More reacting versus responding — Eugene Robinson writes that understanding isn’t the same as forgiving. This is an important point. I’ve never understood the mindset of people who equate behavioral analysis with “making excuses.” But let’s go on.
Robinson has talked to Bush Administration officials who explained how they felt on 9/11.
I said something like, “I can imagine what that day must have felt like for you.” The response was immediate: “No, you can’t.”
The official went on to describe the chaos and anguish — the shock of seeing the 110-story World Trade Center towers collapse into rubble, the fear that other hijacked planes might still be in the air, the gut feeling that the president and those around him were personally under attack. The official talked of how the president and his aides racked their memories to think of anything they might have done differently to prevent the attacks.
The initial inspiration for Mahablog came out of the growing realization that the Bush Administration had been given one warning after another about an imminent terrorist attack, and it had done nothing. Indeed, they had actively undone much of the groundwork already laid, such as the Hart-Rudman Commission report.
This was a two-year study analyzing our vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks and recommending strategies to remedy them. It was presented to Congress shortly after Bush’s first inauguration, and Congress had already begun working on its recommendations when the Bush Administration, notably Dick the Dick, reached out and stopped it. He would be the one to decide what counterterrorism measures would be taken, he said.
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, he had done, um, nothing.
We’ve been told over and over again about the various outgoing Clinton Administration officials who warned the incoming Bushies to beware of Osama bin Laden, and we’ve been told over and over again about how Condi Rice and Dick and crew brushed it all off. The attack plan used for Afghanistan in October 2001 was, essentially, a warmed-over Clinton Administration plan drawn up after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. This was revealed in mass media in 2002. Yet it was still news to Condi as recently as spring 2007, as was the old, old news of the several other warnings of the dangers posed by al Qaeda before 9/11. Yet, until the towers fell, al Qaeda wasn’t on Condi’s radar.
Here’s one of my favorite “memory hole” items, a CNN transcript of April 30, 2001:
The State Department officially released its annual terrorism report just a little more than an hour ago, but unlike last year, there’s no extensive mention of alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A senior State Department official tells CNN the U.S. government made a mistake in focusing so much energy on bin Laden and “personalizing terrorism.” …
…POWELL: The results are clear: state sponsors of terrorism are increasingly isolated; terrorist groups on under growing pressure. Terrorists are being brought to justice, we will not let up. But we must also be aware of the nature of the threat before us. Terrorism is a persistent disease.
So in their arrogance and contempt for all things Clinton, the Bushies ignored all the hair-on-fire warnings and took no steps whatsover to safeguard the nation from what happened on 9/11. And even as the towers smoldered, they still could not admit to themselves that they had been wrong.
Then, having utterly screwed up national security, they persuaded the nation that they, and only they, were the ones who understood national security, and spent the next seven years reacting to 9/11. They were pro-active in exploiting 9/11 as a political resource, but strictly re-active in how they went about protecting America.
To this day, there is no comprehensive anti-terrorism strategy. There is just a scattershot mess of reactions.
Back to Eugene Robinson:
The Bush-Cheney record also includes the invasion of a country — Iraq — that had nothing whatsoever to do with Sept. 11. This misadventure has claimed more than 4,000 American lives, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and grievously damaged our strategic position in the Middle East. In an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News this month, Bush claimed credit for vanquishing al-Qaeda’s forces in Iraq. When Raddatz pointed out that there were no al-Qaeda forces in Iraq until after the U.S. invasion, the president answered, “Yeah, that’s right. So what?”
Here’s so what: Bush and Cheney, understandably shaken by an unprecedented act of terrorism, declared and prosecuted a “war” without specifying who the enemy was. Rather than focus on the architect and sponsor of the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, they turned away to lash out at others in preemptive blows that dishonored our nation’s most precious ideals.
History will note that the point of the Constitution is that the ends don’t always justify the means — and that nowhere in the document can be found the phrase “so what?”
Robinson is kinder to the Bushies than I am. He assumes they meant well, somehow. I don’t think they “meant” at all. These are the least introspective and self-analytical people the world has ever knit together. My impression of the whole crew is that they are all utter strangers to themselves. Their entire modus operandi is to do what they feel like doing — what soothes, protects and glorifies their own egos — and to justify it later. And this feels like “competence” to them.
See also: At the Boston Globe, H.D.S. Greenway discusses The Shoe.