Reviewing the May 15 Republican presidential debate in his column in the May 28 edition of Time, Joe Klein wrote that Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) had a "singular moment of weirdness" when he said "that al-Qaeda attacked on Sept. 11 because the U.S. had been messing around in the Middle East, bombing Iraq." Klein made no mention of the 9-11 Commission report's findings -- which Paul has cited in support of his response at the debate -- including that Osama bin Laden's verbal attacks against the United States "found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Palestine to America's support for their countries' repressive rulers."
Some media figures mischaracterized the response by Paul during the debate, asserting that Paul had "blamed" the United States for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as Media Matters for America recently noted. In fact, Paul did not blame the United States but, rather, said the attacks were a response to U.S. actions in the Middle East and stressed the importance of understanding the motivations of those who want to attack the United States. From the debate:
PAUL: Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right.
We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us. (Applause.)
PAUL: I'm suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said, "I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier." They have already now since that time -- [bell rings] -- have killed 3,400 of our men, and I don't think it was necessary.
PAUL: I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.
They don't come here to attack us because we're rich and we're free. They come and they attack us because we're over there. I mean, what would we think if we were -- if other foreign countries were doing that to us?
During a post-debate interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Paul said that "Americans didn't do anything to cause" 9-11 and added that the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia appealed to bin Laden's followers. And on May 16, Paul released a press release stating :
When Congressman Ron Paul, who has long served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, explained how 50 years of American interventionism in the Middle East has helped compromise our national security, [Rudy] Giuliani interrupted saying he had "never heard anything so absurd." This statement is particularly troubling coming from the former mayor who tries to cast himself as a security expert, since Dr. Paul's point comes directly from the bi-partisan 9-11 Commission Report.
In his Time column published online on May 17, Klein rated the GOP candidates based on their performance during the May 15 debate. Klein said that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney lost "because he was slick," former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani won "because he seemed forceful" and Sen. John McCain (AZ) "was a most honorable presence." After mentioning some of the lower tier candidates, Klein ended with Paul, calling his comments regarding 9-11 "weird":
And then there's the libertarian Congressman Ron Paul who seems like your uncle the bartender who has a Big Theory about everything: some of his ideas are brilliant, others weird. He rates a mention because his singular moment of weirdness--proposing that al-Qaeda attacked on Sept. 11 because the U.S. had been messing around in the Middle East, bombing Iraq--offered Giuliani a historic slam dunk. "That's an extraordinary statement," he jumped in when Paul finished, "... that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11." There was explosive applause from the audience.
Yet Klein did not mention the 9-11 Commission report, to which Paul referred on the May 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room. In Chapter 2, the commission discussed bin Laden's appeal in the Islamic world:
It is the story of eccentric and violent ideas sprouting in the fertile ground of political and social turmoil. It is the story of an organization poised to seize its historical moment. How did Bin Ladin-with his call for the indiscriminate killing of Americans-win thousands of followers and some degree of approval from millions more?
The history, culture, and body of beliefs from which Bin Ladin has shaped and spread his message are largely unknown to many Americans. Seizing on symbols of Islam's past greatness, he promises to restore pride to people who consider themselves the victims of successive foreign masters. He uses cultural and religious allusions to the holy Qur'an and some of its interpreters. He appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity and globalization. His rhetoric selectively draws from multiple sources-Islam, history, and the region's political and economic malaise. He also stresses grievances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of Islam's holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel.
Many Americans have wondered, "Why do 'they' hate us?" Some also ask, "What can we do to stop these attacks?"
Bin Ladin and al Qaeda have given answers to both these questions. To the first, they say that America had attacked Islam; America is responsible for all conflicts involving Muslims. Thus Americans are blamed when Israelis fight with Palestinians, when Russians fight with Chechens, when Indians fight with Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Philippine government fights ethnic Muslims in its southern islands. America is also held responsible for the governments of Muslim countries, derided by al Qaeda as "your agents." Bin Ladin has stated flatly, "Our fight against these governments is not separate from our fight against you." These charges found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Palestine to America's support for their countries' repressive rulers.
From the May 16 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER (host): Are you ready to back away from the implication of what you were saying last night? Because certainly when you were given the chance last night, you didn't.
PAUL: No. There's no reason to. I think he's going to have to back away from his statement pretty soon, because I found two very clear quotes in the 9-11 Commission report that says that very thing, that our foreign policy has a very great deal to do with their willingness and desire to commit suicide terrorism. So, I would suggest that he read the 9-11 Commission report.
PAUL: I blame bad policy. And bad policy can have consequences, unintended. The CIA recognize it. The 9-11 Commission recognize it. So to me, this sounds very logical. I think he needs to back down, and I think he needs to read the report and come back and apologize to me.