First off, what Texas Congressman Ron Paul actually said in last night's debate about 9/11:
"I think the party has lost its way because the conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy. Sen. Robert Taft didn't even want to be in NATO. George Bush won the election in year 2000 campaigning on a humble foreign policy, no nation building, no policing of the world. Republicans were elected to end the Korean War, Republicans were elected to end the Vietnam War. There's a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican Party, it is the constitutional position, it is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them.
"Just think of the tremendous improvement in (our) relationship with Vietnam. We lost 60,000 men, we came home in defeat, now we go over there and invest in Vietnam. So there's a lot of merit to the advice of the Founders and following the Constitution. And my argument is that we shouldn't go to war so carelessly, because when we do, the wars don't end."
Which led to a follow-up question from Fox newsman Wendell Goler -- "Congressman, you don't think that changed with the 9/11 attack, sir?"
Paul: "What changed?"
Goler: "The non-interventionist policies."
Paul: "No, non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attacked us because we'd been over there, we'd been bombing Iraq for 10 years, we've been in the Middle East. I think Ronald Reagan was right, we don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So 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."
Golen: "Are you suggesting we invited the 9/11 attack, sir?"
Paul: "I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reasons they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because 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, have killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary."
To which Rudy Giuliani responded: "That's really an extraordinary statement, an extraordinary statement. As someone who lived through the attack on Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11" (followed by the biggest applause of the night, all but sealing the pundits' later verdict that Giuliani won the debate).
But lost amid the gnashing of teeth over Paul's suggestion that al Qaeda was justified in slaughtering 3,000 Americans was the kernel of truth at the heart of his remarks -- the undeniable connection between Iraq and al Qaeda's motivation for the 9/11 attack.
For years now we have heard the singsong of a claim, mainly from the Left but also from conservative isolationists like Paul and Pat Buchanan, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. To the extent that Iraq was not involved in the planning and execution of the attack, this remains a plausible assertion due to lack of evidence to the contrary (that such a link may eventually be proven, however, would not surprise me).
But this assertion has morphed into something entirely different -- that Iraq had nothing remotely to do with al Qaeda's motivation for attacking the US -- and this claim is not only false, but deceitful. In fact, US and United Nation policies toward Iraq -- yes, United Nations -- constituted two of the three reasons cited by bin Laden for the 9/11 attack when al-Jazeera broadcast its first post-9/11 video of bin Laden on Oct. 7, 2001, the same day US forces began bombing al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden's statement, all of a dozen paragraphs, wasted little time in getting to Iraq -- it's in the fourth paragraph, according to the copy I saved from the New York Times.
"A million innocent children are dying at this time as we speak, killed in Iraq without any guilt," bin Laden said. What he was referring to were economic sanctions against Saddam's Baathist regime -- sanctions imposed by the UN, not US -- for Saddam's refusal to comply with every single one of 16 UN resolutions for him to disarm after the first Gulf War and renounce his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. A war precipitated by Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, followed by a coalition of 30 nations led by the US ousting Iraq from Kuwait -- but not dishonoring the purpose of that coalition and taking ground forces all the way to Baghdad.
Here is how bin Laden ended his statement:
"Every Muslim must rise to defend his religion. The wind of faith is blowing and the wind of change is blowing to remove evil from the Peninsula of Muhammad, peace be upon him.
"As to America, I say to you and its people a few words: I swear to God that America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the armies of infidels depart the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him. God is the greatest and glory be to Islam."
The "evil" that bin Laden refers to on the "Peninsula of Muhammad"? American military forces in Saudi Arabia -- sent there at the invitation of the Saudi government after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. Forces that remained in Saudi Arabia, as requested by the Saudi government, for the decade to follow -- due to Saddam's continued defiance to disarm in good faith.
As for Paul's claim that we'd been "bombing Iraq for 10 years," he was conspicuously negligent in elaborating. Allow me to fill in the gaps. Shortly after the first Gulf War, and in a move to prevent Saddam from slaughtering thousands more Kurds and Shiites rising up against him, no-fly zones were imposed over huge swaths of north and south Iraq -- by the US, Great Britain and -- are you sitting down for this? -- France -- without -- still sitting down? -- UN authorization.
Two years after the first Gulf War, then-President Bill Clinton ordered aerial attacks against Saddam's regime after evidence was uncovered of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait.
In December 1998, Clinton ordered another attack on Saddam's regime one month after UN weapons inspectors were ousted from Iraq -- an absence that remained right through 9/11 and leading up to the months before the second war. The reason many people don't remember the four-day Desert Fox campaign? It neatly coincided with the House vote to impeach Clinton.
I have nothing but respect for the strength of character exhibited by Giuliani on 9/11, and for Giuliani's resolve in the difficult weeks and months followed. And Giuliani's anger toward Paul's suggestion that America had it coming on 9/11 is entirely justified.
But I find it disheartening that Giuliani, of all people, a man nearly murdered by al Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001 and who may well become our next president, is oblivious to the obvious role that Iraq played in al Qaeda's rationale for attacking us.