"Yes, I -- the crown prince has been very strong in condemning those who committed the murder of U.S. citizens. We're constantly working with him and his government on intelligence sharing and cutting off money ... the government has been acting, and I appreciate that very much."
What Bush said was a lie. Just a month earlier, former FBI assistant director Robert Kallstrom had complained that the Saudis were dragging their feet with regard to the investigation: "It doesn't look like they're doing much, and frankly it's nothing new."
In April 2003, Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 commission's neocon executive director, fired an investigator, Dana Leseman, when she proved too vigorous in probing the Saudi connection. [See Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation (New York: Twelve, 2008), pp. 110-13.]
Strangest of all is what has happened to a 28-page chapter in an earlier joint congressional report dealing with the question of the Saudi complicity. While the report as a whole was heavily redacted, the chapter itself wound up entirely suppressed. Although Obama promised 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser shortly after taking office to see to it that it was made public, it remains under wraps.
Rather than identifying those responsible, Washington preferred that the American people remain in the dark. Instead of identifying the actual culprits, the Bush administration, backed up by the Democrats and the press, preferred to blame it all on vague and formless "evildoers" from another realm. The same thing happened following the Charlie Hebdo massacre last January. Amid thousands of "Je Suis Charlie" signs and mass demonstrations -- featuring Benjamin Netanyahu, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Saudi ambassador -- persistent reports of Saudi donations flowing to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group that trained gunman Cherif Kouachi and apparently sponsored the assault, were ignored.
Reports that Riyadh has since collaborated with AQAP in its war against Shi'ite Houthis have met the same fate. As Saudi jets spread death and destruction across Yemen, Al Qaeda has gained control of the eastern city of Mukalla, an oil center and sea port with a population of 300,000, and has also taken control of portions of Aden as well, accumulating in the process an arsenal consisting of dozens of 55 armored vehicles and 22 tanks plus anti-aircraft missiles and other weaponry as well.
No Alarm Bells
One would think that this would set off alarm bells in Washington, yet the result has been a collective shrug. The Obama administration continues to back Saudi Arabia in its assault on the Middle East's poorest nation, providing it with technical back-up and naval support, while France, eager to supplant the U.S. as the kingdom's chief weapons supplier, backs it as well.
French President Francois Hollande thus backs the kingdom that backs the forces that backed those who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre. He also backs a kingdom that allows donations to flow to ISIS, which he now identifies as responsible for the latest atrocities.
Hollande prefers to beat his breast and issue ringing calls for "compassion and solidarity" rather than actually doing something about the relationships that generate such attacks in the first place.
At its most basic level, this is a problem of oil, money and an American empire that stands paralyzed before the disaster it has created in the Middle East. When Obama issued his famous August 2011 call for regime change in Damascus -- "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside" -- it seemed to be a no-brainer.
The insurgency was growing, the Ba'athists were hanging on by a thread, and it seemed only a matter of time before Assad met the same fate as Muammar Gaddafi. "We came, we saw, he died," Hillary Clinton would crow a few months later about Gaddafi, and so it seemed that Assad would soon meet his end at hands of a rebel mob, too.
But Assad proved more durable, mainly because he had the backing of a mass party that, despite corruption and ossification, still enjoyed a significant measure of popular support. The longer he has been able to stay in power, therefore, the more the U.S. has found itself caught up in an increasingly sectarian war by gulf-funded Sunni extremists.
Faced with a choice between Assad on one hand and ISIS and Al Qaeda on the other, Obama has dithered and delayed, refusing to commit himself wholeheartedly to the rebel cause but failing to object when his closest friends channel funds to groups that the U.S. officially regards as anathema.
Instead of defeating ISIS, this policy of neither-nor has allowed it to fester and grow. The group is richer than ever, its troops travel about in shiny new Toyota pickups, and its technical prowess is also on the upswing. Two weeks ago, it apparently brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai. On Thursday, it sent a pair of suicide bombers into a Shi'ite neighborhood in Beirut, killing 43 people and wounding more than two hundred.
Now, according to French authorities, ISIS has sent a team of at least eight militants to shoot up various sites in Paris. In an apparent reference to Western bombing raids against ISIS targets in Syria, one gunman reportedly shouted during the assault on the Bataclan music hall, "What you are doing in Syria, you are going to pay for it now."