‘An Interesting’ and ‘Most Thoughtful Question’

On Friday, February 5th, I attended a Jeb Bush town hall meeting in Concord, New Hampshire. Senator Lindsey Graham and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge introduced former Governor Bush and sat behind him during the meeting. During the question and answer portion of the meeting, I raised my hand at every opportunity, and Bush eventually called on me. I told Bush I was an undecided independent and that he could earn my vote with the right answer to my question. I asked him: What do you believe was the objective of the 9/11 attacks?

I have found no recording of Bush’s answer, but Brett Samuels, a journalism student writing for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, summarized Bush’s answer in his report on the meeting. Samuels wrote, “Bush said it was to attack western civilization and an effort to blame the United States for the problems the terrorist group saw in the world.”

I told Bush that this was not the answer I had hoped for. Bush then shrugged his shoulders and with a perplexed look said: “It’s an interesting question.” He then tentatively asked, “What do you think?”

I was beyond nervous. The thought, “Don’t say it!” raced through my mind. But it was too late to stop now. I leaned into the microphone that the staffer was holding for me and with a weak and shaky voice said, “I believe the objective of the 9/11 attacks was to get us to invade Afghanistan.”

Sounds of surprise erupted from the room. At least one person gasped.

I then said, “I believe the 9/11 attacks were the knives that al-Qaeda used to hijack our military and turn it into a weapon of fiscal mass destruction.”

When he responded, Bush demonstrated the character and personal qualities that had brought me to the meeting. In spite of the fact that it was his brother who had ordered U.S. troops into Afghanistan, he did not take offense. Furthermore, he did nothing to denigrate me or my belief.

“I disagree,” Bush said respectfully. “I’m sorry, I am not going to get your vote.”

Bush paused before moving on to the next question, but he had left me no opening to explain why I believed what it did. I simply nodded and said nothing more.

I was disappointed. I have a great deal of respect for Jeb Bush. I had wanted to vote for him, but he had said nothing to resolve my concern. He had not said why he disagreed with me, and he had not provided any evidence that I was wrong.

Later in the meeting, a man got up and walked out of the room. I was standing near the door, and as the man walked past me, he told me it was a good question. I was very grateful to him because I sure that most of the people in the room thought I was crazy. In his report on the meeting, Brett Samuels wrote that there had been “a mix of friendly and sometimes odd questions.” Of the questions he mentioned in his report, mine was the only “odd” one.

My decision to attend Jeb Bush’s town hall and ask this “odd” question had been prompted by Senator Rand Paul’s withdrawal from the race a few days earlier. After Senator Paul suspended his campaign, the remaining candidates who met my basic prerequisites all seemed likely to allow groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda to ensnare the U.S. in another costly and protracted war. There were candidates who I thought might protect the U.S. from such a war, but, for various reasons, I was unwilling to offer any of them my vote. Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the unique opportunity that is available to residents of New Hampshire; I decided to attend a Bush town hall and give Bush a chance to address my concern directly.

My concern originated from research I had done just prior to the Iraq war. In late 2002, I decided to develop an informed opinion on the question of whether or not the U.S. should go to war with Iraq. As part of my research, I read many of Osama bin Laden’s public statements. In several of these statements, bin Laden expressed his belief that al-Qaeda could defeat the United States in Afghanistan in the same way that the mujaheddin had defeated the Soviet Union there, by engaging it in a war of attrition. Bin Laden’s statements suggested that he had wanted the U.S. to invade Afghanistan, and that he wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq.

In the months and years that followed, I often wondered if George W. Bush or any of the leaders in his administration had ever considered the possibility that al-Qaeda might have been trying to lure the United States into a costly and protracted war. I read Bob Woodward’s books, Bush at War and Plan of Attack, which provided, respectively, in-depth coverage of the deliberations within the administration that lead to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I found no evidence in either of these books, or anything else I read on the subject, that  anyone in the administration had ever considered the possibility that al-Qaeda might have been trying to lure the United States into war.

Now, thirteen years later, another Bush was running for the presidency. I was quite certain that Jeb Bush did not believe the primary objective of the 9/11 attacks was to lure the U.S. into war, but I wondered if he had ever seriously considered the possibility. One of the goals of my question was to assess if he had ever thought about what the objective of the 9/11 attacks was. His answer, his perplexed look, and his comment that it was an “interesting question,” suggested he had not.

