While most of the attention paid to the recent 9/11 report has focused on the 28 blanked-out pages detailing the actions of the House of Saud, a far more important player has escaped necessary scrutiny: the U.S. State Department.
Not because the diplomats at Foggy Bottom did anything overt (aside from issuing visas to the terrorists that never should have been issued under the law), but because they believe “stability”—even stability of tyrants—is always in America’s interests. What that has wrought, though, is a world more amenable to tyranny and terrorism.
History shows that the State Department has had an inability to recognize—and a disturbing habit of “engaging”—evil.
Even as many other parts of the U.S. government were growing leery of Saddam Hussein in the late 1980’s—particularly after the mass murder of the Kurds in northern Iraq—State became the best friend Saddam had. Anywhere. State defended Saddam’s interests inside the first Bush administration, pushing the president to establish closer ties with a man who had already shown an alarming propensity for terrorizing his own people.
Granted, many in the Reagan administration had argued for an alliance with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war—who can forget the photo of Rummy shaking the despot’s hand in 1983—but State was still shilling for Saddam after most others in the U.S. government finally recognized him as the threat that he actually was.
As glaring a mistake as it was to embrace Saddam well after he had shown his true colors—but before his tanks rolled into Kuwait—State did not learn its lesson. When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, State was quick to feign ignorance about the brutal tactics of the new regime, while privately spreading the word that the group would bring all-important “stability” to the war-torn nation.
In fairness, a number of U.S. officials outside of the State Department believed that the U.S. should welcome the change in Afghanistan’s leadership. But State’s job is to know better. And, in fact, most of the rest of the world did know better.
After the Taliban grabbed control of Afghanistan, only four nations on earth that did not recognize the fallen Rabbanni government. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates all recognized the Taliban, and one country did not recognize either the Rabbanni regime or the Taliban: the U.S.
Of course, even if State had used maximum leverage on the Taliban, 9/11 might have happened in exactly the same way. But such speculation is neither productive nor helpful.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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