WASHINGTON, D.C., September 11—Whether or not the U.S. pins the blame for today’s terror attacks in New York and Washington on the mysterious Osama bin Laden, these events almost surely will provide President Bush with a broad new mandate to widen the U.S. role in the Middle East. They might even give him a chance to become the hero of a second Persian Gulf War.
The assaults should also force Bush to become more active in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All through the campaign and his first months in office, Bush has insisted the U.S. cannot force peace on the region. Now it appears he cannot keep peace in his own backyard.
Our commitment to the Middle East has always been tied to oil and its effect on national security interests. Militarily, this country is all over the Middle East. A 10-ship carrier battle group is kept in the Persian Gulf, and another flotilla sits in the Indian Ocean. U.S. planes patrol two “no-fly zones” over Iraq from bases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Camp Doha in Kuwait is a hub where armored vehicles and choppers are stored, and a second big army base is located in Qatar. Overall, the U.S. has 20,000 troops in the region, at an annual cost of $1.5 billion.
The most likely target for a U.S. counterattack is Afghanistan, which has permitted Osama bin Laden to set up shop and train his forces. As part of its effort to curry favor with the West, the Taliban leaders have claimed they will help the U.S. kill Bin Laden by giving the Americans the positions of his camps, thereby enabling the U.S. sufficient time to line up a cruise missile on him. And Taliban leaders also have claimed they have offered Bin Laden’s computers and electronic equipment seized from his entourage. But Washington turned them away, or so the Taliban claims.
Finally, the Taliban tried to win favor in the West with its harsh campaign against growing of opium poppies. Afghanistan is the world’s major producer of opium, and the Taliban has taken stern steps to abolish the practice. Obviously hoping for some aid, the right-wing Muslim group’s leaders can’t get over the U.S. slight.
For proof that Palestinian sympathizers really are involved, many point out this is the anniversary of the Camp David accords, signed during the Carter presidency, between Israel and Egypt.
Yet others cite a shakier source, the final act of William Pierce’s novel The Turner Diaries. The final act of the book has the hero fly a plane loaded with explosives into the Pentagon. Pierce’s tome has become a bible on the far right. It was found on the seat of Tim McVeigh’s car when he was captured after bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and McVeigh later admitted to selling it at gun shows. Pierce is head of the most active of the far-right-wing groups called the National Alliance, based in West Virginia.
While most far-right groups have slipped out of sight with McVeigh’s execution, the National Alliance remains active and is attracting youthful recruits. Pierce’s book is a veritable instruction manual on how to take a small number of adherents and create a revolution through a campaign of political terror.
Conspiracy theorists note that the first plane hit the first World Trade tower within minutes of 9 a.m. That is the same time McVeigh’s bomb-laden truck exploded in the parking area in front of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
But it must be emphasized that far-right groups are hardly thought capable of carrying out such complex conspiracies.