9/11 Terrorist Biographer: ‘We Learned Exactly the Wrong Lessons’ from 2001 Attack
America has not “learned any of the lessons” of the Islamic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, estimated Terry McDermott, author of Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It and Los Angeles Times alumnus, in a Tuesday interview on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with hosts Rebecca Mansour and Joel Pollak.
“I don’t think we learned any of the lessons,” remarked McDermott. “It doesn’t require a state. The reason Al-Qaeda was successful was because they weren’t a state. Our whole foreign policy [and] counterterrorism apparatus is aimed at state actors. These guys were so small we couldn’t see them.”
McDermott added, “It’s not that Al-Qaeda was so strong and powerful. They were so weak and small. We just couldn’t see them. They got phenomenally lucky. This thing should’ve been stopped a hundred different ways, but they got lucky with a clever idea, and they got away with it. After the event, we still focused on state actors. These are non-state actors. It’s a gang. They don’t require state support.”
“The whole point of this kind of warfare is that you can do a lot with a little,” added McDermott. “You can send the whole damn world off into a different direction with a handful of guys.”
McDermott continued, “We’ve learned exactly the wrong lessons. We’re not safe. … Because we still see it as a state-actor problem, and it’s not states. The central dilemma is that there are individuals in the world who become radicalized, and we can’t know who they are, and we can’t know what they are going to do, and we can’t stop them, right? And if you treat them as state problems, then you do exactly the wrong things to stop them.”
America’s post-9/11 counterterrorism strategies have generated more terrorists than they have eliminated, assessed McDermott.
“Everything we do, almost everything we’ve done since 9/11 has created more terrorists than it’s eliminated, like the invasion of Iraq, the drones, all that stuff,” remarked McDermott. “Some of that stuff, in some cases, is useful. If you drone somebody, you kill, you assassinate, you get rid of somebody bad. Okay, that’s a good thing.”
McDermott went on, “But every drone that misses and hits somebody else, we’re creating more terrorists every day than we’re eliminating. We’ve almost fulfilled the wildest dream of the jihadis, right? We’ve made ourselves into the enemy when we weren’t before.”
“Invading Afghanistan was the right thing to do,” added McDermott. “I don’t doubt that, whatsoever. They overthrow the Taliban. You get rid of the safe haven for Al-Qaeda. You go home. Iraq made every problem worse. It’s the worst foreign policy decision in the history of the United States, without question to me. It’s just utterly idiotic and naive. For people who fancied themselves as foreign policy realists … it was fantasy. It was just silly. It never had a chance of success.”
The 9/11 terrorists weren’t procured by a state-run endeavor, noted McDermott. Islamic terrorism, he added, was a phenomenon broadly independent of state support. He appraised national security strategies revolving around international relations between states as inadequate counterterrorism approaches.
“I spent a year trying to figure out who had recruited these guys,” noted McDermott. “It was so hard. Somebody had to come and get them, right? No. They’re volunteers. It took me a year to realize they’re volunteers. They show up, and they happen to show up when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had just gotten the blessing for the plane operation from Osama bin Laden [and] the funding.”
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Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.