Sunday, May 27, 2007

Ron Paul: The Missing Link?

Okay, here’s where I get really confused about the debate over a link between Iraq and 9/11, especially as that argument is formulated by those seeking to discredit it. A prime example is the Boston Globe’s Peter S. Canellos in an article entitled GOP rivals embrace unproven Iraq-9/11 tie.

In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

To emphasize his point, Canellos uses a sidebar to offer up GOP candidates' remarks on Iraq, dismissively annotating quotes of speeches by Rudy Guiliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. Meanwhile, in the main article Canellos questions the Bush administration for “the belief that there is a clear connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks,” along with frontrunning Republican presidential candidates who support the war effort and “echoed Bush's longstanding assertion that Iraq is the ‘central battlefront’ in the worldwide war against Al Qaeda and have declared that Al Qaeda would make Iraq its base of operations if the United States withdraws.”

Yet, Canellos left out Ron Paul, the Republican candidate who has sparked the most controversy over foreign policy with his strident opposition to the Iraq policies of Bush (and even Clinton before him) while being the most outspoken Republican advocate for US withdrawal. At the South Carolina Republican debate, Paul engaged in the following colloquy about his “non-interventionist” foreign policy, as excerpted by the Paul campaign (emphasis added):


Moderator: "Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attack?"

Paul: "What changed?"

Moderator: "The non-interventionist policies"

Paul: "Non-intervention [meant to say "intervention"? ] was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us. They attack us because we've been over there, we’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years. We've been in the middle east. I think Reagan was right. We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now We're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican, we're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us."

Moderator: "Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attacks sir?"

Paul: "I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it. And they are delighted that we are over there cause Osama Bin Laden has said 'I'm glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier' They've already now since that time killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary."

In sum:

1.) Paul draws a bold link between 9/11 and Saddam’s Iraq. “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us. They attack us because we've been over there, we'[d] been bombing Iraq for ten years. We've been in the middle east.”

2.) Paul asserts Bin Laden is now active in Iraq when he paraphrases Bin Laden as saying “I'm glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." Paul continues: "they've already now since that time killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary."

On the first point, Paul is citing Bin Laden’s Fatwas issued against the United States in 1996 and, more specifically, 1998, which identified three major grievances motivating his continuing attacks on the United States. Two of them related to the pre-Bush policy of containment and sanctions against Iraq. The third being support of Israel in the Palestinian conflict. Notably, since the Iraq invasion in 2003, the US troop presence in Saudi Arabia (the “land of the two holy places”) needed to contain Saddam has been withdrawn and sanctions against Iraq have been lifted. The Palestinian arabs have their own state.

On his second point, Paul also takes Bin Laden at his word when he made the bold taunt that Iraq is his “sand,” which made Al Qaeda targeting Americans “so much easier.” Moreover, Paul seemingly attributes all deaths of 3,400 US soldiers in Iraq to Bin Laden, not indigenous forces. (Since that number includes those killed by Saddam’s troops and accidental deaths, however, I’m not sure what that implies about Paul’s beliefs.)

Taken at his word, Paul believes the Clinton-Bush pre-9/11 Iraq policy did motivate the 9/11 attacks, that Al Qaeda is now in Iraq, and that most US military casualties are the work of Bin Laden.

The simple difference is that Paul thinks we should retreat from that battle.

Thus, can anyone tell me why most pundits – except, perhaps, the perceptive Elisabeth Hasselbeck (YouTube at 2:27) – think Paul rejects an Iraq link to Al Qaeda, if not 9/11?

I think it reveals the bias of writers like Canellos. Evidently, a Republican candidate can espouse an historical perspective that a writer negatively ascribes to Bush, yet be exempt from examination or criticism by that writer, simply because the candidate disagrees with Bush on policy.

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