It had to happen sooner or later, and I don’t want to sound too full of myself, but I did predict it: I mean the attempt to tie the Saudis, Al Qaeda, and the Bush administration into one gigantic conspiracy and cover-up. Headlines are being made by Newsweek, which ran a story by Michael Isikoff and Evan Thomas about how some Saudi princess sent money to someone who knew somebody who knew somebody else who funneled the funds to the 9/11 hijackers: if you go here you can see, in the form of a graph, how far removed the alleged connection really is.
But the tenuous nature of the alleged Saudi government link to 9/11 doesn’t matter to Joe Lieberman and John McCain, who are both on this non-story like dogs on a bone. Newsweek hypes this tale as getting "inside the probe the Bush administration doesn’t want you to know about"! Thanksgiving hasn’t even gotten here and already we’re in presidential campaign mode.
Willya give me a friggin’ break?!
There is absolutely nothing, zero, zilch, nada to this phony story; it’s politics, pure and simple. In August I wrote about the infamous briefing given in the Pentagon by one Laurent Murawiec, the ex-LaRouchie who railed that we ought to threaten to bomb Riyadh and take over the Kingdom. This column included a prediction that the Democrats (led by Lieberman) would try to make the alleged Saudi government connection to 9/11 a political issue:
"The not-so-hidden subtext of all this is that the Democrats can always bring up the Bush family’s links to Saudi oil interests. The killer is that the Democrats don’t have to say a word ."
Why bother, when the tag-team of Isikoff and Thomas, not to mention platoons of neoconservatives, will do the job for you? Okay, so it’s a little off-putting to quote yourself and so often! but bear with me for a moment:
"What we’re seeing, here, is a left-right squeeze play, with the Bushies in the middle. It is, in reality, a form of political blackmail, a warning shot fired over the bow by the ostensibly Republican neocons, and not the Democrats."
Okay, so I was wrong about the details: it’s the neocons and the Democrats who are taking out after the Newsweek story. Check out the huzzahs over at Neocon Central for Isikoff’s latest "scoop": the Amen Corner is fairly quivering with gloating and exultant I-told–you–so‘s. As the administration once again declared that the Saudis are "good partners" in the war of terrorism, Lieberman and McCain didn’t wait for any investigation to make their opinions known, as Associated Press reports:
"Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who together set up an independent commission that will investigate the terror attacks, offered piercing criticism. Saudi leaders ‘have to decide which side they’re on,’ Lieberman said on CBS’ ‘Face the Nation.’ ‘For too many generations, they have pacified and accommodated themselves to the most extreme, fanatical, violent elements of Islam, and those elements have now turned on us and the rest of the world.’ Added McCain: ‘The Saudi royal family has been engaged in a Faustian bargain for years to keep themselves in power.’"
Lieberman and McCain, both with unabashedly presidential ambitions, are positioning themselves to attack the Bushies as "soft on terrorism", i.e. soft on the Saudis and all those other Ay-rabs, who, we all know, are all alike. So why are the President’s most fervent supporters over at National Review also piling on?
The view that the President has put off the invasion of Iraq, perhaps indefinitely, now seems uncontroversial, even among the most stubbornly apocalyptic. By going the UN route, Bush has committed the United States to wait until the process is clearly finished. Hans Blix, and not the President of the United States, will effectively decide Iraq’s fate. This not only postpones the hawks’ war plans, it also opens up the possibility that the war may not come off at all. Although we are told, on a daily basis, that Saddam the Monstrous will never comply voluntarily with the disarmament process, he may be more pragmatic than mad. And then what?
The War Party is turning on the President with a vengeance: they want to make the price of peace so high that war will be the only politically viable alternative. The neocons thought they had a bargain with the White House: unconditional support for Dubya in return for a conflagration in the Middle East. The alliance worked, for a time: until the neocons upped the ante. For they are not just after Iraq, they want the whole region Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and beyond. As Monsieur Murawiec put it in his infamous rant in front of the Pentagon Advisory Board:
"Iraq is the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot, Egypt the prize."
The White House wasn’t going along with it, however. With the triumph of the Powell forces and the UN-ization of what was supposed to have been a short prelude to war, the neocons are packing their bags and decamping. As I put it last summer:
"What better way to blindside the Bushies than from within their own camp that is, from the neocons, who have no party loyalty except to the War Party. If the Democrats will provide them with a bigger, bloodier war to fight one in which more Arabs are likely to perish than in a piddling invasion of Iraq well, then, why not?"
