How might the Taliban and bin Laden have reacted to Albright’s diplomatic efforts? In all likelihood, her talking points achieved the opposite of what she’d intended – providing evidence to bin Laden and the Taliban that America was a “weak horse”; or as bin Laden had famously declared: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.”
Interestingly, just six months after Albright’s first “talking points” cable, she got an answer of sorts – the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in which bin Laden had a hand. Hundreds died and thousands were wounded; 12 Americans were among the dead. In retaliation for the suicide bombings, President Clinton thereupon established his own credentials as a “weak horse” – ineffectual cruise missile strikes against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. In the minds of the Taliban and bin Laden (and their cheerleaders in the Middle East), the cruise missile strikes offered more evidence that they had nothing to fear from the pitiful American giant.
Months before September 11, 2001, the Bush administration was itself utilizing fruitless diplomatic channels to bring Osama bin Laden to justice – and a U.S. courtroom. By then, the terror master was on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. And his Taliban hosts were feeling the sting of a force that surely struck fear into their hearts – the United Nations Security Council. At the Clinton administration’s urging, it had authorized financial sanctions on the Taliban, demanded they stop allowing territory under their control to be used for terrorist training, and ordered that they turn over Osama bin Laden to “appropriate authorities.”
Appropriate authorities? It was an ambiguous phrase, of course, one apparently exploited by the Taliban to yet again give Washington the run-around, buy time, and protect bin Laden. This was underscored by a secret cable dated April 7, 2001 – five months before 9/11 – and sent by Secretary of State Colin Powell as an “action request” to U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth McKune in Doha, Qatar. The subject line: “Taliban Proposal for bin Laden Islamic Tribunal.”
As Powell explained:
There have been reports from various sources that during the Taliban delegation visit to Qatar, the Taliban and Qataris may discuss a tribunal of Muslim scholars to try Usama bin Laden in Qatar. Reportedly, under this formula, if the U.S. offered sufficient evidence at the trial, then UBL could conceivably face a sentence by the Islamic tribunal. If the tribunal does not find him guilty, then UBL would presumably be considered by many to be exonerated.
Powell’s cable nevertheless stressed that Washington opposed an “Islamic trial” for bin Laden — and so McKune should convey this to the Taliban if the issue came up. “Without studying the details of any such proposal, we seriously question whether a third country trial would meet the requirements the Security Council has laid down,” Powell wrote.
“As you know, Bin Laden is under indictment in the U.S., and our position is that we want him for trial in the U.S. If the Taleban have a serious proposal, they should present it to the U.S.”
Know Your Enemy
If some U.S. officials miscalculated regarding bin Laden, perhaps it was because they were naïve; or perhaps because they simply didn’t know their enemy. Nearly eight months after Albright’s first talking points cable, a secret cable dated October 13, 1998 was transmitted from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: It contained a detailed biography of Osama bin Laden. Signed by U.S. Ambassador Wyche Fowler Jr., it was distributed to a number of U.S. embassies and officials, as well as to military and intelligence officials: CIA, NSA, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Its subject line: “Saudi Arabia: Usama bin Ladin (sic).”
What did bin Laden want? As the cable explained: “Bin Ladin’s (sic) immediate stated objective is the expulsion of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia, the Arabian peninsula, and all Muslim countries.” It’s a goal that, interestingly, explains the timing of the U.S. embassy suicide bombings in East Africa. They occurred on the eighth anniversary of American troops arriving in Saudi Arabia.
The cable continued: “Beyond that goal, in March 1997, Bin Ladin (sic) told a Pakistani journalist that ‘Muslims need a leader who can unite them and establish a government which follows the rule of the caliphs. The rule of the caliphs will begin from Afghanistan. It will adopt interest-free banking. The rule of Allah will be established. We are against communism but we are also against capitalism. The concentration of wealth in just a few hands is unislamic (sic).’” Interestingly, this neatly sums up why radical Islamists get along so well with members of the international Left.
As for bin Laden’s objective of expelling American infidels from the Arabian peninsula, there is an irony here. The Americans were military personnel, enforcing the United Nations-mandated no-fly zone in Iraq under the terms of the cease-fire with Saddam Hussein; and so in one sense, 9/11 was blowback from the first Gulf War.
Fowler’s cable also touched on the issue of bin Laden’s popularity among many Muslims, stating: “According to Jamal Khashoggi, an Islamic movement specialist for ‘Al Hayat’ newspaper, many people consider Ysama bin Ladin (sic) as the ‘Che Guevara’ of the Arab world. He said that some hope that Usama will die in battle so that people will not have to suffer the ‘humiliation’ of seeing him transported in handcuffs to the U.S.”
How ironic that President Obama, in authorizing Navy Seals to kill bin Laden rather than capturing him, ended up giving many Muslims their fondest wish. But ultimately, killing Bin Laden was preferable to taking him to Guantanamo (unacceptable to Obama’s far-left political base) and putting him on trial in New York City, a trial that would have been a political circus and mockery of a criminal justice system that’s unsuited for trying terrorists captured on foreign battlefields.
The Obama administration now has another terror master on its radar — or to be precise, in its cross-hairs. Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al-Qaeda commander, lecturer, and former imam, is thought to be hiding out in Yemen, from where his parents emigrated to America. He has inspired a number of terrorists and would-be terrorists, including the Fort Hood shooter, the Christmas Day bomber and the Times Square bomber. At least three of the 9/11 hijackers attended his sermons at a mosque in the Washington, D.C. area.
The Obama administration, however, has no interest in bringing him to an American courtroom. It has issued an order to kill him, one that withstood a legal challenge brought by an ACLU lawyer in behalf of al-Awlaki’s father.
America has come a long way since its pre-9/11 days – acquired an understanding of how decent men and women must, regrettably, sometimes function in brutish parts of the world: the real world.
It’s one of the legacies of 9/11.
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