On this solemn day, most of the nation mourns the loss of life that occurred on this day eleven years ago and contemplates the changes that have occurred since then. Most, but not all. Kurt Eichenwald, contributing editor for Vanity Fair and writer for the New York Times, published an inflammatory op-ed accusing former President Bush of not preventing the attacks:
“While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed.”
Trust me, he tells us. He read the documents and knows that the administration responded with “negligence.” This is no light accusation. Eichenwald is accusing the President of knowingly putting the American people at risk. Exactly why President Bush would do this is never specified beyond the explanation that, “the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled…” The evil and ever elusive “neo-cons” were behind this alleged (and completely undocumented) negligence.
According to Eichenwald, solid evidence demonstrating an imminent threat was outlined in Presidential Daily Briefings. The same briefings Bush attended religiously because he prioritized our national security. Eichenwald cites the most damning:
“By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible….Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have ‘dramatic consequences,’ including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but ‘will occur soon.’”
What could the President have done with this information? They believed there was a group planning an attack soon. Where were they planning? What would this attack look like? What are the names of the people involved? If these details, which would help Eichenwald’s case, were present in the documents he obtained, why would he not include those? All this proves, if it is to be taken at face value, is that there was a threat, not that Bush didn’t take it seriously or could have prevented it.
Eichenwald insists on drawing broader conclusions though, despite the limited nature of the facts before him. He reaches a new level of indecency and complete disregard for history when he continues:
“Yet, the White House failed to take significant action…Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And that may be the most agonizing reality of all.”
Eichenwald’s whole argument falls apart with these sentences. It’s a cop out to speculate that had someone acted differently, the outcome would have been different. This could be said about anything. It’s demonstrative of Eichenwald’s ignorance and eagerness to throw Bush under the bus that he doesn’t say what this different action would look like.
In an interview this morning on Morning Joe, Eichenwald could not defend himself and was completely torn apart by Former NY Governor Pataki:
Eichenwald asserts that the Clinton-Gore administration understood the changing roles of nation-states better than the Bush administration. Since President Bush did not, according to Eichenwald, accept this view of the evolving system of international relations, he was fooled. But when asked by Jon Meacham if a hypothetical President Gore could have taken some mysterious, unnamed preventative action and stopped 9/11 from happening, Eichenwald cannot answer definitively.
It’s easy to retroactively look back and say things should have been done differently. It’s harder to lead through those difficult times and take the necessary actions to make America secure again, as Bush did. Governor Pataki could not have said it better:
“To look 11 years later and say, ‘this was happening before September 11th, in the summer,’ and to go through and selectively take out quotes and say, ‘you should have done that, you should have done that,’ I think is incredibly unfair and a disservice to history.”