Bush the Great Protector

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, September 11, 2008; 12:24 PM

President Bush would like you to believe that he deserves the credit for there not having been a second domestic terrorist attack on his watch.

Case in point: A White House " fact sheet" released to the press yesterday, proudly proclaiming: "President Bush Has Kept Our Nation Safe In The Seven Years Following 9/11."

Leaving aside the issue of whether he could have prevented the first one, Bush has yet to provide one bit of evidence that any of the actions he ordered -- not to mention the most controversial ones, such as torturing terror suspects and eavesdropping on Americans without a warrant -- prevented another.

Jon Ward writes in the Washington Times: "Though he is beset by record-low approval ratings and criticism from every side that has not abated for years, the president and his supporters take pride in the fact there has not been another attack like the one seven years ago that killed nearly 3,000 people.

"Joe Hagin, one of the president's closest aides until he resigned in July, said that in the days after 9/11 the senior staff felt another attack on their watch was inevitable.

"'People should feel a great sense of pride that here we are all these years later and here's not been another attack,' Mr. Hagin said.

"Pete Wehner, a former deputy in Mr. Bush's political office, said the mood among current and former White House officials on Thursday will be one of 'sober satisfaction.'"

At this morning's dedication of a memorial at the Pentagon honoring those who died there, Bush said that history will look back at America's response to September 11 and conclude that "we did not tire, we did not falter and we did not fail."

Yes, there hasn't been a second domestic attack -- unless of course you count the anthrax letters -- but where's the proof that Bush had anything to do with it?

That White House " fact sheet" includes a list of "our counterterrorism victories" -- but as it happens only two of them are domestic: An alleged plot to blow up fuel tanks at JFK airport, and an alleged plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix Army Base in New Jersey. But both were at best minor plots. Their alleged perpetrators were initially identified due to traditional police work. And defense attorneys in both cases say the men were goaded along by government informants.

As I wrote in my March 7 column, Bush has often said that the government had prevented "numerous" attacks. In the past, he most often cited what are known as the Library Tower plot and the trans-Atlantic airplane plot.

But it's not clear that the alleged plot to fly an airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast -- broken up by Asian authorities -- was ever more than just talk. And the British investigators responsible for discovering the alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 U.S.-bound passenger jets with liquid explosives were unable this week to persuade a jury that the suspects actually intended to target airplanes at all. Here's more on the various other plots Bush has cited over the years.

Security Watch

Bryan Bender writes in the Boston Globe: "Some key measures experts have called for to thwart nuclear and biological terrorism have floundered since Sept. 11, 2001, increasing the risk that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups will use a weapon of mass destruction and inflict far more civilian casualties, a government task force was warned yesterday.

"Just five blocks from the site of the 2001 attacks, a congressionally-appointed Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism panel heard sobering testimony from law enforcement officials and national security specialists who believe the country is now more vulnerable to a catastrophic terrorist attack than it was seven years ago - in part because the government has dragged its feet in defending against the threat. . . .

"'The situation is worse than it was seven years ago,' said former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, chairman of the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative.

"Nunn and others cited a confluence of factors - including the growing number of nations seeking nuclear weapons, the spread of sophisticated technologies, complacency among government officials and the public, and growing anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world - with fueling the efforts of violent extremists."

Endless War?

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes that Bush's effort to "solidify the legal justification for some of his administration's most questionable policies . . . brings up a question that's been plaguing us since 9/11: Should we consider our conflict with terrorists a war or a police action? Certainly it doesn't fit the usual definition of a war.... Preventing another attack on the homeland isn't a war, it's a security challenge. . . .

"The consequences of our war footing are not only restrictions on our freedom and privacy that would never be tolerated under ordinary circumstances, but the expenditure of billions of dollars on measures that may not be justified. . . .