But Bush still could have won my vote. There were two reasons why I told him he could earn my vote with his answer to my question. First, I wanted him to know that, aside from my concern, I was ready to vote for him. Second, after he answered my question, I wanted to have the opportunity to tell him what I believed and give him a chance to address my concern. But I made a big mistake by telling him what I believed without providing any supporting evidence. Since Bush was apparently hearing this idea for the first time, and since I did not provide any evidence to support my belief, Bush had no reason to conclude that my belief merited further discussion. I would not make this mistake again.

The following evening, Saturday, February 6th, I watched the 8th GOP Presidential Debate. This was the debate in which Governor Christie criticized Senator Rubio for his memorized answers to questions. I had previously decided not to vote for Rubio (irrespective of his views on national security, which concerned me) because I did not believe Rubio was ready to be President. I was impressed with how Christie exposed some of Rubio’s limitations. I had not been considering Christie, but I decided to attend one of his town halls.

The next morning, I drove to Hampton, NH, to see Christie. While I was waiting for the town hall to begin, a couple standing next to me struck up a conversation and asked me who I was considering. I told them I was considering Christie and Kasich. They said they had seen both candidates several times. They were very impressed with Christie. The man said Kasich could be “a little prickly.” I would see an example of that later that day.

During the question and answer portion of Christie’s town hall, Christie called on the man I had spoken with earlier, but he did not call on me. The meeting did, however, provide me with some valuable insights. One woman asked Christie how he would deal with a cyber attack on the nation’s power grid. Another person asked him how he would address the federal budget deficit. Christie gave detailed answers to these questions and made a strong case that his experience as governor of New Jersey had prepared him to deal with challenges such as these.

Like Bush, when Christie disagreed with people, he did so directly and respectfully. Unlike Bush, he gave detailed reasons why he disagreed.

In his closing argument, Christie spoke of conversations he had had with people whose children had been deployed to war zones. He expressed great empathy and compassion for these parents, and he spoke of what a heavy responsibility it is for a President to decide when it is necessary to go to war. He asked the people in attendance to think about who they would trust to decide when it was necessary to send their loved ones to war.

From Hampton, I drove to Concord, NH to attend a John Kasich town hall. At Kasich’s town hall, I was again not called on. As at Christie’s town hall, however, the meeting provided some valuable insights. For example, a woman asked Kasich, yes or no, if he was elected, and Congress passed a balanced budget that funded Planned Parenthood, would he sign it? Kasich avoided the question by saying there was no way a Republican Congress was going to pass a budget that funded Planned Parenthood. The woman pressed him for a yes or no answer. When Kasich continued to avoid the question, a man in the audience shouted out, “Yes or no?” Kasich then made a face that a child would make and responded very testily, “Yes or no. Yes or no.” Then, while moving his arms up and down mechanically, he asked, “What am I, a robot?” This was, no doubt, a reference to Senator Rubio’s debate performance the previous evening, but the response suggested that Kasich was thin-skinned. It seemed that he was, indeed, “a little prickly.” It was also unclear how committed he was to balancing the budget.

I made one last attempt to ask my question. On Monday, February 8th, the evening before the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, I left work a little early and drove in a snowstorm to attend Christie’s final town hall meeting at the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, NH. When Christie opened the meeting for questions, the hand of the man sitting in front of me shot up. The man was very eager to ask his question, and every time Christie finished a question, the man’s hand was in the air.

It turns out there is a bit of an art to getting a candidate to call on you in a town hall. The candidates are pretty good at identifying problematic questioners (like me), and they tend to avoid them. Kasich, for example, said he had learned never to call on the first person who raises his or her hand. In general, it seems you reduce your chances by appearing overeager. The man sitting in front of me had apparently not yet learned this. This would have been a good thing for me if the man had been sitting anywhere other than right in front of me, but it was going to be almost impossible for Christie to bypass the man and call on me. And since the chances were small that Christie would call on the man, the man was likely to remain an obstacle for the entire meeting. I considered moving elsewhere in the room, but after the debacle at Jeb Bush’s town hall, I decided it would be just fine if I didn’t get to ask my question.

