Sixteen years ago today, 19 Islamic infiltrators from a jihadist organization funded by Saudi Arabia and Iran orchestrated the worst attack ever on American soil, killing 2,996 and injuring approximately 6,000 Americans. Sadly, looking back at our response in the ensuing years, it is hard to imagine a more counterintuitive strategy for ensuring our homeland remains safe than the one chosen by our political leaders.
Amidst the horror of 9/11, we also witnessed the righteous character, moral clarity, and sheer determination and grit of the American people. From the firefighters who rushed into the collapsing towers to save thousands and the selflessness and cooperation during the orderly evacuation of the buildings to the heroism of the passengers aboard Flight 93 — we saw the greatness of America. We saw everyday citizens rise to the occasion and directly confront evil.
Unfortunately, moral clarity and common sense are now lost on much of our political class. The best way to honor those who confronted evil directly on 9/11 is to do everything in our power to prevent any such attack from happening again.
Self-immolation and willful blindness
After the end of the British threat to America, culminating with the War of 1812, the vast oceans flaking both sides of this great nation kept us safe through the present day. There are only two exceptions: Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks.
There are only two ways an enemy can threaten our homeland: by military threat (air force, navy, or ICBMs) or through infiltration (our border or visa system). In WWII, although the U.S. mainland was not attacked, our naval assets in a U.S. territory were attacked in a traditional military campaign by an enemy national power. We responded to the military threat with overwhelming military might of our own and won the war three years later.
On 9/11, we were attacked because we let individuals who should never have been admitted into our country, jihadists who were working for an Islamic terrorist group funded by the Saudis and Iranians. We responded by doubling down on immigration from these areas, ignoring the gaping homeland security holes in our visa system and at our border. Then we used our military to engage in endless social work in dangerous and untenable Islamic civil wars in the countries that did not pose a direct threat to us, while concurrently allowing the Iranians and the Saudis to skate free. We have spent 16 years pursuing tin-pot warlords in Afghanistan while ignoring the funding and power structure of jihad in Iran and in the Islamist-controlled Sunni countries, such as Turkey and Qatar.
The result has been 7,000 U.S. military deaths and 50,000 wounded in action. We have nothing to show for our efforts but an empowered Iran and a leaky immigration system. We have spent close to $3 trillion on these escapades, endless funding that could have been used for homeland security, missile defense, and bolstering our military capabilities to be used for true military threats (Iran and North Korea), not social work in Baghdad and Kabul. Worse, we have admitted over 150,000 Iraqi refugees and thousands of Afghanis as a result of the “wars,” bringing them to our shores while our brave men referee their perennial civil wars on their lands.
Thus, everything we should have done on immigration and foreign policy we have failed to do, and everything we should have avoided like the plague, we have pursued with mindless vigor. Meanwhile, while depleting our resources and resolve on counterintuitive pursuits in ungovernable nations, we have exposed ourselves to direct threats from China and North Korea while allowing Iran to grow stronger than ever.
9/11 was about immigration and visas
Consider how astounding this is: Congress passed an exit-entry visa tracking system in 1996. Its implementation was recommended by the 9/11 Commission. We still have not implemented such a verification system. Two of the hijackers, Satam al Suqami and Nawaf al Hazmi, overstayed their visas. Visa overstays remains the biggest gaping hole in our security. More than 600,000 people who overstayed their visas in 2016 alone still remain in the country.
Furthermore, instead of making visa applications from terror-prone countries a red flag, we now admit over 155,000 foreign students from the Middle East and have more immigrants from these countries than ever before. One of the 9/11 hijackers came here on a student visa from Saudi Arabia. We have responded to the threat by increasing the number of foreign students from Saudi Arabia from a few thousand a year to over 70,000. In 2014, ABC news discovered that 58,000 foreign nationals had overstayed their student visas in particular, of which 6,000 represented a “heightened concern.”
Our border also remains wide open for asylum abuse. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, applications for asylum seekers have increased tenfold since 2009! While many of them are from Latin America, the U.S. Southern Command admitted to at least 30,000 “from countries of terrorist concern” crossing over our southern border in 2016. There are now known smuggling routes from Greece through Central America for Middle Easterners. They know the magic words of “credible fear,” just like the Latin Americans who have used it for decades. Hundreds of thousands of them have been allowed to remain in the country indefinitely pending their asylum hearings. It only takes a handful of terrorists to wreak havoc, and we would have no way of tracking them down.
Afghanistan is not a core threat
While the Taliban allowed the lawless frontier of Afghanistan to be used for Al Qaeda training camps, they never posed an existential threat to us outside their country, certainly nothing close to the threat of Iran and the Islamic subversion agenda funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey on our own soil as well as abroad. The problem is made up of immigration, domestic Muslim Brotherhood groups, and the funding of terror. There is no money in Afghanistan. At the time of the attacks, the money was all with Saudi Arabia, and now it’s with other Sunni nations as well, such as Qatar and Turkey, and of course with Iran.
At the time, it made sense to strike out against the Taliban, but to stay in Afghanistan in the long run, rather than going after the true funders of global terror, was a grave mistake.
The 9/11 plot was hatched much more in Saudi Arabia and Iran than in Afghanistan. While the relationship between Iran and Sunni terror groups has always been complex, Iran has long harbored Al Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission observed “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” Iran is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. And while it is primarily known for foisting Hezbollah upon the world, it is working with Al Qaeda in the background to this very day, according to the State Department.
Saudi Arabia’s connection to 9/11 has always been obvious. Just this past weekend, Paul Sperry reported that fresh evidence filed in a complaint on behalf of 1,600 families against the government of Saudi Arabia suggests that it might have been knee-deep in the plot. The complaint alleges that the Saudi Embassy paid for two foreign students to fly from Phoenix to Washington “in a dry run for the 9/11 attacks” in 1999. These two individuals became known to the FBI after that incident and were involved in Muslim Brotherhood umbrella groups connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, and one was eventually denied re-entry into the U.S.; however, the dots were never connected.
Student visas, Saudi Arabia, Iran, domestic terror groups. Starting to see a pattern? Preventing terrorist attacks is more about intelligence, immigration, the FBI, making the right alliances and using the right soft power against our enemies. Sending our military into Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t address the core problem of 9/11, and in fact, these decisions hurt our deterrent in the long-run. Let’s save our military for North Korea.
The American people are better than our failed political class that have placed political correctness and shady relationships ahead of America’s security. This is not rocket science. Here is a simple list of Dos and Don’ts that would truly reorient our homeland security and foreign policy toward placing America’s interests first, identifying our enemies, and working with stable allies:
Given the looming threats from North Korea and Iran, we can’t afford another 16 years of bad investments, alliances, and international social work sapping our resolve. And given what has happened to Europe internally, where Jews can no longer live in peace and jihad is a daily occurrence, we clearly don’t have another 16 years to get our immigration priorities straight.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.