"A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the President stayed current on events," Tenet wrote in his memoir. "This was my first visit to the ranch. I remember the President graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and my trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna, none of which were native to Queens," where Tenet had grown up.
Bush and his neocon advisers continued their hostility toward what they viewed as the old Clinton phobia about terrorism and this little-known group called al-Qaeda. On Sept. 6, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened a presidential veto of a proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, seeking to transfer money from strategic missile defense to counterterrorism.
Also on Sept. 6, former Sen. Gary Hart tried to galvanize the Bush administration into showing some urgency about the terrorist threat. Hart met with Condoleezza Rice and urged the White House to move faster. Rice agreed to pass on Hart's concerns to higher-ups. However, nothing was done before al-Qaeda struck on Sept. 11.
When the first plane crashed into the North Tower at the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46 a.m., President Bush was on a trip to Florida, visiting a second-grade classroom. After the second plane hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., White House chief of staff Andrew Card whispered into Bush's ear that "America is under attack."
Bush sat dumbstruck for seven minutes holding a book, The Pet Goat. He later said he didn't react immediately because he didn't want to alarm the children.
Though Bush's neocon advisers had been disastrously wrong about anticipating al-Qaeda's terrorist strike, they quickly turned the catastrophe to their advantage by convincing Bush that he should go beyond simply striking back at al-Qaeda; that he should seize the opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein as well.
The Bush administration was soon on course to launch not only an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but Iraq as well. The neocons also revived their dreams about using Iraq as a launching pad for additional "regime change" in Syria and Iran. In the short term, the 9/11 disaster worked out so well for the neocons that some cynics began to suspect that the neocons had secretly wished for the attack all along.
As the years wore on, neocon hubris contributed heavily to the bloody mess in Iraq as nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The war in Afghanistan became a blood-soaked quagmire, too. The price tags for the wars were soon exceeding $1 trillion.
Bush's military over-reach set the stage for the 2008 election of Barack Obama who famously opposed the Iraq invasion as a young aspiring politician in Chicago. Yet, despite the calamities in their wake, the neocons never went far from the center of Washington influence and power. They retreated to high-paying jobs at think tanks, wrote books and sought out a new Republican presidential hopeful.
The Romney Retreads
The smart neocon bet was soon placed on Mitt Romney, who like Bush was a relative neophyte on foreign policy. The smooth-talking neocons quickly earned a place of trust in the Romney camp. The former Massachusetts government largely delegated to the neocons the job of writing his foreign policy white paper, "An American Century."
Romney allowed the title to be an obvious homage to the neocon Project for the New American Century, which in the 1990s built the ideological framework for the Iraq War and other "regime change" strategies of President Bush. Romney recruited Eliot Cohen, a founding member of the Project for the New American Century and a protege of prominent neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, to write the foreword.
Romney's white paper chastised Barack Obama for committing himself to pulling out the 30,000 "surge troops" from Afghanistan by mid-2012 and conducting a gradual withdrawal of the remaining 70,000 by the end of 2014. Romney's white paper argued that Obama should have followed the advice of field commanders like then-Gen. David Petraeus and made withdrawals either more slowly or contingent on American military success. The white paper also opposed a full withdrawal from Iraq.
The white paper made clear that if Romney wins the White House, he is determined to reconstruct much of Bush's foreign policy, complete with a renewed insistence on U.S. military dominance of the world and a full restoration of neocon influence.
Romney's "An American Century" also brought back a favorite tactic of the Bush years, the baiting of Americans who dare criticize the nation's hubristic foreign policy of the last decade. Echoing a favorite Republican talking point, Romney scolded Obama for supposedly "apologizing" for America.
The white paper stated: