Point: With George W. Bush,
The Buck Stops Somewhere Else
SHAME! George W. Fiddled on Vacation, Then New York Burned!
After 8 months of pretending he knew nothing, an impending news story forces the White House to admit that its supposed great "hero" George W. Bush had warning weeks in advance of September 11 that Osama Bin Laden was going to hijack planes and attack the United States but washed his hands of the matter, stayed on his month-long vacation in Texas and delegated to mid-level bureaucrats his responsibility to protect the American People.
The question of the moment: Will he stand up and accept responsibility for his failure, or will he
continue to hide behind his Press Secretary and offer excuses about why he was too impotent to do anything? Provide your guess on what George W. will do next
on our discussion board, Irregular Retorts
In the most shameful of political maneuvers, Bush has sent his hired political attack dogs to chase after anyone who suggests that he ought to provide answers about what he knew before September 11. Just last week, George W. was willing to use September 11 for political purposes, selling photographs of the time like garish souvenirs. Bush's advisors say that he'll sell the photographs again -- whatever it takes to make money for his campaign. What temerity, to turn the tragedy of September 11 into a political song-and dance number, and then lash out against American citizens who are merely requesting an explanation for the breakdown in leadership at the White House last August!
Well, Mr. Bush, you reap what you sow. You can't play both sides of the game at once. Bask in the glory of war if you like, but don't pretend to have nothing to do with it when things don't go your way.
Harry S. Truman said "The Buck Stops Here."
George W. Bush in effect has told the nation that as long as he is President, the buck will passed along to appropriate federal agencies, who have the ultimate responsibility for the security of the United States.
In the meantime, while violent criminal gangs like Al Qaeda get re-organized, Bush will deal with vital right-wing issues like whether to approve government funding to stem cell research. Heck, if George W. Bush was really "Pro-Life", he would have listened when he was warned that Osama Bin Laden was planning to perform terrorist acts on American soil!
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bush fiddled around on vacation in Texas, then New York burned.
A parade of excuses for the failure of the Bush White House to pay attention to the swarm of red flags flying last summer has already begun, presented mostly by Bush's top advisors. As usual, George W. Bush himself is too scared of the press to give an unrehearsed press conference. I guess Bush still isn't ready for prime time.
Personally, my favorite excuse is that offered by Condoleeza Rice on Thursday, May 16: she actually said with a straight face that the Bush White House briefly considered doing something about the hijacking threats from Osama Bin Laden, but then thought better of it because it would have required grounding commercial air traffic. The moment she said that, I thought back to all the people I knew who were trapped in far-off cities away from home after the September 11 attacks. The reason, of course, was that the attacks brought all air traffic in the United States and Canada to a complete halt for something like a week. Heck, the airlines still haven't brought back their full flight schedule! So now, the Bush Administration said it decided to do nothing and to pass the buck along to agencies who had no power to do anything in order prevent inconveniences to air travelers?!? Well, that plan sure didn't work very well. Condoleeza Rice's excuse sounds clever at first, but really it's just about as lame as the idea of leaving a bowl of egg salad sitting out on the kitchen table overnight because of the fear that storing it in the refrigerator might cause it to taste funny.
What's really disgusting is that George W. Bush didn't just neglect to tell the American public about his prior knowledge of Osama Bin Laden's plans - he actually had his spokespeople lie about it. After the attacks, White House Press Secretary Ari was asked at a news conference whether "there had been any warnings that the president knew of." Ari Fleischer answered that there had been "no warnings," and still insists that he told the truth.
Even more alarming is the fact that both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have made repeated, specific requests that Congress NOT investigate failures in intelligence gathering before September 11. Now, the obvious question arises: What were Bush and Cheney trying to hide? One hopes that the information the White House has tried to conceal has not been shredded, Enron-style.
For the last eight months, Bush has hoped that the American public would forget his own draft dodging experience in the Vietnam War (courtesy of his rich and powerful father) and come to look upon him as a war hero. Bush has run up huge debts, silenced the voice of dissent, and trampled on the constitutional freedoms of American citizens, claiming that it's all been necessary for the sake of national security. If national security is so important to Bush, why didn't he pay attention to it before September 11?
The truth is that national security is nothing but an excuse for George W. Bush, who all of a sudden looks an awful lot smaller than he'd puffed himself up to be. After all of his big talk about a global War On Evil, Bush can't even figure out what his policy about Israel and Palestine is. Osama Bin Laden is still running free. His ill-planned "Axis of Evil" comments undermined moderates in Iran and strengthened the anti-American element of the government. Heck, even Saudi Arabia is supporting Iraq against the United States now that George W. has announced that we're going to attack any minute now.
Disappointed that Bush's show of strength was all glitter and no gold, it is now becoming clear to the American people that Bush's skimpy yet paranoid brand of national security is the kind of security we're better off without.
This outrageous blunder on George W.'s part doesn't look very good in the context of his plans for a global war against "evildoers". The way he's been running up his rhetoric about the need for a Worldwide War On Evil, it makes me wonder if he's just overcompensating for a guilty conscience.
It is now clear that George W. Bush has never possessed the gravity of mind necessary for the Presidency. In just one year, his lack of leadership has already brought our nation to the brink of destruction. Can we survive three more years of this kind of incompetence?
It seems plain to me that the best national security plan right now is to get a new, truly competent President in the White House. All the rest is just a patriotic song-and-dance designed to cover up the fact that George W. and his team dropped the ball.
Counterpoint: Honor and Integrity,
Not Blame, is the Name of the Game
Over the past week, there's been a lot of hot air about the revelation that George W. Bush had been informed before September 11 of rumors of a hijack threat. Most of the people who are upset about the matter are, not coincidentally, his political opponents. When the opportunity to criticize a political opponent arises, I find it useful to take a step back and ask myself: if that person were someone I politically supported, what would I be tempted to say? If I were in that person's shoes, what would I have done?
