Yes. George W. Bush Failed to Protect Us on 9/11–and Democrats Should Have Reminded the Nation of That Fact

Leave it to Donald Trump to do what few others would. This past Friday he called out Jeb Bush’s brother George for actually being president on 9/11 and failing to protect the country. This of course is causing massive controversy in fact-averse Republican circles. RedState’s Jay Caruso goes so far as to call it “soft trutherism” and a “goofy theory” to imply that George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice were adequately warned of the coming attack and did little to stop it. John Legum at ThinkProgress helpfully reminds everyone that it’s not a theory–that George W. Bush was in fact president on 9/11, and that he and Rice did in fact receive a memo indicating that Bin Laden planned to strike soon in the United States.

The hullabaloo among Republicans over Trump’s pointing out the obvious provides a simple lesson for Democrats: there’s never a prize for playing “the adult in the room” and letting vicious political opponents get off with incompetence and malevolence scot free. If there’s a direct policy aim to be achieved by taking the highest road, then by all means that should be done. But if it’s simply done in order to play nice, it’s a mistake.

George W. Bush and his team were demonstrably too involved in playing a dangerous game of Risk with Russia and China and trying to reignite the Cold War to pay enough attention to the terrorist threat in the Middle East. The country paid the price for that. Then the Bush Administration waged a vicious campaign of lies to con the country into supporting an invasion of Iraq long before even the war (much less the peace) had been won in Afghanistan, and after allowing both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar to slip outside their grasp. A war that should have been a police action designed to catch two murderous criminals and their associates, turned into two slogging wars that failed to catch either one–until a Democratic president finally took out the head honcho far later in Pakistan.

The Bush Administration should never have been let off the hook for that from day one. Certainly the country should have been given space from partisanship for a few weeks or months after the attack, but the relevant and appropriate questions should have been asked by a minority party actually doing its job. Nor should the Democratic Party or the press have been allowed to be lied into the Iraq War–and at the very least, once it was clear that we had been lied to, the party should have been very aggressive in exposing that fact.

That Donald Trump is the highest-profile person to make the case against George W. Bush’s failure to protect the country demonstrates the political malpractice of the Democrats of the previous decade–even my hero Howard Dean, who went far but not even far enough at the time.

Frankly, Democrats should have given the George W. Bush Administration the exact same quarter on 9/11 that Republicans would have given the Gore Administration. No more and no less.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.