9/11: The Judgment of History Won’t Be Kind To Bush & The GOP
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a national tragedy for the U.S. Approximately, 3,000 souls perished and another 6,000 were wounded. All Americans mourn their loss. As President Obama said on 9/11/18: “ We will always remember everyone we lost on 9/11, thank the first responders who keep us safe, and honor all who defend our country and the ideals that bind us together. There’s nothing our resilience and resolve can’t overcome, and no act of terror can ever change who we are.”
As a serious student of history, I have tried to figure out how the attacks occurred in the first place, as well as analyze the response from the Bush Administration. One of the problems with the study of history is that sometimes you end up in uncomfortable places and have to face some terrible truths. We need to take a serious look at 9/11 — the good, the bad and the ugly - so it doesn’t happen again.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 weren’t some natural disaster that couldn’t have been avoided like a tornado and a hurricane. The historical record indicates that the U.S. had a reasonably good chance to prevent the attacks from occurring in the first place.
The problem of Al Qaeda terrorism initially became a problem during the Clinton Administration. Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, extreme Republican partisans like Rush Limbaugh blamed Clinton for the attacks that occurred early in the ninth month of the Bush Administration.
During his presidency, Bill Clinton did more than any of his predecessors to prevent a major terrorist attack on the U.S. What people forget is that the Republicans opposed Clinton’s anti-terrorism policies. As a matter of fact, the Republicans in D.C. thought Clinton responded too aggressively to Al Qaeda.
After the embassy attacks in Africa in 1998, Clinton ordered missile strikes on a factory in Sudan. Prominent Republican Senators accused Clinton of “wagging the dog” and trying to create a diversion from the Lewsinky controversy. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) alleged that: “We may have a president that is desperately seeking to hold onto his job.”
Clinton counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke prepared an action plan for the incoming Bush Administration to implement aimed at preventing an attack by Osama Bin Laden on the U.S. He passed this plan on to then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice shortly after Bush took office.
Unfortunately, Clarke’s plan was put on the back burner by the new administration. Instead, the Bush team chose to prioritize Russia and missile defense. “I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue,” Richard Clarke told the bi-partisan 9/11 Commission in 2004.
This neglect caused the Bush Administration to ignore several warnings of an imminent Al Qaeda attack in the run up to 9/11. On August 6, 2001, Bush’s daily intelligence briefing contained a memo entitled: “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” After Bush received this prescient briefing, he told the intelligence official: “ All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
The response of the Bush Administration to the 9/11 attacks was equally troubling. Bush took advantage of a rare moment of national unity to exploit this tragedy for electoral advantage after promising not to run on the War on Terror.
The Administration used war with Iraq — a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 — as a wedge issue in the 2002 election cycle. Vicious and dishonest attacks were leveled at Democratic candidates in an attempt to trash their patriotism. The GOP stooped so low as to attack the military service of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) — a badly wounded Vietnam War veteran.
The military response of the Bush Administration was equally troubling. Then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld allowed Osama Bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora in 2001. After that blunder, Bush no longer made the killing or capture of OBL a high priority. Instead, on March 13, 2002, George W. Bush said of bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him.” Subsequently, in July 2006, the Bush administration closed its unit that had been hunting bin Laden. In September 2006, Bush told Fred Barnes of Fox News that an “emphasis on bin Laden doesn’t fit with the administration’s strategy for combating terrorism.”
The signature Bush response to 9/11 was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the run up to the war, Bush Administration officials falsely contended that Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda, we would be greeted as liberators, Iraqi oil would finance that country’s reconstruction and that U.S armed forces would find a vast arsenal of fearsome weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush Administration’s strategy to market the war to the American people in 2002–03 was deeply dishonest. Bush’s apologists have contended that the U.S. intelligence agencies simply made a series of honest mistakes. The reality is that according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2008: “The Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”
Unfortunately, the Iraq War turned out to be one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history. This war ground on for over eight years and according to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, will eventually cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion. Sadly, 4,424 American heroes died in this conflict and an additional 250,000 Iraqi civilians perished.
We like to say “never again” when discussing the attacks of 9/11. We should also say “never again” to the U.S. getting rushed into a war in a country in which we know very little about. As a country, we paid a huge price for getting involved in Vietnam and Iraq. As the Who sang in their timeless song: “We won’t get fooled again!”