If this news came out regarding someone I was politically sympathetic toward, I think I might try to see the event from their point of view and see if there were some sensible explanation for what occurred. Allow me to be generous and try to do the same for George W. Bush. While it is undeniably true that Dubya spent an inordinate amount of time on vacation in the months leading up to the attack, it is not fair to say that Bush did nothing at all. On the contrary, the man had alerts issued, discretely but broadly. He asked for those professionally involved to remain alert for signs of trouble. Although my dislike of Bush leads me to suspect some malice or sloppiness on his part, I have yet to see evidence of that. Instead I see a man who, like the rest of us at the time, did not equate hijacking with mass murder.
What would I have done if I were in Bush's shoes? The temptation is to say that I would have "stopped September 11" somehow: closed down the airports, alerted all tall buildings, ratcheted up surveillance, and so forth. But that's Monday-morning quarterbacking, like saying that if I were in Berlin in 1937, I would have shot Hitler. It's hypothetical, since I was not in his shoes. Furthermore, it is an after-the-fact perspective. Knowing what I know now, of course it looks like the piece of some relevant puzzle. But in the summer of 2001, nobody had seen anything like September 11. Furthermore, it's not as if Bush even had all the pieces of the puzzle being bandied about today; he never saw (if you believe his aides) that 1999 report warning of a plane-bomb plot, and the Arizona FBI report never crossed his desk. The vague warning Bush got from questionable sources about hijackings is the kind of thing that a President must encounter scores of times in any given year.
Without the handy benefit of hindsight, would I have treated the warning with enough seriousness to shut down all air traffic? No, I don't think I would have. Would I have delegated the matter to subordinates? Well, of course I would have! This is a huge country with over 280 million people in it. No one person can personally administer the whole government, for goodness sake.
We're all angry about what happened on September 11, and it is human nature to look for a scapegoat, preferably someone who is still around to absorb negative emotion. Bush is alive, and he is in a position of authority -- so he makes for a good target of our frustration. The attackers are dead, which makes them inaccessible as targets of anger -- but we ought not forget that they are the ones who own the direct blame for what happened. George W. Bush is not the one who flew the planes into the World Trade Center; Mohammed Atta and his accomplices are at fault.
We must be careful not to let our righteous anger lead us in dangerous directions. It is clear in retrospect that George W. Bush and John Ashcroft's assault on constitutional freedoms in the name of terror-busting is an overcompensation for a nagging guilty feeling that they ought to have done something. When we demand that law enforcement officials be able to ferret out terrorist plots and stop them on a dime, we ought to be mindful of what such power might entail. Are we prepared to grant domestic intelligence and law enforcement authorities more leeway to snoop on our daily lives, to use indefinite detention, to circumvent the checks and balances of the judicial system? For the sake of a feeling of safety, are we willing to live in a permanent police state?
For all these reasons, I do not believe that it is fair or productive to pursue a course of criticism directed at Bush's risk assessment prior to September 11. Still, I do think there are serious problems here:
- First, intelligence agencies were not set up efficiently to bring together related pieces of information that might have resulted in a more vividly indicative report to a president. This is an institutional failure that is attributable to long-term structural problems dating back to the time of J. Edgar Hoover. Fixing this problem need not entail the erosion of constitutional freedoms, just the more efficient prosecution of intelligence under current constitutional guidelines. Clearly, something must be done to rectify the internal communication problem in intelligence communities - but it is unfair to label this problem as George W. Bush's fault.
- Second, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush has positioned himself as a leader so virtuous and perfect that it was treasonous to even question his decisions or actions. Bush basked in hero worship, and clearly enjoyed it on a personal level, all while hiding the more ambiguous truth that he knew of a threat ahead of time and made the acceptably human mistake of not recognizing its seriousness.
This second point is where I join my counterpart in getting riled up. Just as Candidate Bush smirked whenever he mentioned an execution, President Bush grinned as he detailed the manner in which he would prosecute bombings. He took pleasure in his high approval ratings, and enjoyed using those ratings to clamp down on his opponents and raise campaign cash.
George W. Bush has loved being loved. He has loved it so much that he has hidden more ambiguous realities from us. Why else would he hide the fact that he knew something of this plot, unless he didn't want to deal with the consequences: the questions, the prying queries, the criticisms, the boring press conferences -- you know, that pesky stuff called "democracy" (don't start now with your John-Birch-Clone rant about how this isn't a democracy.) Bush was too much of a coward to present the unvarnished truth of what went on behind the scenes. Just as he was too gutless to admit that he flat-out lied about his reasons for hiding on September 11, he was too weak-kneed to stand up in front of the American people and reveal a flaw.
George W. Bush made a mistake in risk assessment, a mistake that is not entirely his fault, a mistake that is human, a mistake that is forgivable.
What is unforgivable is George W. Bush's path of misrepresentation, deception and obfuscation in the aftermath. Rather than conduct himself as he promised, with "honor and integrity," Bush has dishonored the principle of democracy, abused the trust of the American people, and undermined his own integrity by shelving the values he trumpeted so loudly in his campaign: forthrightness, honesty and responsibility for one's actions.
George W. Bush was having too much fun playing God Emperor to bother with the drudgery of the Presidency. In the months to come, there will be many Republican complaints of "negative attacks," "unpatriotic dissent," and "treasonous sedition" as angry and hurt citizens begin to re-assert their free speech and take on the proper role of criticizing a President. But George W. Bush will only be knocked off his high-and-mighty pedestal of saintly virtue because he put himself there in the first place.