Trump brought it up: George W. Bush’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. This allowed Elizabeth Drew to address, as she put it, “the heretofore hushed-up public policy question that Trump stumbled into.” Drew’s “How Much Is George W. Bush Responsible for 9/11?“ is the most cogent and damning indictment of Bush on this count that we are likely to get.
And it comes just in time to counter an incipient George W. Bush rehabilitation campaign.
Elizabeth Drew is the yoda of politics at the world’s premiere intellectual forum, The New York Review of Books. As a journalist, she helped bring down Nixon. From 1972 to ‘77, she was the director of the prestigious and influential Council on Foreign Relations.
She is the author of fourteen books of the shrewdest political analysis. Her pedigree, therefore, is the highest.
In “How Much Is George W. Bush Responsible for 9/11?,” Drew relies heavily on the report of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which Bush resisted and subverted. She writes, “The unpleasant, almost unbearable conclusion — one that was not to be discussed within the political realm — is that in the face of numerous warnings of an impending attack, Bush did nothing.”
This is on top of Peter Beinart’s recent indictment of Bush for 9/11 in The Atlantic (which relied more on former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke than the 9/11 Commission), and concluded, “Bush was insufficiently vigilant. The evidence is overwhelming.”
So some degree of blame for the 9/11 attacks must be added to that list of catastrophic blunders known as the George W. Bush administration. That list already includes some degree of blame for the culminating disaster of his presidency, the 2008 global financial collapse. Bill Clinton gets some of that blame, but Bush gets most of it for being the leader of the deregulation party and for policies, like massive tax cuts for the wealthy and unpaid-for wars, that turned an inherited budget surplus, according to The New York Times, into a 1.2 trillion dollar budget deficit.
As for the pointless Iraq War, Bush gets all the blame for that after lying the country into it and then managing it with such stunning ineptitude. And ineptitude was the salient feature of something else that Bush owns in its entirety, the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
For that we have A Failure of Initiative: the Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. The Washington Post’s article on this report opens with, “Hurricane Katrina exposed the U.S. government’s failure to learn the lessons of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as leaders from President Bush down disregarded ample warnings.”
Then there are the lesser crimes: theft of the 2000 election, multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts for cronies, pandering to anti-gay bigotry during his reelection campaign, withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol lowering greenhouse gas emissions, withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, invalidation of the Geneva Convention protocols against torture, and here are 300 anti-environmental actions listed by the Sierra Club.
The point of this rehash is to counter rehabilitation efforts like that of David Brooks, generally considered a housebroken conservative, who recently tried to portray Bush and Cheney as victims of faulty Iraq intelligence. Plus, Bush’s rising poll numbers indicate he may be acquiring a glaze of nostalgia.
His defenders, including most recently brother Jeb, explain away George W. Bush’s record as “bad luck.” Another explanation is that an intellectual level, a political philosophy, and a detached governing style combined to create a perfect storm of incompetence. W’s record of failures snaps into focus beside his achievements of taking the most vacations, by far, of any modern president, and the longest vacation.
In March of 2008, History News Network polled 109 professional historians, 61 percent of whom declared George W. Bush the worst president. Another 35 percent put him in the bottom ten. It seems likely that back then few if any of those historians would have given Bush the degree of blame for 9/11 that Elizabeth Drew and Peter Beinart propose now.