When it comes to 9/11, for the most part, America has printed the legend. Because Al Qaeda’s attacks seemingly came out of the blue, a simplistic narrative has emerged: America good, terrorists bad. Stand behind the president. It is a storyline that holds some unassailable truths. Heroic firemen, police officers, and others gave their lives so that their fellow citizens might live. But, as put forth by the Bush administration, the official narrative allows little room for complexity and none for doubt.
Yet the real story is full of startling paradoxes and subtle nuances and they have started to come into view. In the wake of the attacks, reports on the Saudi role in fostering terrorism have gradually made their way into the American press. Allegations that specific members of the royal family, or members of the Saudi merchant elite, had prior knowledge of 9/11 or knowingly financed Al Qaeda are grave charges indeed, and should not be made unless they can be backed up by strong evidence. Some of these questions may be answered in the $1-trillion civil suit brought by families of the victims of 9/ 11 against hundreds of individuals and entities, many of whom are prominent Saudis.
As to exactly how guilty the Saudis have been in aiding terror, Richard Clarke sees a spectrum of complicity. But there is also the sin of omission—the failure to crack down on terrorists—and on that score there is no ambiguity about the role played by America’s great ally in the Middle East. The evidence is overwhelming that the House of Saud did little to stem the rise of Islamist terror that started in the mid-nineties, that it continued to finance terrorists, inadvertently or otherwise, and that it refused to cooperate with the United States again and again—even after the events of 9/11. In his address to the nation just after the catastrophe, Bush promised, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” How does the president reconcile this solemn vow with his alliance with a state that bears more responsibility for 9/ 11 than does any other nation? He does not.