Feature

Bush: Did he keep us safe?

Conservatives who keep repeating that President Bush kept us safe ignore the quite specific memo he received in the summer of 2001 warning of a major al Qaida assault.

If terrorists attack us in the next four years, said former White House speechwriter Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post, blame Barack Obama. Al Qaida hasn’t mounted any assaults on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. That’s because my former boss, President Bush, “successfully protected the country” for 2,688 days with a series of powerful preventive measures. The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” of captured al Qaida fighters and the NSA’s monitoring of foreign terrorist communications, for instance, yielded valuable intelligence that stopped several potentially devastating plots. Yet Obama is systematically strangling these policies. He’s halted the CIA interrogations, calling them “torture,” and has threatened to gut the NSA surveillance. If he continues on this course, and terrorists once again strike our country, “Americans will hold Obama responsible—and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.”
 
What a “remarkably partisan” and underhanded attack, said E.J. Dionne in The New Republic. Desperate Republicans are clueless about how to regain popular approval. So now, in effect, the GOP is hoping for another terrorist attack as its only means of weakening Obama and climbing out of the deep hole Bush dug. Conservatives also hope that by repeating “he kept us safe” often enough, it will rescue Bush’s legacy from history’s trash can. The truth, though, is that Bush did not keep us safe, said Stephen Schlesinger in Huffingtonpost.com. U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush in a quite specific memo in the summer of 2001 that a major al Qaida assault—possibly involving commercial aircraft—was in the offing. Instead of taking action, an irritated Bush sent the messenger packing, and returned to his vacation on his Crawford ranch. Scant weeks later, nearly 3,000 people died. Does Bush really deserve our praise and gratitude, when on his watch we suffered “the worst tragedy on American soil since Pearl Harbor?”

After that monumental blunder, said Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post, Bush presided over an enormous overreaction. In the panicky months after 9/11, he came to see al Qaida as “a vast global organization comparable to the Soviet Union.” So the Bush administration launched another world war—attacking Iraq in addition to Afghanistan. That war cost the U.S. a trillion dollars, shredded the Constitution, alienated allies, helped recruit new jihadists to the cause of terrorism, and otherwise stuck us with problems we’ll be extricating ourselves from for years. So yes, after 9/11, Bush kept us safe. But at what price?

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