At the RNC, Jeb Bush struck a popular Republican refrain, praising his brother for protecting the United States. He stated that “during incredibly challenging times, he kept us safe.” Well, except for that one time.
George W. Bush presided over the worst attack on American soil -- an attack that many analysts say was preventable, including the chair of the 9/11 commission.
Yet Bush is often applauded for keeping America safe from the period after the September 11th attacks until he left office. Why is this? There is nothing exceptional here. In fact, it is a threshold requirement for being a president. Those who would cheer Bush for keeping us safe, are applauding his capacity to not be so grossly negligent as to facilitate another round of mass murders -- on American soil at least. Mass murders carried-out on foreign soil are, of course, wholly acceptable.
September 11th was a tragic anomaly because we had one of the most negligent president’s of all our 43 presidents. September 11th wasn't inevitable. It was the one that slipped between the cracks because of poor leadership. Tom Cain staked his reputation by asserting that 9 11 could have been prevented. “I do not believe it had to happen,” he says. “They failed. They simply failed.”
Despite this, accessories to negligence like Condoleezza Rice have accustomed themselves to standing behind podiums with credible insignias and fobbing off any blame. Rice stated at one such press conference: “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.” This is despite persistent warnings of “suspicious student pilots,” a document presented to Bush himself entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” and a host of Hollywood films such as Air Force One, Con Air and Die Hard II.
The New York Times reported that counter-terrorism officials repeatedly warned of the imminence of an attack and, after being consistently rebuffed by the White House, actually sought a transfer so that they wouldn’t have the ensuing blood on their hands. Nevertheless, Condoleezza Rice insists that the attack was both unimaginable and unavoidable. This is only one example of Bush’s team of third stringers.
When asked on Real Time with Bill Maher about how much credit Bush deserved for the death of Bin Laden, Richard Clarke, the US chief counter-terrorism official at the time, asserted: “0. the man did not do anything about Bin laden until 911.” He criticized Bush for not prioritizing terrorism, and lambasted his administration for sitting on Clinton’s plans to go after Bin Laden. Despite the candy land rhetoric that drools from the mouths of republicans, there is no way around that fact that Bush failed at priority 1 -- keeping America safe.
We’re told to learn from our failures. But that is accompanied by an important caveat, namely, to fail fast. We’re meant to learn from the early, little hiccups so that the fiascoes never transpire. September 11th was not the kind of failure to learn from.
Most Americans prefer to let the Bush fiasco take its place the history books. There’s not much else we can do. But if we are going to mention Bush, we cannot only judge him by how he grappled with 911, we must also judge him by how he failed to prevent it in the first place. Both are part of his legacy. Bush may have loved his country, but as the saying goes, sincerity is an overrated virtue.