But then Christie looked in our direction while the man in front of me was distracted. I raised my hand, trying to strike a balance between the need to get my hand up before the man in front of me and the need to not appear overeager. The man in front of me shot his hand up about a second after I raised mine, but he was too late. Christie called on me. The man in front of me stood up, thinking Christie had called on him, but the red checkered shirt I was wearing (on purpose) made it easy for Christie to indicate who he had selected. The following is a recording of my question, Christie’s answer, and the discussion that followed.

Recording courtesy of Paige Sutherland of New Hampshire Public Radio

After the town hall was over, I went up and shook Governor Christie’s hand and thanked him for taking my question. He told me my question was the most thoughtful question he had been asked on the subject in 80 town halls.

Commentary

First of all, I would like to set the record straight. When Governor Christie asked me who I was considering, I did not want to answer his question. I panicked and blurted out that Bush had not answered my question. That was not true. This mistake, along with my inability to say more than a few words without inserting an “ah” or an “um,” gave me a sense of how difficult it is to do what the candidates do. I was very impressed with how well Bush, Kasich and Christie were able to answer the wide variety of questions that people asked them. Christie was especially impressive in his ability to think on his feet and give well-reasoned responses.

As Christie’s comment to me after the meeting made clear, no one had previously asked him what he thought the objective of the 9/11 attacks was. In spite of this, after restating my question, he confidently stated two probable objectives of the attacks:

I believe the objectives of the 9/11 attacks were twofold. First, [they] to were to prove to the world that al-Qaeda was a movement of great strength and great power, and a movement that needed to be both respected and feared. And second, I believe it was to inflict as much damage as possible on the American people because their leader and members of al-Qaeda believed that America, um, was a cause of great tumult and turmoil in their society and in their religion, and that they believe that our, that our lives should be governed by their religious beliefs, not the other way around, and they wanted to use that intimidation, and that death and violence to attempt to intimidate us into capitulating to their point of view.”

When I asked Christie if there were any other objectives to the attacks, he said: “Listen, I can’t get inside the depraved mind of Osama bin Laden…I can’t read minds. I just believe both in what they said and how they acted, before, with the USS Cole, the Embassy bombings, that that was their intent.”

While I was waiting to ask Jeb Bush my question, I had asked myself if it was reasonable to expect a presidential candidate to have an opinion on what was going on in the mind of Osama bin Laden. I concluded that it was more than reasonable to expect those who want to be Commander in Chief of the United States to have an informed opinion on what bin Laden hoped to achieve in the most deadly attacks that have ever occurred on American soil, especially given that many of today’s national security challenges resulted, at least in part, from the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks.

And while it is true that no one can read Osama bin Laden’s mind (especially now that he is dead), everyone can read his statements. Bin Laden made no secret of his beliefs or his goals. In statement after statement, he articulated his strategy for defeating the United States. For example, in October 2001, two weeks after U.S. bombs began falling on Afghanistan, Tayseer Alouni of Al-Jazeera asked bin Laden: “How can al-Qaeda defeat America militarily?” Bin Laden answered:

In the past when al Qaeda fought with the mujahedeen, we were told, “Wow, can you defeat the Soviet Union?” The Soviet Union scared the whole world then. NATO used to tremble of fear of the Soviet Union. Where is that power now? We barely remember it. It broke down into many small states and Russia remained. God, who provided us with his support and kept us steadfast until the Soviet Union was defeated, is able to provide us once more with his support to defeat America on the same land and with the same people.

Later in the same interview,  which, again, occurred two weeks after the the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, Alouni asked bin Laden: “What is your assessment of the attacks on America?” bin Laden answered:

The events of Tuesday, September the 11th, in New York and Washington are great on all levels. Their repercussions are not over. Although the collapse of the twin towers is huge, but the events that followed, and I’m not just talking about the economic repercussions, those are continuing, the events that followed are dangerous and more enormous than the collapse of the towers.

The events that followed the 9/11 attacks would, indeed, prove to be “more enormous than the collapse of the towers.”

A little over a year later, just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, bin Laden released an audio tape in which he gave Iraqis detailed advice on how to fight the United States and recommended “luring the enemy forces into a protracted, close, and exhausting fight.” Secretary of State Colin Powell mentioned this tape when testifying to the Senate Budget Committee on February 11, 2003. He said, “Once again he [bin Laden] speaks to the people of Iraq and talks about their struggle and how he is in partnership with Iraq.”

Five days earlier, Secretary Powell had made his now discredited case to the U.N. Security Council where, among other things, he had said:

But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.

