Twin Twisters

Pataki and Giuliani rewrite 9-11 history to bolster Bush, prepare for their 2008 race

The Have-They-No-Shame Contest for New York Presidential Pretenders was a draw: Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki demonstrated an equal willingness to distort the meaning of the attack on their own city in craven efforts to position themselves for 2008 runs. Giuliani, at least, did it with guile.

After cherry-picking three swing states for anecdotes about Americans who came to New York's aid in the attack's aftermath, George Pataki became the first and only prime-time speaker at the GOP convention to mention the unmentionable: Osama bin Laden. No one else invoked the man George Bush said was "wanted dead or alive" almost three years ago, because they knew better than to remind Americans that the proud Texas swaggerer had yet, as promised, to "smoke 'im out." George Pataki was the only speaker to think that was Bill Clinton's fault.

"You know the history," Pataki started, before establishing that he didn't. "Osama bin Laden declared war on America, and then came the attacks—the first World Trade Center, the embassies, the U.S.S. Cole—hundreds dead, thousands injured. How I wish the administration at that time, in those years, had done something. How I wished they had moved to protect us. But they didn't do it." The breathless governor then switched to "Al Qaeda"—not bin Laden—saying it "made a terrible mistake" and "attacked again," but that this time Big Bad George Bush was up to the task of taking them on.

A few tiny problems. Bin Laden issued the first fatwa calling for attacks against the U.S. in February 1998, five years after the 1993 WTC bombing. His two earlier fatwas called for attacks against Western "occupation" facilities in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic lands. The 9-11 Commission report says that bin Laden's "involvement" in the '93 bombing "is at best cloudy."

Second, Bill Clinton launched cruise missiles at bin Laden's Afghan training camps and a suspected Al Qaeda nerve gas plant in Sudan in direct response to the embassy bombings, killing 20 to 30 people and, according to the commission, missing bin Laden by a few hours. The commission notes that the missile assault occasioned "partisan," wag-the-dog sniping at a Lewinsky-impaired Clinton that, together with other factors, "likely had a cumulative effect" of discouraging future Clinton strikes against bin Laden. The GOP leaders Pataki was partying down with at the Garden—including former president George H.W. Bush—denounced as a diversion the only assertive military response ever undertaken by a too-passive Clinton.

Finally, the U.S.S. Cole was attacked on October 12, 2000, 25 days before the election. The CIA repeatedly told Clinton it had "no definitive answer on the crucial question of outside direction of the attack—how and by whom." The Bush administration likes now, in its own defense on 9-11, to call that "no actionable intelligence." Though candidate Bush said that October that there "had to be a consequence" for the Cole, he and his team soon decided to do nothing. Condi Rice told the commission that "while there was never a formal, recorded decision not to retaliate," conversations including the president, the CIA, Defense, and others "produced a consensus that tit-for-tat responses were likely to be counterproductive."

Could there be a more partisan, false, and reckless rendition of this history than the one offered by the governor whose state was attacked?

Why do the media fail to note—when Pataki, Giuliani, et al., quote Bullhorn Bush at Ground Zero promising that "the people who knocked down these buildings" would "hear all of us soon"—that the three culprits then featured on every TV screen, bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are still waiting to hear? How can both the governor and ex-mayor of this still-wounded city mislead the nation about the Iraq war, drawing rhetorical lines connecting it to the president's GZ promise, as if Saddam Hussein were one of "the people who knocked down these buildings"? A commission including five prominent Republicans and praised by the president categorically rejected this nonsense, yet Giuliani insisted in his hailed address that "the barbaric terrorists who attacked us" had "heard from us in Iraq," a slur on all who perished here and their families. Pataki couldn't even get the Bush quote right, but he made precisely the same invidious connection.

Giuliani, of course, had the good sense not to mention bin Laden, though in the heady days of 2001, he'd put in an application with Bush to become Osama's executioner. "America's Mayor" used terrorism and associated derivatives 44 times in the speech without ever referring to the No. 1 Terrorist who murdered several people dear to him and shattered his city. He invoked Iraq or Saddam 10 times. Imagine if Al Gore had been in the White House on 9-11, made the same bullhorn vow, sent a puny army into Afghanistan, left the Pakistan border unguarded when we had bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora, and shifted Special Forces and CIA operatives away from the bin Laden front to Iraq. How many times would Rudy Giuliani have mentioned bin Laden in what might well have been his acceptance speech—as presidential or vice presidential nominee—at the RNC this month? Jimmy Carter's daily hostage-crisis drumbeat would seem muted by now.

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