When conservatives correctly point out that one disastrous terrorist attack and another catastrophic but thwarted attack both happened during President Obama’s first term in office, because his agencies either overlooked the perpetrators’ jihadist intentions or failed to act on relevant intelligence, liberals respond with an argument that was discredited nearly a decade ago: “But 9/11 happened on George Bush’s watch!”
Obama supporters mocked Rudy Giuliani’s recent claim to George Stephanopolous “We had no domestic attacks under Bush,” stubbornly avoiding Giuliani’s obvious implication that he was speaking post-9/11. Until last week, Democrats loved to excoriate Giuliani for making endless references to the terrorist attack that occurred while he was mayor of New York; now they claim he forgets it happened. Which is it?
Conservatives’ point is that Obama has forgotten the lessons of 9/11, which Bush did not have available to him until, surprisingly—9/11. The Ft. Hood and Flight 253 attacks happened in the first year of Obama’s administration, and 9/11 happened in the first year of Bush’s administration, but Obama had the example of 9/11 to learn from, and Bush did not. (Even if you count the thwarted attack by the shoe bomber in December 2001, that bomber tried to strike just months after 9/11, when fully revamped security procedures were not running as smoothly as they are now; also, the bomber used the novel, unprecedented technique of wearing the bomb on his person so that it would not be detected by luggage screeners.)
Obama not only had the example of 9/11, he had seven years in which to witness and debate and vote on the implementation of the policies his predecessor devised to successfully keep the country safe for the seven years after 9/11. Obama denounced and campaigned against these tactics every chance he got. He hasn’t revoked all of the Bush policies—upon assuming the Presidency, he must have received access to hair-raising intelligence that made him realize the suicidal folly of reversing Bush on everything—but he has slackened up enough, rhetorically and policy-wise, that our security standards have slipped and our enemies have become emboldened.
It is not enough to say that Obama has forgotten the lessons of 9/11—he has actively rejected them. He has argued that doing the opposite of what Bush did will keep us safer. We are seeing how well the Obama Doctrine is working out in his first 11 months in office.
Another error in the “Bush-was-bad-so-Obama’s-off-the-hook” argument is that Bush did not do anything to actively facilitate the occurrence of 9/11. In contrast, the Ft. Hood shootings were aided by the politically correct refusal of the U.S. Army—under Commander-in-Chief Obama—to recognize murderous jihadist sentiments expressed by Major Nidal Hasan openly and repeatedly while in medical school and residency, and the promotion Hasan received despite his poor performance reviews. The Flight 253 near-attack was made possible by the Obama administration’s refusal to act on numerous bits of information available to it, such as the suspect’s father having called the U.S. Embassy to report him, his not having a passport or luggage, and his having bought a one-way ticket with cash.
But there’s an even more damning flaw to the contention that Bush should have been able to prevent 9/11, and is therefore as bad as or worse than Obama on national security. Namely: just what would Bush opponents have preferred that he do in his first eight months in office to prevent terrorist acts, when they now scream bloody murder at the slightest suggestion of profiling at airports, when they accuse Bush of being Big Brother for trying to monitor terrorist communications, when they’ve demonstrated their clear disapproval of any war Bush started abroad to target Al-Qaeda? Are liberals implying that they would have been fine with Bush doing all of these things in a pre-9/11 world? They’re not even fine with The One doing these things in a post-9/11 world.
The left have been digging up examples of localized attacks carried out by truly isolated (not Abdulmutallab-style “isolated”) loonies—such as Bruce Ivins’ anthrax-laced letters to news broadcasters in September 2001, Hesham Hadayet’s shooting of two Israelis at LAX in July 2002, the Beltway sniper attacks in October 2002—as proof that Bush didn’t keep us safe. Ignore for the moment that when each of these incidents happened, these same people criticized Bush for using these events to “hype” the threat of terrorism to justify extra security measures. Instead ask: what level of government intervention into our lives would have been necessary to prevent every one of these attacks? And how likely is it that liberals would have supported Bush’s carrying out such interventions?