George Bush came into office, having lost the popular vote, and having narrowly avoided having the Florida votes counted, which would have resulted in him losing the vote in the Electoral College.
Until 9-11 his major policy initiative had been a gobbledygook position on stem-cell research that pleased no one completely but did effectively relegate the United States to the second tier in biological research.
And then came 9-11, which was one leg of what Bush called the “trifecta.” Bush was cool, calm and collected, so much so that he was able to finish a book he had been working on, My Pet Goat. Then he appeared on a rubble heap in New York City with a bullhorn, at a time when the nation was reeling in shock and in need of a leader to rally around.
Instinctively, the American people understood that the attack was intended to undermine our confidence in the leadership, and the response was an out-pouring of good will toward everything identified as representative of America. This was very good for manufacturers of flags and lapel pins. But it was really, really good for the President’s approval ratings.
There was, and to a lesser extent still is, a hard core of people who will support the President no matter what. Some of these people are just hard-core Republicans. Some are hard-core ‘my-president-right-or-wrong’ types. And some are just plain morons. At the risk of stating the obvious, there's some overlap.
There is also a large number of people who do not follow or care very much about politics. These people felt the out-pouring of good will toward the President, and never had a chance to revisit the issue in lo, these five years. Some of these people are hooked on right wing talk radio, and therefore, appear indistinguishable from the aforementioned "just plain morons."
No matter how you categorize them, there are still about 40% of the population who approve of the way George Bush is doing his job, in spite of the fact that everything he has touched has turned to turd. And that is why I say he is one of the luckiest men on earth.
Until now. As I reported here, Bill Clinton has showed us how to talk about the fact that the Bush administration failed miserably in job #1, namely, protecting the country from outside attacks.
Here’s a taste from a transcript that appears on Think Progress.
CLINTON: …And I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans, who now say I didn’t do enough, claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden. All of President Bush’s neo-cons thought I was too obsessed with bin Laden. They had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say I didn’t do enough said I did too much — same people.As you can well imagine, the White House couldn’t let that stand. Instead, they sent out Dr. Condi Rice, who had been the National Security Advisor whose total disregard of the Presidential Daily Briefing “Bin Laden determined to strike within the United States” resulted in her being promoted to Secretary of State. She denied Clinton's claim in the television interview that the Bush administration had not aggressively pursued al-Qaida before the attacks of 2001.
WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?
CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.
CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried.
So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.
“What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years. The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false, and I think the 9/11 commission understood that.”
Rice also took exception to Clinton's statement that he “left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy” for incoming officials when he left office.
“We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaida,” she told the newspaper, which is owned by News Corp., the company that owns Fox News Channel.
So who’s telling the truth? To help you decide, I refer you to a column by William Rivers Pitt, over on Truthout.org, entitled Clinton, 9/11 and the Facts and published on August 30, 2006. Here’s an excerpt:
Roger Cressy, National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism in the period 1999-2001, responded to these allegations [that Clinton did not do enough to capture Bin Ladin] in an article for the Washington Times in 2003. “Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al-Qaeda,” wrote Cressy. “As President Bush well knows, bin Laden was and remains very good at staying hidden. The current administration faces many of the same challenges. Confusing the American people with misinformation and distortions will not generate the support we need to come together as a nation and defeat our terrorist enemies.”“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”
Measures taken by the Clinton administration to thwart international terrorism and bin Laden's network were historic, unprecedented and, sadly, not followed up on. Consider the steps offered by Clinton's 1996 omnibus anti-terror legislation, the pricetag for which stood at $1.097 billion. The following is a partial list of the initiatives offered by the Clinton anti-terrorism bill:
Screen Checked Baggage: $91.1 million Screen Carry-On Baggage: $37.8 million Passenger Profiling: $10 million Screener Training: $5.3 million Screen Passengers (portals) and Document Scanners: $1 million Deploying Existing Technology to Inspect International Air Cargo: $31.4 million Provide Additional Air/Counterterrorism Security: $26.6 million Explosives Detection Training: $1.8 million Augment FAA Security Research: $20 million Customs Service: Explosives and Radiation Detection Equipment at Ports: $2.2 million Anti-Terrorism Assistance to Foreign Governments: $2 million Capacity to Collect and Assemble Explosives Data: $2.1 million Improve Domestic Intelligence: $38.9 million Critical Incident Response Teams for Post-Blast Deployment: $7.2 million Additional Security for Federal Facilities: $6.7 million Firefighter/Emergency Services Financial Assistance: $2.7 million Public Building and Museum Security: $7.3 million Improve Technology to Prevent Nuclear Smuggling: $8 million Critical Incident Response Facility: $2 million Counter-Terrorism Fund: $35 million Explosives Intelligence and Support Systems: $14.2 million Office of Emergency Preparedness: $5.8 million
The Clinton administration poured more than a billion dollars into counterterrorism activities across the entire spectrum of the intelligence community, into the protection of critical infrastructure, into massive federal stockpiling of antidotes and vaccines to prepare for a possible bioterror attack, into a reorganization of the intelligence community itself. Within the National Security Council, “threat meetings” were held three times a week to assess looming conspiracies. His National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, prepared a voluminous dossier on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, actively tracking them across the planet. Clinton raised the issue of terrorism in virtually every important speech he gave in the last three years of his tenure.