[…] When our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp. And this camp is located in northeastern Iraq.

But why was Zarqawi in northeastern Iraq? Bin Laden appears to have answered this question in a video recording in November 2004:

All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.

This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.

All Praise is due to Allah.

So we are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah.

That being said, those who say that al-Qaida has won against the administration in the White House or that the administration has lost in this war have not been precise, because when one scrutinises the results, one cannot say that al-Qaida is the sole factor in achieving those spectacular gains.

Rather, the policy of the White House that demands the opening of war fronts to keep busy their various corporations – whether they be working in the field of arms or oil or reconstruction – has helped al-Qaida to achieve these enormous results.

And so it has appeared to some analysts and diplomats that the White House and us are playing as one team towards the economic goals of the United States, even if the intentions differ.

Twenty-one months before bin Laden said this, just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I wrote an article in which I argued that the United States did not know its enemy and was striving toward al-Qaeda’s goal. I failed to find anyone who would publish my article. No one had any reason to listen to me on this subject. All Americans, however, had reason to listen to bin Laden on this subject, but very few appear to have heard what he said.

Many, if not most, of the people who attended Jeb Bush’s town hall did not appear to have heard what bin Laden said. If they had, there would have been little or no surprise when I told Bush I believed the objective of the 9/11 attacks was to get the United States to invade Afghanistan.

Jeb Bush did not appear to have heard what bin Laden said. If he had, he would have had a better answer to my question, and he would not have seemed perplexed by the question.

And Chris Christie did not appear to have heard what bin Laden said. If he had, he would not have told me, “I think you might be […] giving him [bin Laden] too much credit on the sucker punch [..] to try to destroy us economically.”

To his credit, Christie said that he could be wrong on this point. But the fact that Christie admitted he could be wrong, along with other things he said, suggested that he had not thought about this possibility before. It appeared that Christie, like Bush, had not previously considered the possibility that bin Laden’s primary objective might have been to inflict fiscal damage on the United States.

Given all that bin Laden had openly claimed he was trying to do to the United States, and given all that had happened, how was it possible that two presidential candidates with strong national security credentials and advisors appeared to have never considered this possibility before? The answer, I believe, can be found in Christie’s answer to my last question.

My last question was, “if you are elected President, would you prevent that from happening again?” What I wanted to know was, if Christie was elected President and there was a major terrorist attack on the nation, would he ensure that the U.S. response to the attack would not, by itself, cause massive damage to the nation. I do not believe that groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS are, by themselves, an existential threat to the nation. I worry, however, that the unrealistic expectations that many Americans have of how much the government can, and should, do to protect them from terrorist attacks, could easily, in the wake of another major terrorist attack, cause much greater damage to the nation than the attack itself. Nothing that Christie said mitigated this concern. In fact, he didn’t really answer the question. My question was about the future. Christie’s answer focused on the past.

The majority of Christie’s answer to my last question was a summary of his established views on why he believed the war in Afghanistan was necessary and successful. As he worked through his views, he seemed to be testing them to see how well they held up to this new challenge. In the end, he appeared to have convinced himself that his views were still sound. And judging by the enthusiastic applause he received at the conclusion of his remarks, it appeared that most of the people in the room agreed with what he said. What he said, however, demonstrated the same failure of imagination that had prevented Americans from imagining that terrorists would be willing to sacrifice their lives in order to turn airplanes into missiles.

For example, when Christie said, “my view on Afghanistan is we needed to do something to arrest out the al-Qaeda training grounds,” he was failing to imagine that al-Qaeda might be willing to sacrifice its training camps in order to lure America into a war of attrition. He was failing to image that, in addition to being used to train terrorists, al-Qaeda’s training camps could also be used as bait.

When Christie said, “I think all of those things were fairly effective in preventing future terrorist attacks in the next seven years, in the United States, on American soil,” he was failing to imagine that once U.S. troops were in Afghanistan, it was much easier and more damaging to attack Americans in Afghanistan (and later Iraq) than it was to attack Americans in the United States. He was failing to imagine that, after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it no longer made sense for al-Qaeda to attempt to attack the U.S. homeland from Afghanistan.

When Christie said the U.S. should be leaving small forces in Afghanistan and Iraq “so we don’t have the unrest that we have now,” he was imaging, incorrectly, that small forces could prevent unrest in those nations, and he was failing to imagine that unrest can also be used as bait.

