George Bush Claims He "Kept Us Safe. "Really? Did History Begin on January 20, 2001?

01/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

George Bush pretty much knows that his tenure has been a foreign policy disaster. (What's more, he cares deeply about that conclusion despite his protestations to the contrary, the subject of a future article). One piece of evidence for that is the scanty list of so-called achievements Bush is claiming.

The latest violence in Gaza is a tragic, but fitting, bookend to Bush's failure to make any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian question. During the last 8 years, there have been plenty of opportunities to do so. Bush did not just miss those opportunities, he often acted specifically to prevent them from occurring.

In his "exit interviews" Bush (and Laura) have repeatedly asserted that his major achievement is that "he kept us safe" after 9/11. Implicitly, then, he bears no responsibility whatsoever for 9/11. So there!

It is a clever rhetorical ploy. Unfortunately for Bush, facts--those pesky inconveniences-- once again get in the way.

As the Bush/Cheney campaign reminded us over-and-over in 2004, the first "al-Qaeda attack" on the homeland occurred in February 1993, the truck-bombing of the World Trade Center. Their point was to accuse John Kerry of not increasing our defenses adequately, and thus John Kerry was responsible for 9/11. Bill Clinton, in office for less than one month at the time of the bombing, when al-Qaeda was hardly known even to Bush Sr's intelligence agency, was cast by Republicans as the main culprit.

But, as many of their phony campaign tactics, this claim now returns to haunt them. If '93 were, indeed, the first al-Qaeda attack on US territory, and if Bill Clinton's crew caught the Millennium Bomber in 2000 (i.e., al-Qaeda had not been shy of its intentions to attack the US just 20 months before 9/11), then why is it that George Bush gets away with the notion that 9/11 doesn't count and thus "he kept us safe"? Bush refused to heed the warnings of George Tenet (lights blinking red), Cofer Black (who sought an emergency meeting with Rice), Richard Clarke and others. He never even convened a meeting of the Principals involved in anti-terrorism. And, by the way, 9/11 was 8 months, not just one month, into Bush's Presidency.

Moreover, Bush did not even need secret briefings to know what was going on. Tom Friedman, on June 26, 2001, wrote a column in the New York Times, using the technique of making up a "speech" by, you guessed it, Osama bin Laden, mocking Bush for removing investigators from Yemen and removing the fleet from Bahrain just because of "chatter" picked up by intelligence, and castigating the Bush Administration for focusing on Star Wars and ignoring al-Qaeda. This was 10 weeks before 9/11. But, then again, George Bush does not read newspapers.

Nor, it must be added, did George Bush "keep us safe" by beefing up our border security (it was, we were told, "too expensive" to inspect containers for radiation; after all, the tax cuts for the wealthiest were more important), or by compelling chemical plant security, or by firing Don Rumsfeld to show the world how seriously he took Abu Gharib that served as a recruiting tactic for terrorists, or by reacting to Katrina in a timely fashion or even providing a competent Director of FEMA after 9/11.

George Bush did not "keep us safe" by refusing to take up Iran's offer to improve relations (after Iran helped us in Afghanistan against the Taliban); by inhibiting Israel from fully engaging Syria in peace talks; by exhausting our military with the unprovoked attack and occupation of Iraq; by shifting our attention away from al-Qaeda to Iraq; by not sending in Army Rangers when they had bin-Laden cornered at Tora Bora; by weakening the US economy even before the financial meltdown; by reducing the status of the US all over the world.

No, George Bush, you did not "keep us safe" before 9/11 or after 9/11. You ignored repeated, intense, passionate warnings before 9/11, all of which had a predicate in prior history. Even a mere columnist, without access to the intelligence briefings, understood what was happening. You pursued Star Wars at the expense of terrorism. You pursued Iraq at the expense of bin Laden and Afghanistan. Until the Democrats took Congress in 2006, you failed to enact the 9/11-Commission recommendations. Despite days of warnings, you failed to take pre-emptive action for Katrina. You failed to install competent leadership at FEMA. You incited more terrorism against the US by failing to fire Rumsfeld for Abu Gharib. You failed to send reinforcements when we had bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora.

Bill Clinton kept us safe from additional al-Qaeda attacks on the US homeland for 95 months. He did not shred the Constitution to do it. Would Bush et al. credit Clinton for protecting the country because of that record? And, when Clinton struck al-Qaeda, all the Republicans could do was claim it was a "diversion" from what was, for them, the critical issue of the time: whether Clinton diddled Monica.

Yes, George Bush, you can claim credit for fighting AIDS in Africa. That was a fine achievement. A bit thin for 8 years @$400,000 per year, but an important achievement nonetheless.

And, why, George Bush, do you not claim credit for your only major foreign policy success, the voluntary nuclear disarming of Libya? Yes, you compromised to get that result, allowing Qaddafi not to turn over high government officials involved in the PanAm 103 bombing. It would have been preferable to bring them to justice, but far better not to have a Qaddafi with nuclear weapons.

As for the rest of your tenure, to quote Sarah Palin, "thanks, but no thanks."