“Oceans would protect us”

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?

Bush said:

“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.