And when Christie said that allowing the unrest to continue in Iraq and Afghanistan “would be bad for America, and certainly bad for the fighting men and women who gave their lives and their limbs […] in those efforts,” he was failing to imagine that our hunger to justify the nation’s losses, together our ravenous hunger for safety, can be used to make the bait almost impossible to resist.

America’s losses have been great. Over 6,800 American service men and women have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly a million have been injured. The wars alone are estimated to have cost over $4 trillion. The full cost of the events that were set in motion by the 9/11 attacks is much greater due to the general defense and homeland security spending increases, the tax cuts that were used to prop up the economy after the attacks, and the interest costs on the associated debt increases. Together, these costs are responsible for a significant percentage of the nation’s publicly-held debt.

As an American, the possibility that most of this damage resulted from bin Laden’s deliberate planning is very difficult to imagine. And once imagined, this possibility is very difficult to consider seriously.

In late 2002, when I first read bin Laden’s statements, they appeared to me to be the ravings of a madman. No sane man could believe that al-Qaeda, with its limited resources, could defeat the United States, the greatest military power on earth. When I read his statements, I did not think bin Laden wanted the U.S. to invade Afghanistan, or that he wanted the U.S. to invade Iraq. No, I thought bin Laden was crazy.

But then, one morning, it suddenly occurred to me that the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks might have been exactly what bin Laden had hoped for. At first, this, too, seemed crazy. But as I thought about the events that had followed the attacks from this new perspective, bin Laden’s statements began to make a lot more sense. They no longer seemed to be the ravings of a madman. They seemed to be incredibly, and devastatingly, accurate.

Eventually, I concluded that the damage that was occurring to the United States was, indeed, the result of bin Laden’s deliberate planning. I hoped, however, that I was “giving bin Laden too much credit.” I hoped that the nation’s leaders, with the government’s massive intelligence resources at their disposal, had not failed, yet again, to connect the dots. This hope faded as the years past and the evidence that supported my conclusion grew, but it is easy for one person to overlook things. Nobody had ever had the opportunity to challenge my conclusions. Maybe I was overlooking something.

When I went to their town hall meetings, I hoped that Bush and Christie, with their connections to those who had led the nation after 9/11, knew something I did not. I hoped they could tell me why I was wrong. Unfortunately, they could not. They disagreed with me, but neither Bush nor Christie provided any evidence that I was wrong. Instead, it appeared that neither had previously considered the possibility, much less the likelihood, that the primary objective of the 9/11 attacks was to lure the United States into a costly and protracted war.

 

Full Disclosure

It goes without saying that I was unpersuaded by Bush’s and Christie’s responses to my questions and beliefs. Christie did a much better job of answering my questions than Bush,  and Christie was much more open to the possibility that what I believed might be true. He even seemed to accept that an objective of the 9/11 attacks was to get the U.S. to invade Afghanistan when he said, “I think Bin Laden wanted to be attacked […] because it enhanced his credibility, in that part of the world, […] that we picked them, to launch war against.” In the end, however, my opinion was swayed in Christie’s favor more by his answers to other people’s questions, than by his answers to my questions.

For example, earlier in the Manchester town hall meeting, a man had asked Christie a question about Social Security, a seemingly unrelated topic. The man was concerned that Christie’s plan to reform Social Security would penalize people who had been good savers. As part of his response, Christie said “if we had your money, I’d give it back. It’s been stolen.” The man responded, “It has been stolen by the politicians in Washington.” To this, Christie responded:

Darn right. Glad I wasn’t there when it happened, and it will stop when I get there. But I cannot change history. Lyndon Johnson…Lyndon Johnson began this theft because he wanted to prosecute the Vietnam War and didn’t want to raise taxes to do it. So he began to steal Social Security money then, and every president since then has done the same thing. And so now what does the trust fund have in it? Mostly IOUs, and not cash. And so I got to fix a problem. You are hiring me to fix a problem.

I do not know if Christie was thinking of the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars when he said this, but his response suggested that he understood, at least at some level, the fiscal consequences of prosecuting a war without paying for it.

Before the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. was on a path to essentially eliminate its publicly held debt by the end of 2011. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda changed that. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq added greatly to the debt and effectively wiped out the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. In other words, the man’s money was stolen by bin Laden and al-Qaeda, not by the politicians in Washington. The politicians in Washington let it be stolen, but it was bin Laden who orchestrated the theft.

