The Democrats, who fear a GOP counterattack, have all but ceded 9-11 as an issue in the campaign to the Republicans. And the Bushies have seized on it. Already they are picturing themselves as reformers of the nation’s byzantine spy setup, ready to take up the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations and remake the national security system, breaking up the CIA. The right has long viewed the CIA as a covert political base for liberalism. So getting rid of it fits in nicely with its long-term objectives.
With the important help of Giuliani, the Republicans will seek to transform George W. Bush into a new 9-11 advertisement: the brave commander in chief who rallied the nation, not the scared bunny rabbit we saw hop-skipping around the country that day. Far from it. According to the 9-11 Commission, it was Bush who begged the Secret Service—unsuccessfully—to let him return at once to Washington. He supposedly was a can-do National Guard interceptor pilot, who told Cheney at 9:45 that morning: “Sounds like we have a minor war going on here. I heard about the Pentagon. We’re at war. . . . Somebody’s going to pay.” And it was Bush who pulled the nation together and liberated Afghanistan from the crazed Taliban, and is fighting the good fight in Iraq to jump-start democracy there. Iraq’s leap to freedom is mirrored in that country’s soccer team’s bravura performance at the Olympics—where Bush may well pay a visit just as the GOP convention opens. (Incidentally, lost in the remake are charges that the president himself went AWOL from the National Guard.)
Giuliani is the key to all this. In an interview with The New York Times last week, the former mayor declared that the attack “is the single most significant event that has happened in the last four years, and is maybe one of the most important events in our history,” adding, “So it has to be an issue in the election. Not discussing it would be like conducting an election for Abraham Lincoln and not discussing the Civil War.” And it’s more than possible that Giuliani can inoculate Bush against charges he was asleep at the switch before and after the attacks.
Thus, the Republicans are set to turn the events of 9-11 upside down, inside out. The facts are that ever since 9-11, the Republican government has tried to block, delay, and hide evidence clearly showing that top U.S. officials knew full well what was about to happen, but told no one. Not only did they not tell anyone of the dangers in store, but they left the nation undefended—14 planes to guard 290 million people. When two of the planes finally got off the ground, they went in the wrong direction, out to sea. With the commander in chief airborne, and the secretary of defense unaccountably absent for periods of time at the Pentagon’s main command center—gaining what the commission later called “situational awareness”—the military was not in touch with the FAA. As the two federal agencies in charge of our defense bumbled along, the Secret Service took matters into its own hands and scrambled a D.C. Air National Guard fighter unit to protect Washington with “weapons-free” rules of engagement, meaning they were ordered to fire at will to protect the government.
The Secret Service was clearly acting outside the chain of military command, as was Cheney, who ran the country from the White House bunker. Both acts may well have been unconstitutional.
Anyhow, what saved Washington was not Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or the military, but the alert, unarmed passengers on United Flight 93 who fought their way up the aisles of the pitching hijacked plane, and were within seconds of taking the cockpit when the Al Qaeda pilot crashed it into a Pennsylvania field. As the commission concluded, “Their actions saved the lives of countless others, and may have saved either the Capitol or the White House from destruction.”
And what did the government plan to do after all this? Attack Iraq. That afternoon, CBS caught Rumsfeld doodling on a pad of paper: “Best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at the same time. Not only UBL [Usama bin Laden, as he was then sometimes called]. . . . Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
Inept, incompetent, derelict in duty, unconstitutional—no one has been held accountable for failure to defend the nation that day. The facts are sufficient, the issues clear, but the Democrats won’t touch 9-11. The Republicans are free to spin it on their New York set any way they want.