Skip to main content

By now, you've probably already heard about Donald Trump's tone-deaf, self-aggrandizing response to the Orlando massacre. The GOP nominee not only patted himself on his orange back, but he also blamed President Obama's foreign policy for allowing the attack to occur.

On Thursday, the GOP's 2008 nominee, John McCain, joined Trump.

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al-Qaeda went to Syria, became ISIS, and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures,” McCain said.  

I’ve had this ongoing theory that if Al Gore had been president during 9/11, the Republicans would’ve tried to impeach him for allowing it to happen. They would've immediately began screeching the question: What did Gore know and when did he know it? Instead, Bush was president and the entire nation rallied around him in the wake of the largest terrorist attack on American soil. It was a testament not only to the patriotism of the American people but to the cooperative fairness of partisan Democrats to shelve their animosity about the 2000 election and leave politics aside for the sake of national unity.

No one demanded accountability from anyone other than the criminals who committed the attacks, and the congressional Democrats didn't immediately shank Bush in the gut.

What we know now is that the Bush administration was, in fact, aware of Bin Laden's determination to engage in a large-scale attack inside the United States.

If the Bush administration had taken reports of Bin Laden’s intentions more seriously, perhaps the 9/11 attacks could’ve been prevented. But they weren’t. Richard Clarke, in particular, a Clinton era counterterrorism holdover in the Bush White House was obsessive bordering on fanatical during the early months of 2001 in his efforts to get then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other officials to take seriously the threats from Bin Laden. Back in 2012, the New York Times' Kurt Eichenwald reported that Bush officials were warned on multiple occasions:

• May 1, 2001: Eichenwald reported that the president was briefed by the CIA that there were plans being assembled for an attack by “a group presently in the United States.”

• June 22, 2001: Bush received a PDB that warned of an “imminent” al-Qaeda attack during a “flexible timeline.” The neocons in the White House, meanwhile, believed that Bin Laden was a distraction from an actual plot by Saddam Hussein. The pretext for an invasion and regime change in Iraq had obviously been on the table for many months. In spite of its participation on Iraq, the CIA urged the White House to not ignore Bin Laden.

• June 29, 2001: Another PDB outlined in detail an impending attack by Bin Laden. Eichenwald noted that this brief emphasized “dramatic consequences,” “including major casualties.”

• July 1, 2001: The White House is instructed in yet another PDB that the attack had been postponed, but “will occur soon.”

• July 9, 2001: The CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center staffers held a meeting in which one senior official recommended that everyone resign so as to not be blamed for the impending attack.

• July 11, 2001: The White House is informed that al-Qaeda-linked radical Ibn Al-Khattab told his supporters that “there would soon be very big news.” The CIA brief included more information about a possible attack.

• July 24, 2001: The White House is again warned of preparations for an attack in “a few months.” Eichenwald wrote that Bush wasn’t convinced and requested a “broader analysis on al-Qaeda.” This analysis became the infamous August 6 PDB.

• August 4, 2001: 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, whose flight school attendance was noticed by intelligence officials, is picked up and charged on immigration violations.

• August 6, 2001: While vacationing in Crawford, Bush receives the notorious PDB titled, “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.” No action was ever taken by the administration to intervene.

Even though major breaches in security were obvious, and it was clear that the administration was caught with its national security pants down, no one played politics with the attack -- at least until Bush himself repeatedly used the attacks to gin up support for Iraq and when his team used 9/11 imagery in a 2004 campaign ad

Bush also stonewalled the formation of the 9/11 Commission and even refused to testify unless there were no records kept of his testimony. You might also recall how Bush demanded that Cheney be present with him during his testimony. No doubt an obvious display of Bush's command of the issue.

Nevertheless, the American people rallied around the president. Democrats, liberals and so forth pitched in and gave the president the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't a time for inquests and accusations.

But, conversely, in the immediate days following the gun massacre in Orlando, both Trump and the GOP's 2008 nominee, John McCain, blamed Obama for the record-shattering tragedy.

This says a lot about how Republicans too often comport themselves in the wake of a disaster -- these self-proclaimed “patriots” are merely fair-weather patriots, only willing to lend their unified support when the president is from their own party. As such, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Republicans, given the chance during a would-be second Obama term, tried to impeach the president for the Benghazi attack.

I've talked with several conservatives who are highly critical of the administration's response and the common thread has emerged: they're driven by the assumption that Obama is weak on terrorism. Yes, the same Obama who, on day one, reignited the hunt for Bin Laden and killed the perpetrator of 9/11. The same Obama who, much to the angst of progressives, has a so-called "kill list" -- a list of suspected terrorists, and Obama himself decides which terrorists will or will not be targeted. He authorized the drone strike that took out American-born al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. He ordered the Afghanistan surge; he's literally invading Pakistan to take out numerous terrorist targets across the border; he's engaged in anti-terror covert operations in Yemen and Somalia and, under his leadership, 20 or more of the top 30 al-Qaeda leaders have been killed. He organized the NATO effort in Libya and pushed for more than just an ineffectual no-fly zone. Instead, he proposed a more meaningful action to stop Qaddafi's march to Benghazi where the Libyan leader intended to engage in a full scale genocide. The action was short, Qaddafi was killed and no Americans were lost. If you ask many liberals, they'll tell you Obama is an absolute demon guilty of war crimes in his pursuit of terrorists. 

And conservatives think he's an effete weakling on terrorism.

One thing we know for sure. The Republicans will not give an inch on anything. They will contradict themselves, ignore their own records, jump to paranoid conclusions, risk embarrassment and generally do whatever it takes to disrupt and sabotage the Obama presidency.

During the Bush years, the Republicans used to say it was unpatriotic to criticize the commander-in-chief when troops were in harm's way -- that it would endanger the lives of our soldiers and damage morale. It's endlessly fascinating to me how this deeply heart-felt and often repeated declaration of wartime patriotism was entirely abandoned on January 20, 2009, and most dramatically on September 11, 2012, even while troops remain in harm's way.