To be clear, the money did not go to al-Qaeda; it went to pay for the wars and the tax cuts. The tax cuts cost about half of the value of the Social Security Trust Fund, and most of the benefits of the tax cuts went to the wealthy. As a result, a large percentage of the money that was “stolen” from the Social Security Trust Fund went, effectively, to wealthy Americans. Given this, it seems fair to me that wealthy Americans should lose some Social Security benefits. Christie’s plan to fix Social Security cuts benefits to wealthy Americans. Therefore, I support Christie’s plan.

Christie said that the theft of Social Security would stop if he was elected President. In order to stop this “theft,” he would have to balance the budget. If the U.S. would balance its budget, the government would have to either raise taxes or reduce services to fund any new or ongoing wars. This would prevent wars from adding to the national debt and would ensure that all Americans shared in the costs of war.

Christie’s answer to this man’s question convinced me that he was the candidate who best understood the fiscal consequences of war. One day earlier, with his closing argument at his Hampton town hall, he had convinced me that he was the candidate who would be the most cautious about sending U.S. troops into harms way. And so, when I stood up to ask Christie my question, he was already in the lead to win my vote. Christie’s answers to my questions were not the answers I had hoped for, but his answers were better than I had expected given that he was hearing the questions for the first time, and from an unknown guy, in a town hall meeting, in New Hampshire.

The next day, on a ballot “[c]ommemorating the One Hundredth Anniversary (1916-2016) Of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary,” I filled in the oval next to Chris Christie’s name.

 

Transcript of My Questions and Governor Christie’s Answers

Applause

GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: No, no…no, the red check.

BILL TIDD: Thank you Governor. Um, I’m ah, one of the, ah, undecided independents. Um…

CHRISTIE: Bless you.

TIDD: The um, so here’s a chance to, ah, lock up my vote.

CHRISTIE: All right.

TIDD: Um, my question is: What do you believe was the objective of the 9/11 attacks?

CHRISTIE: What do I believe Al, al-Qaeda’s objective was of the 9/11 attacks?

TIDD: Yep.

CHRISTIE: I believe the objectives of the 9/11 attacks were twofold. First, were to prove to the world that al-Qaeda was a movement of great strength and great power, and a movement that needed to be both respected and feared. And second, I believe it was to inflict as much damage as possible on the American people because their leader and members of al-Qaeda believed that America, um, was a cause of great tumult and turmoil in their society and in their religion, and that they believe that our, that our lives should be governed by their religious beliefs, not the other way around, and they wanted to use that intimidation, and that death and violence to attempt to intimidate us into capitulating to their point of view.

Those are my two. But you got others? I’m happy to listen.

TIDD: Well that’s a much better answer than, ah, Governor Bush gave me.

Laughter and applause.

CHRISTIE: All right!

Applause.

CHRISTIE: Are…are, are you considering anybody else? Or just me and Bush?

TIDD: Um, it’s pretty much, um…he, he didn’t answer the question.

CHRISTIE: I’m a winner then aren’t I?

Laughter.

TIDD: You’re ahead. You’re ahead.

Governor Christie celebrates with a little victory dance.

Laughter and cheers.

CHRISTIE: Go ahead though.

TIDD: Do you think there was anything else?

CHRISTIE: Do I think there was anything else? Listen, I can’t get inside the depraved mind of Osama bin Laden. Um, and I am sure there may have been other things that were going through his head, some that were personal, slights that he felt as a member of a very prominent, wealthy, Saudi family, towards our country and towards the royal family in Saudi Arabia, who we are supporters of. Um, I’m sure there may have a lot of other things going through the mind of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind with O… bin Laden of that event. But I can’t read minds. I just believe both in what they said and how they acted, before, with the USS Cole, the Embassy bombings, that that was their intent, and that they slowly upgraded to the attack that they had. There may have been other things that went on in those depraved minds; I’d only be guessing. Those are the two things that I feel most firmly about.

TIDD: Can I read two sentences from the 9/11 Commission Report?

CHRISTIE: You may.

TIDD: You mentioned the attack, ah, on the USS Cole,

CHRISTIE: Yes sir.

TIDD: and as you know, we, there was no U…U.S. military response to that attack.

