If we thought our oceans would protect, as Bush is still saying “we” assumed prior to 9/11 — why is the White House disputing that al Qaeda was not a priority before that September day?
“You can’t just see a threat and hope it goes away,” Mr. Bush told a friendly gathering convened to discuss home ownership. “That’s the lesson of Sept. 11. Remember, prior to Sept. 11 we thought oceans could protect us. But the strategic calculations of America must shift in order to do our duty to keep this country safe.”
— President George W. Bush
Nashua, N.H., March 25, 2004
This is a minor point that Team Bush brings up with some regularity. If “we” — by which I assume the president means the government — thought attacks on the mainland were unlikely because of North America’s isolation, isn’t that an implicit acknowledgment that they felt the threat of terrorism to be less than urgent? And by saying that strategic calculations “must shift,” doesn’t that imply the previous strategy wasn’t the right one?
On the one hand, National Security Advisor Condi Rice is attempting to refute Richard Clarke’s allegations that al Qaeda was not a top priority in the Bush White House until 9/11. On the other hand, her boss told Bob Woodward, according to Bush at War, that
… “that bin Laden was not his focus or that of his national security team” before Sept. 11.
Woodward also quoted Bush directly, with the president saying that he knew bin Laden was a problem, “But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling.”
Condi Rice said yesterday that Clarke needs to “get his story straight.” Sounds like the White House could do the with some of the same advice.
Clinton says Bush was fixated on Iraq from before he took office.
Bill Clinton has also weighed in on the subject of the _real_ focus at the White House:
A Texas Democratic fundraiser, speaking not for attribution, told me about the lunch he recently had at the home of former President Clinton in the New York suburbs. Clinton recounted his last meeting with President Bush over coffee, just before the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2001.
The outgoing president counseled his successor that he would face five challenges in the international arena – the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the Al Qaeda terrorist threat, a nuclear-armed North Korea, the India-Pakistan confrontation, and the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in Iraq.
Clinton was surprised at Bush’s response. He said he disagreed with Clinton’s order – that he considered Saddam Hussein to be the primary threat that he would have to deal with.
The drumbeat is steady and growing louder. Bob Woodward, Rand Beers, Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke, Bill Clinton, Karen Kwiatkowski… All have come forward with a remarkably consistent story — That President George W. Bush and a coterie of others in his administration were fixated on getting rid of Saddam from before they came into office. They weren’t focused on al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorism.
There may well be “plenty of blame to go around,” as I was counseled yesterday. It’s probable that Bill Clinton _didn’t_ do enough to fight terrorism. But when the WTC was bombed in February 1993, mere days after Clinton took office, I don’t recall a bunch of Democrats running around blaming George H.W. Bush for the failure. And they certainly weren’t blaming George H.W. Bush _three years_ into Clinton’s first term for the failure.
Yesterday, Richard Clarke apologized to the families of the 9/11 victims for failing them. When will others in the Bush administration admit a similar failing and apologize?