Bush Didn’t Keep Us Safe Before or After 9/11

Bush Sad ClownThis last week, there has been lots of chatter about George W Bush and the claim by his brother that he “kept us safe.” Paul Campos wrote a good overview of the issue, Let Us Now Blame George Bush: Trump and Jeb Force a Long Overdue Debate About 9/11. But I have a slightly different take on the matter. I think it is quite reasonable for people to have not held Bush accountable for the attack at the time.

Having said that, since that time, it has become clear that at least some blame ought to be leveled against him. Most of what I know came from Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies. And the thing I remember from that was Bush’s total lack of interest in terrorism. The Clinton people stressed how important terrorism was. But they were part of reality-based community. Bush and company made their own reality, and it was that the big threat to the United States was Russia and Iraq.

There was also the revelation that after being given the presidential daily briefing titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” Bush told the briefer, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” It shows how important it is to have serious, competent people run the country. Bush has always reminded me of the end of Primary Colors, where Jack Stanton says, “You know as well as I do, that plenty of people playing this game, they don’t think that way. They’re willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to people, divide them, play on their worst fears for nothing! Just for the prize.” That’s Bush: dad was president, so he needed to be. He wasn’t much interested in doing the job.

But when I think about it, I’m not at all sure that 9/11 would have been foiled if we lived in a democracy and Al Gore had been president. So I have a hard time blaming Bush for that specific event. But where the whole thing went on tilt was when Bush and company — including the whole the Republican Party — came up with the meme that he “kept us safe.” As Campos noted, ” Jeb is merely repeating many years of GOP dogma.” I’m not sure that it was the same words, but I remember in the 2004 election, a big deal was made of the fact that Bush would keep us safe whereas Kerry would not.

The whole thing goes back — as so much does — to Kissinger on Revolutionary Power. No normal political party would make that claim after it had overseen the murder of 3,000 citizens. And the media reaction to this claim is just what Kissinger indicated: stunned silence — an inability to do anything because what was being done was so outside the bounds of normal behavior. But that is exactly why we need to talk about it. As long as Bush didn’t try to make political gain out of it, sure: let’s not hammer on him because it is hard to see his direct fault. (Again: for that one act, because he was totally incompetent and disengaged in a general sense.)

In addition to this, Bush and the Republicans can’t have it both ways. Either he gets credit for both what happened before and after 9/11, or he gets credit for neither. I don’t see the president as that powerful, so I would give him credit for neither. But it isn’t even true that he kept us safe after. It is only true that there wasn’t another 9/11. And that seems to be the case only because there wasn’t another 9/11 attempted. There were lots of other terrorist attacks of varying degrees of success. There is a tautology here: George Bush kept us safe because George Bush kept us safe. It is like William Lane Craig’s defense of God against the attack that he is evil: whatever God does is by definition good. And so with Bush: whatever Bush did was by definition keeping us safe.

I’m not inclined to hammer on Bush. But if Republicans are going to keep claiming that Bush “kept us safe,” we need to push back. He didn’t keep us safe before 9/11. He didn’t keep us safe afterwards. That’s just partisan nonsense.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

6 thoughts on “Bush Didn’t Keep Us Safe Before or After 9/11

  1. Actually, I think both Gore and just about any other Republican President would have least started to check out airport security. He was handed a piece of paper saying terrorists would fly a plane into a building. He lacked the plain common sense to at least look into it. Even a very stupid man would have done that; Bush was dumber than ‘very stupid’.

    • From what I recall, there was enough chatter that the NSA and others got about a month prior that led to the steps of some of the agencies being somewhat on high alert. However that only lasted during the month of August and since nothing happened, they relaxed.

      Whether a minor change (prohibiting box cutters) in the TSA regulations would have been effective is unknowable. What we do know is that the no-fly list that was created after the attack led to one of the 7/7 bombers staying in England and partaking in that. Had that not been created, it is possible that the bombing in England would not have turned out how it did.

    • I don’t question that. I just think it was all too far along. Clarke’s main point in his book was that it was going to happen, because the American people would never have woken up to it until it did. But my point is that I’m willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt — until his White House starts making out like these the great protector of the realm.

  2. If you read a lot of the books/articles on the subject the general sense is that it was not going to be stoppable unless random chance came into play. Despite the Clinton Administration’s best efforts, institutional inertia and turf wars made it impossible for the various agencies to talk to each other much less discuss within the agency in a way that would let them connect the dots. If we had a break like in the Bojinka Plot? Maybe. So Bush is not to blame as in “his lack of action caused it” much like the first attack on the WTC was not Clinton’s fault.

    The difference is that the Bush Administration used it to violate the law as many ways and as many times as they could (in the name of protecting the freedom they were taking away.) They were the first Administration to start getting turned down by the FISA court. And when that happened, they simply ignored the requirement you get a warrant. Despite all that, they failed to do much to stop many plots. But since they mostly happened outside the US, few here cared.

    The annoying thing is that the only positive to come out of that is Jon Stewart’s career since the only news organization paying attention was The Daily Show and they were not even a real news organization.

  3. I suspect the “Bush kept us safe” nonsense is a way of saying “invading Iraq let terrorists know we mean business, and Democrats are too cowardly to assert American strength.” All myths, but it’s an established brand. Until modern conservatism is reduced to its deserved John Birch “fringe” status, that branding is never going away. It’s what’s behind the Benghazi stupids.

    • It’s now the only thing that is really because the whole party. The John Birchers never went away. They got Reagan elected. And they are in complete control today. That’s why conservative Christian = Republican.

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