By Bob Cesca: 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.
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 (reference to the August 8, 2001 presidential daily briefing intentional).
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 fanatical bordering on obsessive 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. Last month, the New York Times reported that Bush officials were warned on multiple occasions:
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. 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.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews 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; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
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, when terrorists hit the consulate in Benghazi, Romney and the Republicans couldn’t muster the decency or discipline to wait until the disaster was over before they politicized it by attacking the president, even while the fires at the consulate were still burning. Imagine if the Democrats had reacted the same way during 9/11. They would’ve been tarred and feathered and driven out of Washington on a rail. Yet the Republicans did it with impunity. I remember quite distinctly how Bill Maher, on his ABC series Politically Incorrect, dared to agree with conservative fire-eater Dinesh D’Souza that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t “cowardly.” Maher was forced to publicly apologize; he was scolded by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; and was fired from his show, all for one lone remark in agreement with D’Souza who’s a conservative hero.
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.
Actually, I’d love to see a study performed to determine the number of times Republican leaders condemned the terrorists who fired rockets at the Benghazi consulate versus the number of times Republican leaders condemned the president’s response. I’d wager Mitt Romney has spent more time on the latter.
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 in just over two years. 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.
But if one attack on a consulate means that Obama is somehow weak, according to conservatives. I offer the following list from the Bush years:
June 14, 2002, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide bomber kills 12 and injures 51.
February 20, 2003, international diplomatic compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Truck bomb kills 17.
February 28, 2003, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Gunmen on motorcycles killed two consulate guards.
July 30, 2004, U.S. embassy in Taskkent, Uzbekistan
Suicide bomber kills two.
December 6, 2004, U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Militants stormed and occupied perimeter wall. Five killed, 10 wounded.
March 2, 2006, U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan
Suicide car bomber killed four, including a U.S. diplomate directly targeted by the assailants.
September 12, 2006, U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria
Gunmen attacked embassy with grenades, automatic weapons, and a car bomb (though second truck bomb failed to detonate). One killed and 13 wounded.
January 12, 2007, U.S. embassy in Athens, Greece
A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the embassy building. No one was injured.
July 9, 2008, U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey
Armed men attacked consulate with pistols and shotguns. Three policemen killed.
March 18, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Mortar attack misses embassy, hits nearby girls’ school instead.
September 17, 2008, U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
Militants dressed as policemen attacked the embassy with RPGs, rifles, grenades and car bombs. Six Yemeni soldiers and seven civilians were killed. Sixteen more were injured.
The Bush team, to this day, hilariously claims to have “kept us safe.” Sure, except for 9/11 and the above list of attacks and numerous other terrorist attacks here and abroad, including the Anthrax attacks and the DC Sniper.
Ultimately, the centerpiece of a potential congressional inquest is the as-of-yet unsubstantiated notion that Obama and his team attempted to cover up its response after the fact and, shockingly, ordered military support for the consulate to stand down. In other words, the administration allegedly allowed the attack to continue, resulting in the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. I can’t even imagine the calculus behind this ridiculous accusation. If I understand conservative conspiracy theorists correctly, they’re saying the president allowed American officials to be killed and this would somehow help the president in the election? Utter nonsense.
By the way, we’re not talking about fringe conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and others. We’re talking about mainstream Republican leaders like John McCain who’s compared the incident to Watergate.
We’ve since learned that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in conjunction with the U.S. Africa commander General Carter Ham, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey, didn’t authorize the deployment of troops during the attack because it was unclear what was happening on the ground. Panetta: “As a result of not having that kind of information, the commander who was on the ground in that area, General Ham, General Dempsey and I felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation.” Furthermore, it’s likely that the attacks weren’t pre-planned and, in fact, used the protests as an impromptu cover to launch the missiles. Just as Susan Rice and others have said.
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.