This 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.