(CNSNews.com) – Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul’s assertion on Sunday that the U.S. closed down its military base in Saudi Arabia “immediately after 9/11” is not strictly accurate.
His argument that al-Qaeda’s decision to attack America in 2001 was driven by U.S. foreign policies and not because of an ideological aversion to the U.S. and its way of life also is open to dispute, as the 9/11 Commission report – which Paul invoked on Sunday to support his case – makes clear.
The Texas lawmaker was responding to questions on CBS television’s “Face the Nation” about his views on 9/11 and Iran, opinions that have triggered heated words with other Republican presidential candidates over the course of the fall primary debate season.
“Some of the things you’ve said in the debates suggest that you believe that 9/11 happened because of actions that the United States took,” said interviewer Bob Schieffer. “Is that correct?”
“I think there’s an influence, and that’s exactly what the 9/11 Commission said, that’s what the DOD has said and that’s also what the CIA has said and that’s what a lot of researchers have said,” Paul replied. “And just remember immediately after 9/11, we removed the base from Saudi Arabia. So there is a connection. That doesn’t do the whole full explanation but our policies definitely had an influence.”
Paul continued, “And you talk to the people who committed it and those individuals who would like to do us harm, they say, ‘Yes, we don’t like American bombs to be falling on our country. We don’t like the intervention that we do in their nations.’ So to deny this, I think, is very dangerous. But to argue the case that they want to do us harm because we’re free and prosperous I think is a very, very dangerous notion because it’s not true.”
Osama bin Laden during the 1990s did frequently rail against the presence of “infidel” U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, location of the two most revered sites in Islam.
Still, the U.S. withdrew from the Prince Sultan Air Base not “immediately after 9/11” but more than a year and a half later. The timing of the redeployment was linked not to the al-Qaeda attack but to the fall of Saddam Hussein.
U.S. and British forces had used Saudi Arabia as a staging post for the 1991 Gulf War, and after the conflict some 5,000 U.S. air crews and combat troops were stationed at the Prince Sultan base, in the desert some 50 miles south of Riyadh, to enforce one of two “no-fly” zones over Iraq for the next 12 years.
The number grew to 10,000 in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
On April 29, 2003, 20 days Baghdad fell to U.S.-led forces, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced during a meeting with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan – after whom the base was named – that the troops and aircraft would be withdrawn. The process began in May, and a handover ceremony took place in August. The combined air center moved to the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia did come under terrorist attack during the 1990s, but the deadliest attack, the killing of 19 U.S. soldiers in the bombing of the Khobar Towers near Dhahran on the Persian Gulf coast in 1996, was blamed on the Iranian-supported “Saudi Hezbollah,” 14 of whose alleged members were indicted by U.S. authorities five years later.
In his CBS interview, Paul reiterated his stance that al-Qaeda itself cited American intervention in the region as its motivation for attacking the U.S., adding, “to argue the case that they want to do us harm because we’re free and prosperous I think is a very, very dangerous notion because it’s not true.”
The 9/11 Commission report – which Paul referred to in the interview – does record that bin Laden “inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia” but also notes that his other stated grievances included the suffering of Iraqis as a result of sanctions, and U.S. support for Israel.
Furthermore, the report does point to a profound ideological-religious hostility towards the U.S.
It says that bin Laden’s relied heavily on the leading Egyptian jihadist thinker Sayyid Qutb, a man with “an enormous loathing of Western society and history.”
“Bin Ladin’s grievance with the United States may have started in reaction to specific U.S. policies but it quickly became far deeper,” the commission report said.
“[A]l Qaeda’s answer [to the question, “what can America do to stop the attacks?”] was that America should abandon the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness of its society and culture,” it said. The report then quoted from one of bin Laden’s messages, in which he told the American people, “It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind.”
Paul’s foreign policy positions are likely to be spotlighted again on Tuesday evening, when the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute co-host a GOP presidential debate focused on foreign policy, to be broadcast by CNN.
During a debate in Tampa. Fla. last September, Paul sparred with a other candidates over foreign policy, with comments that drew from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum the remark that anyone running for the Republican nomination “should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11.”
Paul and Santorum also clashed over Iran during a debate in Ames, Iowa in August.