Michigan on Thursday, May 28th. Reporters were not allowed to record his remarks, but many
took notes and passed along what Bush had to say. (For most of his Presidency, Bush excluded
reporters completely from speeches like this as did Dick Cheney. I have always wondered what
they were afraid we would hear or find out.) Those who were there said the crowd of about
2,500 gave him a standing ovation. The ex-President spoke for about an hour and a half in
an attempt to tell his side of the story of his Presidency, and shape some of the perception
of his legacy as President.
The President spent much time talking about the events os September 11th. He
said that he thought about that day every day that he was President, even after other
people had moved on. He defended torture and other actions of his administration in
light of September 11th. He said torture saved American lives. He said he had kept America
safe after the attacks on September 11th; and that it was a defining moment of his time as
President. He also spent some time on the economic meltdown (he was in Michigan after
all, the epicenter of the economic nuclear explosion in this country).
What is so interesting about the President's remarks is how remarkably untrue
they are in some cases and how distorted they are in others. It's as if the President is
trying to convince himself about why he did what he did.
The President was spinning myths during his speech. The biggest myth that he
and his former Vice President wish to promulgate is that September 11th motivated the
decisions that they made regarding national security, foreign policy, domestic politics, etc.
Nothing could be further from the truth. September 11th gave them the excuse they
sought to justify policies they wanted to implement from day one of the administration.
In his book, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil says that at the first cabinet
meeting of the new Bush administration, one of the top subjects was how to take on and
take out Iraq. Bush's national security team was composed of signatories to and members
of the Project for a New American Century(PNAC). Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearl,
Addington, Feith, and Bolton, among others, had all signed a document in 1998 calling
for the invasion of Iraq, building permanent bases, and using Iraq as a "strategic pivot"
to put military pressure on the rest of the Middle East nations opposed to America's and
Israel's role in the region. The document went on to say that the U.S. would need "another
Pearl Harbor" before the people would be ready to accept such a radical shift in policy.
September 11th gave them their wish. The Bush/Clinton National Security Advisor
Richard Clarke wrote that the administration had little to no interest in Al Qaeda even
after the attack on the USS Cole. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and
Secretary of State Colin Powell said in February of 2001 that Iraq was no danger to this
country and that Saddam Hussein was not even on their radar. Interestingly, neither had
signed the PNAC document. Clarke asked for a meeting with all the principles of the
administration to talk about Al Qaeda and terror, and never got it. He was told by
Attorney General Ashcroft not to bring up Osama bin Laden's name in meetings anymore.
When Bush was briefed on August 6th, 2001 by the CIA and told that bin Laden would
most likely attack this country, that planes could be involved, and that his agents could
already be in the country; his reaction was "...thank you, you have now covered your asses."
He then went fishing. Rice testified that they did not notify the airlines to heighten security
out of fear of panicking the traveling public. According to Clarke, the CIA was running
around with "...it's hair on fire over increased signs of an attack", but nothing was done.
They got their Pearl Harbor.
The day after the attack, the President's people met Clarke and others who
reported that Rumsfeld was talking about attacking Iraq. Bush is alleged to have told
Clarke to get evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the attack. When Rumsfeld was
reminded that Iraq had nothing to do with the attack; he is alleged to have responded
that even so, Iraq has good targets to hit.
The former President stood in Michigan saying September 11th was the signature
event of his Presidency; but history will show that it's importance was that it gave
justification to policies that he and his administration came into office hoping to implement.
Cheney was obsessed with strengthening the office of the President. He had been
Chief of Staff in President Ford's administration after Watergate, and never got over the
reforms passed by Congress to rein in the Executive Branch. He was obsessed with Iraq.
He had been Secretary of Defense when Bush #41 decided not to go to Baghdad and take
Saddam Hussein out. (Bush #41 said that Hussein wasn't worth a single American soldier's
life; and that if they removed him they would have to take over the country because there
was no one to replace him.) Cheney, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Feith, et al., were obsessed with
protecting Israel and saw Hussein as a direct threat because of his financial support for
the Palestinians, and in particular the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. None of
these obsessions had anything to do with bin Laden or September 11th.
