The 10 Ways Bush Screwed New York

A presidential potpourri of cuts, blunders, stonewalls, deceptions, and distractions

Can you imagine the Fox drumbeat if a Democratic president moved from the smoke-Osama-out soundbites we never see anymore to declaring, "I just don't spend that much time on him, to be honest with ya"? Why were key Special Operations forces and CIA operatives moved out of Afghanistan in 2002 to prepare for an Iraq invasion? Why weren't American forces guarding the Pakistani border when bin Laden reportedly escaped at Tora Bora? Why were 11,000 U.S. troops sent to fight the Afghan war and 140,000 to Iraq? Is there any way to square the Bush boast that he's eliminated two-thirds of Al Qaeda's leadership with the recent Tom Ridge high alert based on the seizure of four-year-old plans? Why did Bush and the GOP Senate defeat a Chris Dodd amendment that got 40 Democratic votes to permit the U.S. to cooperate with any future International Criminal Court prosecution of bin Laden?

NYers will not put our attackers on a political back burner. Bush promised regime change at Al Qaeda; he cannot use Saddam as his beard. If we believed that this administration laser-beamed American might on bin Laden and came up empty, we could accept it. We know that Bush instead exploited it to go after a target selected at the first meeting of his National Security Council, long before 9-11.

photo: Jake Price

2 Why was Bush so afraid of a 9-11 investigation? As recently as last week's interview with Larry King, Bush tried to tap-dance around his record of resistance to the 9-11 Commission. It was a lie, reliant, as always, on the assumption that no one under a klieg light would make an issue of it. Tom Daschle, who was Senate majority leader in 2002, says Dick Cheney called him and "expressed the concern that a review of what happened on September 11 would take resources and personnel away from the war on terrorism." Bush's revisionist press guru, Karen Hughes, tried to insist on a March Meet the Press that Bush only had "concerns" about a probe, adding, "I don't know that the president ever opposed the creation of it." The families know better. Monica Gabrielle, whose insurance broker husband died in the attack, said: "The White House is blocking everything." Photogenic presidential hugger John McCain knows better. He said Bush tried to "slow-walk and stonewall it."

Bush at first put Henry Kissinger in charge. His Federal Aviation Administration and Defense Department had to be subpoenaed to give up records. He insisted on "minders" accompanying any federal official interviewed by the commission. He would be interviewed only if Cheney was at his side—and no oath or transcripts were taken, guaranteeing that his comments would barely be quoted in the eventual 567-page report. When he was finally forced by public pressure to allow Condi Rice to testify publicly, he won a concession that no other White House official would be questioned publicly or privately again. He opposed an extension of the commission's deadline. He deleted its funding altogether from one supplemental budget request and ultimately funded it at one-fourth the cost of Ken Starr's probe of a dress stain. His wholly owned cable network and NY tabloid derided it repeatedly.

And then, when the commission produced a report with bipartisan unanimity that factually decimated Bush's first nine months of terrorist indifference, but gave reporters too little conclusory language to write a lead, Bush glowingly welcomed the chair and vice-chair at the White House. A month later, after Donald Rumsfeld poured cold water on the key recommendations at a Senate hearing, it's clear Bush will move only if compelled.

3 Was the Bush team awake in the nine months before the attack? The press, always seeking balance, has apparently decided that if Bill Clinton was out to lunch on Al Qaeda, then Dubya's vacationing vacillation is not news. But Clinton is not seeking four more years. With CIA director George Tenet telling the commission that "the system was blinking red," the White House appears in the report as glazed as it did the first seven minutes after the second plane hit.

"In sum," the commission concluded about the Bush response to what it said were "unprecedented" warnings, "the domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened. Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance was not targeted against a domestic threat. State and local law enforcement was not marshaled to augment the FBI's efforts. The public was not warned. The terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within our government."

Incredibly, these words have received far less media than, for example, the recollections of Swift boat crewmen who never sailed under John Kerry's command. Yet, with five Republican commissioners voting, each word was so carefully parsed they shout with the collective voice of minimum truth. Prediction: No one in the national media will quote them through four nights of endless TV gab. Even though they are Republican conclusions, our talking heads would view citing them as the electronic equivalent of belching in an in-law's living room.

No one will mention the 40 bin Laden articles in Presidential Daily Briefings from January 20 to September 10, 2001; the first day of vacation's August 6 wake-up PDB headline of "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.," and the fishing trip that ensued; the failure to even convene a principals' meeting on terrorism until September 4, 2001; the president's uncertainty about whether he ever discussed the August 6 PDB with Justice officials; the acting FBI director's sworn recollection that AG Ashcroft told him he didn't want to hear about the Al Qaeda threats anymore; and the telling testimony of senior counterterrorism staff that they considered resigning during it all to "go public with their concerns."

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