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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/1/09

He Kept Us Safe (Except When He Didn't)

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Message David Michael Green
I’m really sick to death of hearing the Bush administration people brag about how they kept us safe from terrorists, matrimonially inclined homosexuals, and other really mean people.

Sure, I understand why they do it. And, no, I’m not referring to the fact that regressives seem to be congenital liars, or that, because they themselves are so existentially frightened, they understand instinctively just how the politics of fear work.

No doubt all of that is part of the equation. But I think the bigger reason that we are continually exposed to this insane mantra is because, despite their delusional tendencies, even conservatives recognize the paucity of plausible alternative claims.

I mean, would you want to go to the public bragging about having booted two wars, one based entirely on lies, and both strung out now about twice the length of America’s involvement in World War II? Would you run for office touting your party’s achievements at doubling the size of the national debt? Would you point to Hurricane Katrina and say “Heckuva job, Bushie”, expecting the public to agree?

The truth is that, yes, regressives almost always lie, and, yes, they love to play the politics of fear, but the key reason that they brag about having kept the country safe during the Bush years is because it’s the only claim they can plausibly make without being laughed out of the room.

In fact, though, they should be laughed out of the room for making what is in reality the most absurd claim of all. And then they should consider themselves damn lucky only to be laughed at.

Disingenuous regressives (and what other kind are there?) who try to sell you on this notion want you to believe that the Bush administration somehow began on September 12, 2001. They love to tell you about how the country was protected from terrorist attack after 9/11. But that’s odd, isn’t it? I always thought the job of the president was to protect the country for the entire length of his administration, not just nine-tenths of it.

It gets even odder still if you inject a little bit of logic into dissecting their argument, always a hugely dangerous enterprise from the perspective of regressive mythology. That is, let’s just take them for a moment on their own terms, for the sake of argument. We’re supposed to be impressed that George W. Bush kept the country safe from major terrorist attack. But of his forty-two predecessors in the Oval Office, can you think of any single one who failed to meet that test? Me neither.

Indeed, only one president experienced a major foreign terrorist attack on his watch over the two and a quarter centuries the United States has existed. His name was Bush, George W. Somehow, they don’t mention that part. Of course, the joys of having conservatives around have always included the pleasure of hearing lies to cover truth, bluster to mask fear, and arrogance bluffing for insecurity. Likewise, the folks running hither and yon squawking about how they kept us safe are actually the only ones in the entire history of this country who, simply, did not. Did. Not.

Yet, in fact, this is only the beginning of the crime (and I won’t even comment on the many strands of compelling evidence suggesting that some or all of the official 9/11 story is a fabrication). When I say that George W. Bush is the only president to have “experienced” a major terrorist attack on his watch, that is the most charitable possible reading of events. Even if one does manage to intrude upon regressive hallucinations by pointing out that, uh sorry, it wasn’t Jimmy Carter who was president of the United States on 9/11, any regressive worthy of his stripes will demonstrate great umbrage at the suggestion that Bush might have prevented that day’s attacks.

And, you know, personally, I suspect that blocking secretly-planned terrorist strikes is pretty tricky business, even for the best of governments at the top of their game. And so, ordinarily I’d be inclined to cut any president some serious slack on this question, assuming there was a competent team making its best efforts at the admittedly difficult project of swatting flies in the dark, with the necessity of getting them all.

And it is precisely this widely held sense of fair play upon which regressives prey when they implicitly exonerate the Bush administration for the failure of 9/11. But there are two crucial flaws to this unstated (because it is never challenged, and therefore doesn’t need to be spoken) line of thought, and they are in fact monstrous in both scope and effect.

The first is the notion – generally implicit, but sometimes stated by people like Condoleezza Rice – that nobody could have seen this sort of attack coming. She, for example, has noted that when one used to think of terrorist airplane hijackings, those scenarios involved simply flying the plane to Cuba or some such place and demanding a ransom. Leave aside that some security officials did, in fact, game out precisely the possibility of hijacking airplanes and crashing them into buildings. And leave aside the odd twist of logic that this approach entails, suggesting that mere ‘regular’ hijackings would be acceptable and unnecessary to guard against.

Even apart from all that, what is so galling about this lame defense is that it comes from the very same people who consistently criticized the Clinton administration for supposedly being weak on terrorism. In fact, Richard Clarke, who served both presidents, in addition to Bush’s father and Ronald Reagan, has indicated emphatically – despite the fact that he’s a Republican who voted for Bush in 2000 – that Clinton was far more serious about combating terrorism than his successor was.

It’s well beyond outrageous for regressives to simultaneously attack the Clinton administration for its failures at preempting terrorist attacks – against the World Trade Center, against the USS Cole, against American embassies in Africa – and yet fully exonerate Bush, heroically even, for 9/11. Unless I’m reading my history book upside down again (as I am sometimes wont to do ‘cause it makes so much more sense that way), the Bush administration came after Clinton. They had no excuse for being less vigilant against an Al Qaeda attack, especially given their fondness for labeling Clinton as weak on terrorism.

But the second implicit logic underlying the exoneration of the Bush administration for 9/11 is even more gratuitous. It’s the unspoken presumption that the administration did everything it could and simply couldn’t prevent the attack any more than all the will and all the effort in the world could stop a tsunami coursing across the ocean from reaching its destination.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
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