"Bush argues that the measures he has put in place are the reason the United States hasn't suffered a major terrorist attack on its soil since 9/11. Maybe that's true. Or maybe the threat just wasn't as great as the administration has made it out to be. We don't have the answer to that question, but perhaps, seven years after the attacks, emotions have cooled to the point where we can at least debate it more seriously."

Where's Bin Laden?

Right-wing talk radio host Michael Smerconish writes for Salon: "Where the hell are Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? And why does virtually no one ask anymore? What's changed since the days when any suburban soccer mom would have strangled either of them with her bare hands if given the chance? And what happened to President Bush's declaration to a joint session of Congress nine days after 9/11 that 'any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.' Doesn't that apply to Pakistan? . . .

"We're at the seven-year anniversary of 9/11, lacking not only closure with regard to the two top al-Qaida leaders but also public discourse about any plan to bring them to justice. To me, that suggests a continuation of what I perceive to be the Bush administration's outsourcing of this responsibility at great cost to a government with limited motivation to get the job done. . . .

"The Bush administration's failure to orchestrate a successful counterterrorism plan -- one topped off with justice for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri -- has left me embarrassed of my party and angry. The oft-repeated explanations of the search being nuanced or covering difficult terrain should have worn thin long ago."

Liberal blogger Brad DeLong writes: "If somebody had told me on September 11, 2001 that seven years later Osama bin Laden would still be alive, and that the principal accomplishment of the U.S. military over the past seven years had been to install some theocratic Iranian allies in power in Baghdad, and had done so at the cost of 4,500 American and between a quarter of a million and a million Iraqi lives, I would have simply refused to believe them.

"I would have said: 'No. I have a very low opinion of George W. Bush. But even my opinion of him is not that low.'"

My column yesterday was about the growing signs that Bush is pulling out all the stops to capture or kill bin Laden before his term is up -- or better yet, before the November election.

AFP reports: "The White House on Wednesday denied that the looming November US election had any impact on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and said US President George W. Bush -- or a successor -- will succeed.

"'That fight and that hunt will continue to go on until he is brought to justice,' spokeswoman Dana Perino said as the United States prepared to mark seven years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"'This president, and I'm sure future presidents, will continue to try to track down al-Qaeda leaders. We will continue to try to find Osama bin Laden,' she told reporters."

And Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "The White House said Wednesday that the failure to capture Osama bin Laden in the seven years since the Sept. 11 attacks shows the limitations of military and intelligence power.

"'This is not the movies. We don't have super powers,' said White House press secretary Dana Perino. 'But what we do have is very dedicated people who are working with our allies and trying to bring (al-Qaida leaders) to justice.'"

Jonathan S. Landay and Saeed Shah write for McClatchy Newspapers: "Seven years after 9/11, al Qaida and its allies are gaining ground across the region where the plot was hatched, staging their most lethal attacks yet against NATO forces and posing a growing threat to the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan.

"While there have been no new strikes on the U.S. homeland, the Islamic insurrection inspired by Osama bin Laden has claimed thousands of casualties and displaced tens of thousands of people and shows no sign of slackening in the face of history's most powerful military alliance.

"The insurgency now stretches from Afghanistan's border with Iran through the southern half of the country. The Taliban now are able to interdict three of the four major highways that connect Kabul, the capital, to the rest of the country. . . .

"Experts inside and outside the U.S. government agreed that a key reason for the resurgence is a growing popular sympathy for the militants because an over-reliance on the use of force, especially airpower, by NATO has killed hundreds of civilians."

Pakistan Watch

Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti write in the New York Times: "President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

"The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants' increasingly secure base in Pakistan's tribal areas.

"American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission. . . .

"It is unclear precisely what legal authorities the United States has invoked to conduct even limited ground raids in a friendly country. A second senior American official said that the Pakistani government had privately assented to the general concept of limited ground assaults by Special Operations forces against significant militant targets, but that it did not approve each mission."

Schmitt and Mazzetti write that Pakistani officials say that last week's U.S. Special Operations raid in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border "achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.