CHRISTIE: I am aware.

TIDD: Let’s see if I can hold this steady. [the sheet of paper]

Laughter

TIDD: [Reading from a printed page]: In February 2001, a source reported that an individual who he identified as the big instructor, probably a reference to bin Laden, complained frequently that the United States had not yet attacked. According to the source, Bin Laden wanted the United States to attack, and if it did not, he would launch something bigger.

[No longer reading from the paper]: Seven months later he did launch something bigger.

And…this statement strongly suggests…and, and many other statements that bin Laden made, that, that he, that one of the objectives of the 9/11 attacks was to get us to invade Afghanistan.

The, our invasion of that, that war, or that nation, and, and then later Iraq, ignited wars that raged out of control for years. Today those wars are estimated to have cost over four trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the sum of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds.

That we let al-Qaeda do that much damage to our nation is just…unbelievable.

I believe the 9/11 attacks were just the trigger and the archetype of the much larger attacks that followed. I believe they were the knives that al-Qaeda used to hijack our military and turn it into a weapon of fiscal mass destruction.

I’d like to know…if you are elected President, would you prevent that from happening again?

Applause from one person (the man sitting in front of me who had been raising his hand)

CHRISTIE: Well, um, it, it depends…

Let me answer it this way. I think we all, I think many of us, not all of us. I think many of us would look back on the Iraq war, and say that it was mistake–I do–based upon flawed information that the President was given at the time. And, I think if many of the folks who made those decisions had the chance to make those decisions again, they’d do it differently, based upon what we know today.

On Afghanistan, it’s a much trickier issue. On Afghanistan, the real question becomes, if we’re going to get into a battle like that, as a way of trying to prevent a place from being a breeding ground and a staging ground for attacks on our nation, the question is, how do you contain their ability over the long haul to do that?

One of the things that bothers me the most about Afghanistan, and I’m bothered much more by the Iraqi war than the Afghanistan war. But what bothers me the most about Afghanistan is the President’s desire, this current President’s desire, to pull out of there, and to essentially cede back everything that we fought for over the last, nearly fifteen years now, fourteen years. Um, we still have troops in, in Western Europe. We still have troops in Korea. We have them there because we are trying to preserve gains that we made, in those areas, so that things would not devolve back to their old state. I think in the main those actions have been fairly successful in maintaining a kind of a peace and the status quo, in those areas.

So, my view on Afghanistan is we had to do something to arrest out the al-Qaeda training grounds, and we needed to disrupt their networks. And I think all of those things were fairly effective in preventing future terrorist attacks in the next seven years, in the United States, on American soil.

So I would disagree with the Iraqi war; I don’t disagree with the war in Afghanistan. But what I do disagree with is that, what we didn’t do in Iraq, and what we’re looking like we won’t do in Afghanistan if this President has his way, is to keep a stabilizing force there for a period of time, to be able to buttress up that government and not have us devolve into what we have devolved into now, certainly in Iraq, and what we  could devolve into in Afghanistan.

I understand your question. You are saying they suckered us. That what they were looking to do was bankrupt us. Get us into a war we couldn’t win. Sucker us into it, and do that. You know, I think you might have been giving them too much credit. I think bin Laden wanted to be attacked because bin Laden wanted to be in a fight with the United States because it enhanced his credibility, in that part of the world, enhanced his power and authority if we chose him, of all the different Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Nusra, all the different groups, that we picked them, to launch war against, I think that enhances him in that way.

I think you might be get, giving him too much credit on the sucker punch to, to try to destroy us economically. I could be wrong. We’re both attempting to take some lines from the 9/11 report, and others, um, and read his mind again. So, I would agree with you on the Iraqi war. I think we disagree on the Afghanistan war. But what I do know is that we should have been solidifying the safety and security that we brought to those places by leaving a small force there, like we did in Europe, like we did in Korea, to try solidify those gains so we don’t have the unrest that we have now, because the unrest we have now in Iraq, for certain, in Afghanistan is bubbling, again, um, I think, may make us all feel like, even more convinced, that those efforts would have been worthless, and I don’t think we should do that. I think that would be bad for America, and certainly bad for the fighting men and women who gave their lives and their limbs, um, in those efforts. So that’s kind of where I stand on it. But thank you; very thoughtful questions. I appreciate it.

Applause

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