The other day, and unprompted, Jeb Bush whipped out a talking point he first used back in September at a Republican debate in Simi Valley, California. He mentioned that his brother, George W., had “kept us safe” during his Presidency. Unsurprisingly, this large piece of chum in the water was too irresistible for Donald Trump to pass up. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Trump observed that the 9/11 terrorist attack had occurred while Bush was President (a statement with the added benefit of being true). When his interviewer affirmatively stated that Bush should not be blamed (a topic for another conversation – like, why are reporters editorializing?), Trump said blame or don’t blame, the guy was President. Again, true. Somehow, this devolved into another Twitter slap fight (I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say, they are readily accessible for those who want to find the back and forth tweets), raised questions of how we view that day in our country’s history and whether it is appropriate that the accepted conventional wisdom inside Washington that no one should be faulted (other than the terrorists themselves) for that awful attack is appropriate.
It is hard not to see in Jeb’s eagerness to defend his brother a large measure of defensiveness and overcompensation. Indeed, he has now clarified his comments to say that after 9/11 we were safe for something like 2,600 days. True enough, if you ignore the anthrax attacks, the fact that we voluntarily sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the Middle East where they became targets for extremists and our decade-long wars there helped train a new generation of terrorists bent on attacking us, but even if you gave Jeb the greatest benefit of the doubt, his statement is akin to asking Mary Todd Lincoln how she liked that play at Ford’s Theater other than the whole assassination thing.
Of course, if the conventional wisdom somehow shifted to the idea that perhaps there is some blame to be leveled at George W. Bush, it would simply add to the already heaving weight of failure (Iraq, Katrina, the Great Recession) most Americans associate with him. Indeed, I always found the argument that “no one could have foreseen 9/11” a bit odd. I mean sure, there was no one email or recorded phone message that said, “Al Qaeda is sending 20 people to America and teaching them how to fly planes which they will hijack and use to destroy the World Trade Center” but if there was, there would be no need for agencies like the FBI, CIA, or NSA.
The truth is that there were warnings ahead of time, but they were largely ignored. The outgoing Clinton team attempted to warn the incoming Bush team about the rise of non-state terrorist actors, Richard Clarke, a holdover from the Clinton Administration, attempted to focus attention on Al-Qaeda and was largely rebuffed, there had been an attack by Al-Qaeda on the USS Cole in October 2000 – during the Presidential race – that would have suggested the need to take Bin Laden more seriously, and of course, the famous daily briefing George W. received on August 6, 2001 that included the not-so-subtle bullet point “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In The U.S.” (the Bushies fought really hard to keep this PDB private) and his equally famous response to his briefer that he (the briefer) had “covered his ass.”
This is all a matter of record and when Republicans now toss out equivalency in Pearl Harbor (FDR’s fault!) or the Bay of Pigs (JFK’s fault!) the response should be two-fold: First, that yes, you can argue that these too were failures, but neither FDR nor JFK then had people claiming that they had “kept us safe” (much less run a re-election campaign with ominous wolves in forests suggesting the other side would make us vulnerable to attack); Second, that those attacks be put in context – FDR mobilized our military and helped win the Second World War and JFK learned from his mistake and got the Soviets to back down during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Putting 9/11 in that same context simply acts to dredge up all the awful decisions that flowed from that day. Had Bush swept into Afghanistan, neutralized Al-Qaeda, captured or killed Bin Laden, and helped install a pro-Western government there, I suspect history would treat him much differently.
But he did not. He never committed the ground troops to Afghanistan to flush out Al-Qaeda, never invested the resources to help redevelop that nation and then diverted much of the armed forces in combat to fight a war in Iraq that became the biggest military boondoggle since Vietnam. These are inconvenient truths that do not get discussed at Georgetown cocktail parties or the green rooms of Sunday talk shows but are incredibly important for the American people to consider when deciding whether Jeb Bush, who has recruited nearly two dozen of his brother’s advisors to come work for him, should be elected President.
Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy
Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy