If history is any guide, the coming week will see some influential conservatives that spent more than a decade defending George W. Bush’s handling of the September 11th attacks and their aftermath reverse course and find new merit in his critics. Principle is no virtue in the age of Trump.
“At the debate you said your brother kept us safe,” the celebrity presidential candidate wrote to Jeb Bush on his Twitter account on Friday. “I wanted to be nice & did not mention the WTC came down during his watch, 9/11.”
When Bush called the line of attack “pathetic,” Trump unloaded: “No @JebBush, you’re pathetic for saying nothing happened during your brother’s term when the World Trade Center was attacked and came down,” he wrote.
For a fleeting moment, it seemed as though Trump recognized that he had spectacularly overreached in his ceaseless efforts to sully Bush’s character. The real estate mogul, who has made a reputation for refusing to back down from tasteless, personal attacks or outrageous comments, sheepishly avoided the cameras on Friday night when reporters repeatedly asked him to clarify his remarks. The fighter was in full retreat, but it wasn’t to last.
“You always have to look to the person at the top,” Trump said in a telephone interview on Saturday. “Do I blame George Bush? I only say that he was the president at the time, and you know, you could say the buck stops here.”
So, in an obtuse fashion, the answer is yes. Trump had blamed George W. Bush for failing to prevent the September 11th attacks.
The extent to which Trump has had a coarsening effect the nation’s political dialogue is deeply lamentable, but his resurrection and legitimization of this tired liberal conspiracy theory is downright irresponsible.
Because some have allowed themselves to become personally invested in Trump’s candidacy, they will excuse away or try to substantiate an untold number of this candidate’s reckless comments. In the event that the truest of true conservatives, whose antipathy for Jeb Bush is so strong that they would embrace conspiratorial thinking that had previously been consigned only to underground leftist message boards, it behooves us to dismantle this notion now.
Only with the clarity of hindsight can it be said that George W. Bush could have prevented the September 11th attacks. The idea that they were an avoidable calamity stems from a series of national security memos warning of the threat.
The first was a January 25, 2001, National Security Council memo authored by National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism Richard Clarke and reviewed by the newly inaugurated president. The memo was sharply critical of the Clinton administration for failing to address the growing al-Qaeda threat or leaving the Bush administration with much of a reliable counterterrorism infrastructure in place. A subsequent August 6, 2001, memo warned that the FBI was monitoring Osama bin Laden-related plans to attack inside the United States. Those plots might include the targeting of federal buildings in New York City and even could involve the hijacking of airplanes. That memo looks prescient only in retrospection, however, as it noted that there were currently 70 ongoing FBI investigations into “bin Landen-related” plots.
Still, a conspiracy theory was born. “Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs,” Vanity Fair editor Kurt Eichenwald wrote for the New York Times. “We can’t ever know.” Not so, according to Richard Clarke.
Clarke became a celebrity on the left when he underwent a conversion and turned sharply against the Bush administration’s approach of the post-9/11 environment, and specifically the invasion of Iraq. “Your government failed you,” he famously told the 9/11 Commission in testimony. Though he apologized to the public for the 9/11 attacks, Clarke blamed Bush’s administration for refusing to heed his warnings. “Although I continued to say it [terrorism] was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way [by the Bush White House],” Clarke averred.
Clarke’s testimony has been cherry-picked by Democrats to support the fantasy that 9/11 might have been preventable if only the Bush administration weren’t as blind to the threat of Islamist terrorism as the Clinton administration had been. The above isn’t all that Clarke said under oath.
“Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001, based on Delenda, based on Blue Sky, including aid to the Northern Alliance, which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that had been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?” asked Commission member and former Senator Slade Gorton.
“No,” Clarke replied simply.
Even those analysts who do fault the White House for failing to connect the dots ahead of 9/11 concede that the infamous stove-piping of intelligence and the territorial nature of the nation’s various intelligence agencies at the time was more to blame for the cascading failures that led that terrorist event. “Since we can’t run history backward, all we can say with certainty is that it is an indisputable fact that the proper sharing of intelligence by the CIA with other agencies about [hijacker Khalid] al-Mihdhar may well have derailed the 9/11 plot,” wrote CNN’s Peter Bergen.
Trump has not outright claimed that George W. Bush was responsible for or might have prevented 9/11. He has merely implied that with a cowardly evasiveness that betrays the myth of his reputation as a fighter who tells hard truths without a politically correct varnish. Trump has raised from its grave the ignoble lie that the 43rd President of the United States allowed 3,000 Americans to die as a result of negligence, and only to slander one of his family members. Lesser offenses than these have resulted in political figures being drummed out of public life, but Trump’s army of prominent apologists have lashed their credibility to his campaign and cannot now let him go down easy.
Even as Trump’s supporters try to rehabilitate his erroneous and conspiratorial comments about September 11th, their hollowness is apparent even to Trump. He has already abandoned that line of attack and is moving on to another preferred liberal shibboleth. “Jeb, why did your brother attack and destabalize [sic] the Middle East by attacking Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction?” Trump asked. “Bad info?”
Here we go again.