July 30, 2004

Bush Jumps on the 9/11 Band-Aid Wagon

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The families of the people killed in the September 11 attacks had to fight tooth and nail for a commission to investigate why their loved ones died. George W. Bush opposed an investigation, but finally relented in the face of public pressure. He then dragged his feet when asked to provide information to the commission.

Four days before the start of the Democratic National Convention, the 9/11 Commission released its 567-page report, replete with recommendations for reform of a government that allowed the deaths of 3000 people. The chairman and vice chairman of the commission then appeared on myriad media outlets warning of the possibility of an imminent terrorist attack.

As his opponents took center stage this week, Bush secluded himself at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But in a classic example of “when you’re being run out of town, get in the front of the crowd and make it look like a parade,” he’s taking a break from chopping wood to sign executive orders implementing some of the recommended reforms. “The president said he wants this on a fast track,” a Bush aide told reporters down at the Crawford ranch.

Bush “cannot be serious – and rest assured he is not,” Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post on Tuesday. “The many months of inactivity in this area offer eloquent testimony to Bush’s firm belief that little needs to be fixed. In the same way he could not answer earlier this year what mistakes he had made as president, he cannot even say what mistakes his government made that might have led to Sept. 11 and the debacle in Iraq.”

In my editorial, The 9/11 Report Misses the Point, I asked why the report omits any analysis of how the Iraq war has made us less safe since September 11. Lee Hamilton, vice chair of the commission, gave a revealing answer to that question in an interview by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Hamilton first explained that dealing with the Iraq issue “would have been highly divisive” for the bipartisan commission, but then caught himself and said it would’ve exceeded the commission’s mandate.

I also criticized the commission for failing to analyze the political reasons behind the 9/11 attacks. In an interview with The American Conservative, a former CIA agent charged with analyzing Osama bin Laden, identified by the Boston Phoenix as Michael Scheuer, said, “al-Qaeda itself has said that it could not wish for a better government than the one that is now governing the U.S. because, on the policies of issue to Muslims, al-Qaeda believes this government is wrong on every one and thus allows their insurgency to grow larger to incite other groups to attack Americans.”

Scheuer listed 6 U.S. policies Osama bin Laden has identified that appeal to the anger of Muslims: our unqualified support for Israel; our ability to keep oil prices down; our support for people who oppress Muslims; our presence in the Arabian peninsula; our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; and our support for Muslim tyrannies.

Yet Team Bush is in denial. Dick Cheney, touring the country while his boss chops wood, persists in defending the decision to attack Iraq, even though no weapons of mass destruction were ever found: “Sixteen months ago,” he told marines and sailors at Camp Pendleton, California Tuesday, “Iraq was a gathering threat to the United States and the civilized world. Now it is a rising democracy, an ally in the war on terror, and the American people are safer for it.”

Has Cheney adopted Bush’s habit of not reading the newspapers? The vice president didn’t mention the daily attacks on our troops in Iraq, nearly 1000 of whom have been killed. He doesn’t explain that the war on Iraq has brought terrorists out of the woodwork both there and around the world, where resentment against America is growing.

How would John Kerry deal with the quagmire in Iraq? In my opinion, much more effectively than Team Bush. While we don’t know the details of Kerry’s plans for Iraq, we do know there are major differences between Bush and Kerry as men.

When asked by Larry King how her husband would’ve reacted if he were president on September 11, 2001, Teresa Heinz Kerry would not fault Bush for his failure to react decisively. But John Kerry, she said, would’ve gone to the scene immediately. He would’ve wanted to be with his men.

Mindful that Bush is running on his claim that he’ll keep America safer, the Democrats have made national security the centerpiece of their convention. They are understandably taking advantage of John Kerry’s heroism in Vietnam. In the words of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Kerry truly “left no one behind” when he turned his swift boat around and sped back into enemy fire to rescue a fallen comrade.

Contrast Kerry’s resolute and courageous actions during the Vietnam War with Bush’s reaction on September 11, 2001, when told the nation was under attack. Bush sat frozen in a kindergarten classroom for 7 minutes before rising from his chair. There can be no question which of these men is better suited to be commander-in-chief.

Rest assured the Republicans will mount vicious attacks on Kerry at their convention in late August. The Democrats should not hesitate to challenge head-on the current commander-in-chief whose leadership has proved disastrous.