In stark contrast to Newsweek‘s sensation-mongering but fact-deficient concoction, Time has come out with a more sober assessment that makes the whole story of Saudi complicity with the hijackers sound like Michael Ruppert on acid, or perhaps Lyndon LaRouche in a particularly expansive mood:
"Omar Al Bayoumi, a Saudi who befriended two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Al Hazmi and Khalid Al Midhar, when all three were living in San Diego, funneled money or other support to them. The investigation has concluded that Bayoumi, now in England, had no idea the pair were Al Qaeda terrorists and aided them only out of hospitality. But the FBI is still trying to sort out his sources of funds, some of which, other officials now tell Time, came through third parties with links to the Saudi Royal family."
My question is: why stop at the third or fourth remove? Why not trace the financial trail all the way back to include each and every individual who "indirectly" passed money to the hijackers? That way we can be sure to cast suspicion on everyone and anyone we care to name. The Isikoff-Thomas theory is a real stretch. If the Saudis were going to be funding terrorism, one might suppose they wouldn’t be quite as blatant as doing it through the bank account of the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
So someone who knew someone who knew someone who had murky "links" to the Saudi Royal family (which has 5,000-plus "princes" alone) supposedly aided and abetted two of the hijackers. But not even that is true, as Time points out:
"FBI officials say the investigation, while not officially closed, has concluded that Bayoumi was not a witting accomplice of the hijackers in particular or al-Qaeda in general, and that he did not, wittingly or even unwittingly, provide substantial funds to them for any purpose, legitimate or nefarious."
Speaking of impenetrable murk, these allegations bring to mind the left-wing conspiracy theory authored by Guillaume Dasquie and Jean-Charles Brisard in The Forbidden Truth, originally published in France last year and put out by The Nation in the U.S. The basic theme of their book is that the Americans let 9/11 happen because of Bushian "softness" on the Saudis, a tendency that can be traced to the influence of Big Oil in American politics. According to Dasquie and Brisard, this is what supposedly motivated the Bushies to enter into secret negotiations with Bin Laden prior to September 11. The popularity of the Brisard-Dasquie book in France is understandable, as it blames us for 9/11 a popular theme in France, these days. According to the authors, however, it isn’t just the U.S., but the whole Western world that has been duped by those devils in Riyadh:
"The U.S. is not the only one. The question is why developed countries need to do commercial deals with Saudi Arabia and if those commercial deals are why they must close their eyes about the reality of the Saudi Arabian kingdom. Since the 18th century, Saudi Arabia has been focused on conquering the world."
Here is where the "it’s all about oil" crowd and the War Party meet and merge in a kind of "red-brown" coalition.
But it isn’t all about oil, it’s all about Israel and the internal political dynamics of the U.S. Ariel Sharon and his American Likudniks thought the Israeli elections now set for January would take place against the backdrop of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the climactic victory of the IDF over their Palestinian antagonists. A six-month delay wasn’t in the plan, never mind an indefinite postponement.
The War Party has a bludgeon in the form of the Lieberman-McCain 9/11 "truth" commission, which will no doubt take up the Saudi question in its extensive hearings. The show should get really dramatic around the third act, with election season well underway. The so-called "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" (NatComTAUUS) was agreed to by the Bushies only after a lot of pressure by the families of the 9/11 victims. NatComTAUUS was engineered by Lieberman and McCain for precisely this purpose: to hold it like a sword of Damocles over the head of this administration. The Isikoff-Thomas confabulation was the signal to cut the cord.
While the conspiracy theories of the Forbidden Truth-Mike Ruppert-"Bush knew" Axis of Tinfoil are now enjoying a spate of popularity in the U.S. Congress, you can bet that NatComTAUUS won’t give a toss about investigating other, far less problematic angles on the events of 9/11. There is evidence that Israeli intelligence was tracking the hijackers for many months prior to the Day, reported by the BBC and Die Zeit, as well as Antiwar.com, but that isn’t on their agenda. Nor will they show the slightest interest in following up this story in Ha’aretz, about the terrorist connections to certain accounts maintained in Israeli banks:
"The Bank of Israel has obtained information that several accounts held in Israeli banks may have been used to fund terrorist activities. However, because of banking secrecy laws, the central bank has not handed details over to the Justice Ministry. The central bank claims that it is the ministry’s obligation to rectify the situation by legislating an amendment to the Banking Secrecy Law, so that it will be able to hand over the relevant information."
