Perhaps the cleverest gambit George W. Bush managed to pull during his eight-year reign was to dodge all responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001. One of Bush's favorite closing arguments on his presidency is that he "kept America safe." Bush clearly wants to be judged and remembered by his record on national security, but apparently we must leave out the one little incident that was 9/11.
It's somewhat understandable why the country let it slide at the time. Democrats were too decent to pursue political gain while the nation was grieving and the media had no interest in playing the blame game. As the tragedy was fully felt, Americans were determined to unite, and Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed in the weeks that followed. Considering the context, this is more or less understandable (though the lack of checks and balances is hardly excusable).
But seven years later, it continues to elude many that President Bush had the responsibility to protect the country from attacks like 9/11. We still don't hear the outcry from the Democrats or the mainstream media when Bush and the Republicans tout their national security heroics. The media may ignore a lot, but to overlook this level of distortion is particularly surprising. It requires acrobatic leaps of logic to give special credit to the very people in charge during the deadliest terror attack in US history for having "kept us safe."
Have we forgotten that Bush responded to the August 6, 2001 memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" by going on vacation? Or that he hardly paid any attention to the intelligence dating back to January 2001 which insisted that al-Qaeda was an "urgent" threat? Or that in 2006 he closed down the CIA unit responsible for hunting bin Laden? The media doesn't remind us of these facts when Bush and the Republicans take credit for being America's saviors.
Keith Olbermann, one of the few mainstream commentators we can rely on to speak truth to power, exclaimed in a September 2006 Special Comment: "After five years of skirting even the most inarguable of facts -- that he was President on 9/11 and he must bear some responsibility for his, and our, unreadiness, Mr. Bush has now moved, unmistakably and without conscience or shame, towards re-writing history."
Even if 9/11 was unstoppable (a dubious assumption, to say the least), the real question remains whether or not Bush did everything he responsibly could to try and avert it. And the answer is a resounding no. George Bush has always maintained that history will cast him in a different light than today"s verdict might suggest. But however history treats the outgoing president, there's no reason he should be vindicated for his criminal negligence on national security upon taking office, let alone be remembered as the man who "kept America safe." It doesn't take much effort to find the fatal flaw in Bush's argument - in fact it takes vigorous conditioning and in some cases serious effort not to see it.