of 2001 and whether that would have led to the 9/11 attack being discovered and foiled in the same way that the millenium attack had been foiled. For the outcome to have been different the investigators would have to have been lucky. But as we now know the investigators had had plenty of luck, they just failled to take advantage of it.

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