Shortly after the terrorist attacks, the U.S. issued a financial watchlist that was constantly updated and amended indeed, these lists have become a story in themselves, as they found their way onto the internet and are now being labeled "obsolete" and said to have "mutated" (as the Wall Street Journal put it in a headline). One such list was posted on the internet by the Associazione Italiana per il Factoring (Assifact), the association of Italian industry and financial institutions, which was instructed by the FBI to look out for any indication of activity on the part of the individuals listed.
I wrote a whole column on the surprising appearance of an Israeli citizen, Dominik Suter, on this list, and I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that, according to the Forward, Suter owned a New Jersey moving company that was certainly a front for Israeli intelligence and employed five Israeli citizens who were arrested hours after the first planes crashed into the WTC. The five were seen in a park overlooking the devastation, cheering and gleefully photographing each other against a backdrop of pure horror. Suter saw his business raided by the FBI, but fled to Israel before he could be thoroughly interrogated.
The point is that the attempt to debunk the accuracy and reliability of these widely circulated suspect lists is itself suspect, especially in view of the Ha’aretz revelations, which were based on same sort of lists. The U.S. authorities published a list of "persons and organizations" suspected of aiding terrorists, the Bank of Israel checked it against information gleaned from Israeli bank records, and the test came up positive, as Ha’aretz reports:
"After completing screening of the accounts at the end of 2001, the banks handed over their findings to [Supervisor of Banks, Yitzhak] Tal. Several suspicious accounts and financial transactions were found. The Bank of Israel has confirmed the existence of accounts believed to have been connected to the financing of terrorist operations but refused to state how many suspect accounts had been uncovered and to which terrorist organizations they were connected."
You won’t read about it in Newsweek.
Unless Bush 43 gets his war plans in gear, and fast, he will find himself caught in the middle of a very painful left-right pincer movement. The Isikoff conspiracy theory is but the opening shot of a war on the home front, a struggle started by the militantly pro-Israel neocon Right, initially against the reluctant warrior in the State Department and now expanded into an all-out assault on the Boy Emperor in the Oval Office. The message to Bush is this: Either it’s war, or we show you the door. It’s that simple.
Will Dubya go wobbly on going wobbly? In these days of our imperial decadence, when deciphering the inner moods and facial tics of the most powerful man on earth is the major pastime of pundits, it’s too easy to slip into the sort of "analysis" one might find in, say, People magazine. But as I said in my Monday column, I’ll bet the last straw was when the hawks sabotaged Dubya’s Autocue so that he almost omitted a key and much-fought-over phrase from his UN speech. Imagine his response to something so sneaky, so underhanded, so disloyal, so un-Bushian. He must have thrown a fit of truly presidential proportions!
If the reflexively anti-Bush anti-warriors of the Left will pause, for a moment, to reflect on the events of the past few months, they will discover that their Manichean view of Bush as the Platonic embodiment of Absolute Evil conflicts with the known facts. The bandwagon is stalled on the road to war, and the occupants have had to get out and push. Whether they can get the engine re-started is an open question. What all this reveals, however, is a new way of looking at what the neocons call "World War IV" as a three-sided conflict, pitting both the Islamists and Israel against the Americans, as well as against each other.
An invasion of the Middle East, starting but not ending with Iraq, stands to benefit one and only one nation on earth, and that is not the United States. Saddam’s rusty old Scuds couldn’t get past the Azores, let alone make it all the way to American shores: his "weapons of mass destruction," if they exist, are aimed at Israel, not the U.S. The regional destabilization that would follow U.S. military action, besides being a godsend to Osama bin Laden, would also give the Israelis enough cover to carve a "Greater Israel" out of Palestinian hides.
That is why Israel’s partisans in the U.S. the Christian fundamentalists who see apocalypse in the Middle East as a good sign of the Second Coming, as well as the neocons are beating the war drums with renewed fury. Thank God George W. Bush isn’t dancing to their tune yet.
What’s the meaning of all this, in terms of what the antiwar movement should now do? As opposition to the advent of an American Empire grows on the right and in the center, as well as the left side of the political spectrum, antiwar sentiment is surging. Our strategy must be to not only keep up the pressure but increase it. Step on the gas! There’s still time to stop this war before it starts.