In an op-ed for The New York Times, Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald argues that former President George W. Bush was “deaf” to warnings about a terrorist attack in the United States.
Of course, this allegation isn’t new especially concerning the presidential daily brief of August 6, 2001 which stated “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” But Eichenwald claims he has read excerpts of previous presidential briefs:
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.
Yet by Eichenwald’s own admission, he has read only “excerpts”. Which means he hasn’t read everything and therefore doesn’t have the whole story. But even if he did I suspect he would only see what he wants to see. I also find Mr. Eichenwald’s hyperbolic prose lacking in journalistic detachment. It is troubling when Eichenwald deploys phrases such as “neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon”. These “neoconservative leaders” (who Eichenwald does not identify) didn’t “assume” anything. Like them or not, they were appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate. It might be a minor point but it certainly suggests that we look at things through a particular lens which has been distorted by animus towards a particular ideology.
I was struck by this passage in particular:
In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that they had ignored C.I.A. warnings by saying they had not been told when and where the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the Aug. 6 brief was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, Fla., by a suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on Aug. 4. Two weeks later, another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not connected, and Washington did not react.
Well, it’s more than disconnected dots. Remember that Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI and the FBI office in Minneapolis didn’t exactly have its act together despite efforts to enlist the help of the CIA.
As for Kahtani, he is at Gitmo and is the poster boy for those who oppose enhance interrogation techniques.
Eichenwald ends his piece this way:
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 know. And that may be the most agonizing reality of all.
Given that Eichenwald acknowledges that the Bush Administration did not know when a terrorist attack would occur or where it would take place, what should have they done? What would have been a suitable reaction? Killing Osama? Assuming such an opportunity could have presented itself, it still might not have prevented the attack from being carried out. Or should they have broken up al Qaeda cells in the U.S. with mass arrests? If the liberal media objects to the treatment we dole out to terrorists following an actual attack then imagine their reaction if there had been no attack in the first place? Hindsight is always 20-20.
I am not suggesting that the Bush Administration couldn’t have made different choices. Yet it’s impossible to know if they would have made any difference. Despite the warnings, an attack of that magnitude was simply beyond our experience.
In the grand scheme of things, Eichenwald’s article only serves to a) fullfil The New York Times agenda of bashing Bush and praising Obama, b) agitate those who tend towards conspiracy theories and c) absolve al Qaeda of responsibility for its actions. Those might not be Eichenwald’s intentions, but they are surely its effect.
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