September 11 Unanimity: Did G.W. Bush 'Squander' It?

Larry Elder

9/15/2011 12:01:00 AM - Larry Elder
Sept. 11 unified America. But President George W. Bush "squandered" this shared sense of purpose.

We still hear this drivel, mostly from the left, 10 years after the terror attacks. But how did Bush blow this alleged consensus, this shared sense of purpose presumably expected to last, well, forever?

Bush's critics pretty much give the same three reasons.

First, "America was ready to sacrifice," they say, but Bush made no demands. "Go shopping," Bush urged Americans, a comment that somehow came to symbolize Bush's alleged wrong-footedness as commander in chief. He blew it! Why, he should have convened a joint session of Congress, asked for network airtime, stared sternly at his teleprompter and barked: "All you American men and women between the ages of 18 and 45, hit the floor and gimme 25 push-ups. I got all your names. I got your addresses! So move those fannies, America!"

Bush wanted the 9/11 Islamofascists to understand that they did not and would not succeed in decapitating the country by attacking the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and our seats of government. His message to the terrorists: Americans do not cower behind closed doors and would not be intimidated. And we intend to take the fight to you.

Second, Bush "divided America" in how he chose to fight the war on terror. Well, yes, figuring out exactly how to fight this war did, indeed, cause a rift or two. Imagine that. Yet the now controversial and much-criticized decision to invade Iraq received broad public support. At the beginning of the Iraq War, over 70 percent of Americans supported it. Seventy-seven members of the Senate voted for the Iraq war resolution. This included several Democrats who ran for president in 2008: Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton -- all of whom later renounced their vote and blamed it on everything from "having been misled" to bad sushi.

Biden even co-wrote a pre-invasion op-ed piece explaining his support for the war. He warned that while toppling Saddam Hussein would be easy, it would then take about 10 years to stabilize Iraq. Then, the war, pre-surge, went south. Things turned bleak. Biden pivoted. He suggested a dividing of Iraq into three parts. Then he pivoted again. Alas, he admitted, he erred in voting for the war. Now vice president, Biden pivoted again, calling Iraq, in February 2010, "one of the great achievements of this administration." Don't ask. Just Joe being Joe.

The New York Times editorialized, on March 20, 2003, against the Iraq War. But the paper said it respected the administration's position and wanted success. Even pathological anti-Bush critic Bill Maher, who disagreed with the invasion, seemed almost impressed by Bush's vision in deciding to invade Iraq.

Maher, shortly after the war started, told CNN's Larry King: "I always said I did not think going after a country that was not directly involved in 9/11 ... was not the approach. ... But you know what? The idea that Bush has -- and it is a big idea, I got to give him that. He's a guy with big ideas. The idea of transforming the Middle East and fighting this in a long-range way by having democracy in Iraq is not the worst idea I could think of, and I'm rooting for that plan." Yes, that Bill Maher.

Third, Bush supposedly "squandered" the post 9/11 bipartisanship by finding no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, shattering the rationale for the war, and thus making many Americans feel "lied to."

Lied to? Bush retained the same CIA director, George Tenet, as served under Bill Clinton. Months after the start of the Iraq War, former President Bill Clinton visited Portugal. The Portuguese prime minister later said, "When Clinton was here recently he told me he was absolutely convinced, given his years in the White House and the access to privileged information which he had, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction until the end of the Saddam regime."

Kenneth Pollack, Clinton's Iraq expert, long opposed an Iraq war, believing the U.S. should use sanctions and inspections. But he insists that the intel unanimously supported the assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD: "The intelligence community convinced me and the rest of the Clinton Administration that Saddam had reconstituted his WMD programs following the withdrawal of the U.N. inspectors, in 1998, and was only a matter of years away from having a nuclear weapon. ... The U.S. intelligence community's belief that Saddam was aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction predated Bush's inauguration, and therefore cannot be attributed to political pressure. ... Other nations' intelligence services were similarly aligned with U.S. views. ... Germany ... Israel, Russia, Britain, China and even France held positions similar to that of the United States. ... In sum, no one doubted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction." So much for "lied to."

Ten years after 9/11, we have not suffered another successful major attack on our soil. That Bush did the right thing is evidenced by his successor's reluctant embrace of nearly all his predecessor's policies that -- along with a little luck -- have kept us safe for 10 years. And counting.