Many in the Republican Party were obsessed with run-away civil liberties and
rules and regulations restricting the activities of the CIA, FBI, NSA and other security
agencies. These reforms came about because of the work of the Church Commission,
which revealed wide-spread abuses of power by the national security apparatus of this
country. Illegal domestic spying, FBI counter intelligence programs against Americans
like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, anti-war groups, etc., had shocked the
nation. Many of Bush's top advisors and Republican members of Congress, along with
the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and other regressive think tanks
railed and wailed about how the hands of our spy agencies had been tied, and that Supreme
Court rulings had unnecessarily restricted the powers of the police (they hated the Miranda
decision, despised Gideon and were apoplectic over the exclusionary rules). Haven't you
ever wondered how the Patriot Act was written so quickly? The Patriot Act reversed a
laundry list of government regulations and court decisions that Regressives had hated
for years. September 11th gave them their chance to turn back the clock and Bush agreed.
September 11th was a gift that kept on giving. Unfortunately, keeping America safe from
terrorists was almost the last thing on their minds.
In February of 2002, Karl Rove was already meeting with Republican groups
telling them how they were going to be able to use September 11th for political gains
against the Democrats. In June 2002, the Bush administration had decided to go to war
with Iraq. (We know this because of the Downing Street memos.) The Patriot Act was
passed in record time; and we now know that as early as December 2001 Bush had given
the NSA authorization to conduct domestic eavesdropping on American citizens without
a warrant of any kind. In other words, September 11th had allowed them to implement
policies and programs they had on their agenda for ten to twenty years prior.
The former President told the crowd in Michigan that he thought about
September 11th every day. He is trying to massage history and his legacy. He leaves the
impression that his every waking moment was spent trying to prevent another attack.
He and Cheney repeat this mantra as frequently as possible as do regressive commentators
and talk show hosts. "We kept America safe" is what the former President and Vice
President say. "We haven't been attacked since September 11th" they scream on the
airwaves. The reality is that this historic revisionism is political strategy that deliberately
ignores the reality of September 11th and conveniently omits Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc.,
and the disasters concerning all three. There is no report that the ex-president mentioned
either Iraq or Afghanistan in his speech in Michigan. He didn't mention a trillion dollars
spent in these wars, almost 5000 dead Americans, 50,000 to 100,000 wounded soldiers,
a broken military, and as many as a million dead Iraqi's. He doesn't mention letting
bin Laden and Mullah Omar escape from the caves of Tora Bora. He doesn't mention
that the rise to power of Iran is directly related to our invasion of Iraq. He doesn't mention
that allowing Bin Laden to escape allowed Al Qaeda to reform and spread and get even
more dangerous. He doesn't mention that the creation of Guantanamo and the revelations
of torture and kidnapping by the U.S. inflamed the Muslim world making recruitment of
new terrorists easier. The mantra is that there has not been another attack. "America is
safer because I thought about September 11th every day." Are we safer?
The former President did mention the economy. (How could he not in Michigan?)
According to those there, he proclaimed his faith in the free market; but he did "admit"
there might have been a slight, small, ever-so-insignificant failure to regulate financial
institutions and activities. Oh, really? A little lax regulation was the only problem? A
$300+billion tax cut for the rich, a trillion dollar war, a $700 billion Medicare Prescription
Drug Program, a castrated SEC, and the destruction of all depression era fire walls meant
to prevent this very meltdown from happening again had nothing to do with the economic
state that we are in today?
A strong and vibrant economy is the key to America's strength. The ability of
American's to provide for their children, educate them, pay their bills, etc., is central to
an enduring nation. The belief that the future will be better and the creation of hope
enables a people to overcome adversity. In fact, we know that a country with a strong
military, but a weak economy, is a recipe for disaster.
Yet, the recently retired President reports that "America has not been attacked."
In the eight years of the Bush Administration, this country has been attacked by
terrorists, engaged in unnecessary war, ruined it's relations with its allies, wrecked the
economy, diluted and watered down civil liberties, and endorsed the concept of the
Presidency in which the President can act as a virtual dictator while we are "at war."
Why would bin Laden attack us again? For $500,000 he caused us to do more damage
to this nation than he could ever do with a second attack.
The former President is trying to rehabilitate his reputation one speech at a
time. He will write a book telling us again how September 11th was the most important
event of his Presidency and how he never stopped thinking about it. In the end, it will not
work, for there is no looking glass big enough nor mushroom powerful enough to forget
the reality that Bush left this nation weaker and more divided and less capable than he
found it. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them