When people first raised questions about President Bush’s scared-chicken behavior on September 11, they were buried in patriotic abuse. But think about it. Consider the bare facts: The attacks happened on George Bush’s watch. He was in charge. And he now admits to having known in general what was going to happen. Terrorists were slipping into the country. They were studying at American flight schools. They intended to hijack planes. They were financed by Osama bin Laden.
Knowing all of this, Bush still left us totally undefended. And for this performance, his approval ratings soared.
If the president got an intelligence warning during the summer about what might soon happen, how come he didn’t do something then? He could have:
1. Told Congress.
2. Improved airport security, which had already been criticized as inadequate.
3. Alerted the airlines. As it was, the airlines never raised any questions when the hijackers started laying down thousands in cash for one-way tickets.
4. Warned the FAA. The FAA control center in New Hampshire knew 10 to 15 minutes after takeoff that an American Airlines flight from Boston had been hijacked. It was more than half an hour later when it crashed into the World Trade Center.
5. Ordered improved security for the nation’s nuclear power plants, the untended thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines, the harbors into which a terrorist could sail a liquid natural gas tanker and unleash a holocaust equal to a nuclear explosion.
If Bush knew so much, how come he did so little on September 11? Instead of letting his handlers move him from place to place in an utter fog, he could have returned to Washington immediately and, as commander in chief, taken charge. He could have alerted the military, which ought to have had planes in the air moments after the FAA control learned of the takeover.
Bush was much more careful when it came to defending his political power. He and his managers managed to spin his response to the attacks so well that approval ratings soared to all-time highs. Clutching his halo, the president then began pushing for various rollbacks of freedom and constitutional process. They were old ideas for him, but he wrapped them in patriotic banners and sold them to the nation. Consider what he accomplished:
1. He set in motion the installation of a secret Congress.
2. His administration marched far forward with its program for restricting civil rights and tightening immigration rules.
3. He started a shooting war in Afghanistan against a group of people—the Taliban—with whom the administration was quietly negotiating last summer. He advanced immeasurably the interests of those who want to go to war against Iraq. That’s not to mention those of the Israeli war hawks who assert they are part of the campaign against terror and that their invasion of Palestinian cities and towns is thus justified.
Bush protected himself and his friends. What he left uncovered was the rest of us.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 21, 2002