Empty wallets kept U.S. from catching bin Laden

Bush had terrorist in the crosshairs, but didn't want to pay agents on his trail, docs say

John Dyer By John Dyer

Pakistanis hold an image of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during an anti-American rally in Quetta in May 2012. (Reuters/Naseer Ahmed)

Every Friday, Latitude News samples vignettes of how the rest of the world views the United States.

We start with The Daily Maverick in South Africa, an online magazine that has supplied us with a lot of good views of American politics and culture, like this one about the political consequences of President Barack Obama making a verbal gaffe.

This week, The Daily Maverick samples a treasure trove of documents about the September 11th terrorist attacks. The data was released by the National Security Archive, a non-profit free press group that’s housed at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The documents are damning, writer J. Brooks Spector explains in the magazine’s June 21st issue:

This now-public material offers a wealth of new information about the hunt – pre- and post-9/11 – for Osama bin Laden, the development of the drone aircraft campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as al-Qaeda’s tangled relationship with Pakistan. Among this newly released material is astonishing information that the CIA had actually had Bin Laden in its cross-hairs a full year before 9/11 — but then it failed to gain sufficient budgetary support from the new Bush administration to track him down – or even continue to monitor him closely.

We’ve known that the U.S. was actively looking for bin Laden but failed to get to him before the attacks. These documents give a more in-depth look, however, at how U.S. officials stymied themselves during the search. This is old news that’s worth revisiting.

From Israel to Arab unrest

Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week reported on how the flagging U.S. economy will dominate American leaders’ minds before and after the November election, quoting the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, a former top-level official at the U.S. State Department. The U.S. in the future, said Haas, will likely play a smaller role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and pay more attention to “Iran and Arab upheavals.” The report described how Hass bluntly tells an audience at a Jerusalem conference that the “American era of dominating the Middle East peace process is ending. More responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”

It’s hard to imagine the rest of the world turning away from the high-profile Palestinian question, which has attracted attention for decades. But any change might be for the better given the world’s track record so far on the issue.

Visit medieval Sicily

This story from Italian Life isn’t about the U.S., strictly speaking. But the conditions it describes in Sicily, and the warning it sends to gay and lesbian tourists thinking of vacationing on the island, got me thinking about how Americans’ concepts of civil rights have changed in recent years, especially as gay marriage legislation has passed in numerous American states.

Years ago, gay and lesbian couples would have taken homophobia for granted almost everywhere. Now, of course, such prejudice still exists, but norms have changed and same-sex couples are less likely to accept it, especially in the U.S. But the rest the world, including parts of supposedly enlightened Europe, might not agree.

I can’t think of anywhere better to go with a partner than Sicily. The beaches and Greek ruins of Selinunte, for example, are captivating. But, as Italian Life notes, Frommer’s new travel guide for the island warns some folks to stay away:

MEDIEVAL BEHAVIOUR – “Some of the islanders express antigay attitudes that might belong more appropriately to the Middle Ages,” alleges Frommer’s. “Open displays of affection between same-sex couples meet with obvious disapproval by intolerant islanders.”

Sometimes, in the process of seeing how foreigners think about an issue, we learn more about our own evolving American perspectives.