Clinton’s dire public warnings about the threat posed by terrorism, and the actions taken to thwart it, went completely unreported by the media, which was far more concerned with stained dresses and baseless Drudge Report rumors. When the administration did act militarily against bin Laden and his terrorist network, the actions were dismissed by partisans within the media and Congress as scandalous “wag the dog” tactics. The news networks actually broadcast clips of the movie “Wag the Dog” while reporting on his warnings, to accentuate the idea that everything the administration said was contrived fakery.
In Congress, Clinton was thwarted by the reactionary conservative majority in virtually every attempt he made to pass legislation that would attack al-Qaeda and terrorism. His 1996 omnibus terror bill, which included many of the anti-terror measures we now take for granted after September 11, was withered almost to the point of uselessness by attacks from the right; Senators Jesse Helms and Trent Lott were openly dismissive of the threats Clinton spoke of.
Specifically, Clinton wanted to attack the financial underpinnings of the al-Qaeda network by banning American companies and individuals from dealing with foreign banks and financial institutions that al-Qaeda was using for its money-laundering operations. Texas Senator Phil Gramm, chairman of the Banking Committee, gutted the portions of Clinton's bill dealing with this matter, calling them “totalitarian.”
In fact, Gramm was compelled to kill the bill because his most devoted patrons, the Enron Corporation and its criminal executives in Houston, were using those same terrorist financial networks to launder their own dirty money and rip off the Enron stockholders. It should also be noted that Gramm’s wife, Wendy, sat on the Enron Board of Directors.
Just before departing office, Clinton managed to make a deal with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have some twenty nations close tax havens used by al-Qaeda. His term ended before the deal was sealed, and the incoming Bush administration acted immediately to destroy the agreement.
According to Time magazine, in an article entitled “Banking on Secrecy” published in October of 2001, Bush economic advisors Larry Lindsey and R. Glenn Hubbard were urged by think tanks like the Center for Freedom and Prosperity to opt out of the coalition Clinton had formed. The conservative Heritage Foundation lobbied Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, to do the same.
In the end, the lobbyists got what they wanted, and the Bush administration pulled out of the plan. The Time article stated, “Without the world's financial superpower, the biggest effort in years to rid the world’s financial system of dirty money was short-circuited.”
A mission statement from the internal FBI Strategic Plan, dated 5/8/98, describes the FBI’s Tier One priority as ‘counterterrorism.’ The FBI, under the Clinton administration, was making counterterrorism its highest priority. The official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General Janet Reno to department heads, dated 4/6/2000, detailed how counterterrorism was her top priority for the Department of Justice. In the second paragraph, she states, “In the near term as well as the future, cybercrime and counterterrorism are going to be the most challenging threats in the criminal justice area. Nowhere is the need for an up-to-date human and technical infrastructure more critical.”
Contrast this with the official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft, dated 5/10/2001. Out of seven strategic goals described, not one mentions counterterrorism. An internal draft of the Department of Justice’s plans to revamp the official DoJ Strategic Plan, dated 8/9/2001, describes Ashcroft’s new priorities. The areas Ashcroft wished to focus on were highlighted in yellow. Specifically highlighted by Ashcroft were domestic violent crime and drug trafficking prevention. Item 1.3, entitled “Combat terrorist activities by developing maximum intelligence and investigative capability,” was not highlighted.
There is the internal FBI budget request for 2003 to the Department of Justice, dated late August 2001. This was not the FBI's total budget request, but was instead restricted only to the areas where the FBI specifically requested increases over the previous year’s budget. In this request, the FBI specifically asked for, among other things, 54 translators to transcribe the backlog of intelligence gathered, 248 counterterrorism agents and support staff, and 200 professional intelligence researchers. The FBI had repeatedly stated that it had a serious backlog of intelligence data it has gathered, but could not process the data because it did not have the staff to analyze or translate it into usable information. Again, this was August 2001.
The official Department of Justice budget request from Attorney General Ashcroft to OMB Director Mitch Daniels is dated September 10, 2001. This document specifically highlights only the programs slated for above-baseline increases or below-baseline cuts. Ashcroft outlined the programs he was trying to cut. Specifically, Ashcroft was planning to ignore the FBI's specific requests for more translators, counterintelligence agents and researchers. It additionally shows Ashcroft was trying to cut funding for counterterrorism efforts, grants and other homeland defense programs before the 9/11 attacks.