"'Unilateral action by the American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages public opinion,' said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, during a speech on Friday. 'In this particular incident, nothing was gained by the action of the troops.'"

Jane Perlez writes in the New York Times that "the chief of the Pakistani Army said Wednesday that his forces would not tolerate such incursions and would defend the country's sovereignty 'at all costs.' . . .

"Describing the anger in the Pakistani Army over the American raid, a senior Pakistani official with responsibility for national security said in an interview on Wednesday that the raid was particularly 'stupid' because it lacked a serious target.

"Four 'foot soldiers' in the nexus of Taliban and Qaeda forces and an estimated 16 civilians, including women and children were killed, said the official, who declined to be named because of the delicate relationship between Pakistan and the United States."

At a September 2006 press conference, Bush explicitly ruled out the idea of sending special forces to Pakistan because "Pakistan is a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we've got to be invited by the government of Pakistan."

Afghanistan Watch

Ann Scott Tyson writes in The Washington Post that Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "issued a blunt assessment yesterday of the war in Afghanistan and called for an overhaul in U.S. strategy there, warning that thousands more U.S. troops as well as greater U.S. military involvement across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas are needed to battle an intensifying insurgency. . . .

"He said the new influx of U.S. forces into Afghanistan that Bush announced Tuesday -- an Army brigade and Marine battalion with a total of about 4,500 troops -- does not meet the demands of commanders there, but is 'a good start.'"

Iraq Watch

Andrew Gray writes for Reuters: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday the war in Iraq had entered its 'endgame' and urged the next U.S. president to continue a cautious approach to troop cuts. . . .

"'I have cautioned that no matter what you think about the origins of the war in Iraq, we must get the endgame there right. I believe we have now entered that endgame,' he said.

"Gates said a spiral of violence had been reversed and Iraq had made progress toward political stability over the past year and a half but the situation remained fragile and commanders were not yet sure security gains would endure."

Here's what Bush had to say in a photo op with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani yesterday: "[A]ttitudes are completely different now that people realize the security situation has changed and mothers can raise their children in a more normal life. It's still difficult, but there's no doubt that the surge has been effective, which has enabled us to take out troops. Iraqis want there to be fewer U.S. troops, the United States wants there to be fewer U.S. troops, but both of us want to realize that vision based upon success."

India Nuke Watch

Viola Gienger and Laura Litvan write for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush asked the U.S. Congress to approve the nuclear energy agreement with India, saying the accord meets the terms lawmakers set almost two years ago and poses no risk to security.

"'The proposed agreement provides a comprehensive framework for U.S. peaceful nuclear cooperation with India,' Bush said in a statement issued late yesterday. The accord 'will promote, and will not constitute an unreasonable risk to, the common defense and security.'

"The Bush administration is racing to win ratification of the agreement before Congress adjourns on Sept. 26."

The New York Times editorial board wrote on Tuesday: "President Bush has failed to achieve so many of his foreign policy goals, but last weekend he proved that he can still get what he really wants. The administration bullied and wheedled international approval of the president's ill-conceived nuclear deal with India.

"The decision by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (which sets rules for nuclear trade) means that for the first time in more than 30 years - since New Delhi used its civilian nuclear program to produce a bomb - the world can sell nuclear fuel and technology to India. . . .

"The White House will now try to wheedle and bully Congress to quickly sign off on the deal. Congress should resist that pressure.

"The nuclear agreement was a bad idea from the start. Mr. Bush and his team were so eager for a foreign policy success that they gave away the store. They extracted no promise from India to stop producing bomb-making material. No promise not to expand its arsenal. And no promise not to resume nuclear testing."

Federal Government at Work

Charlie Savage writes in the New York Times: "As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal -- including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.

"In three reports delivered to Congress on Wednesday, the department's inspector general, Earl E. Devaney, found wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the Minerals Management Service, which collects about $10 billion in royalties annually and is one of the government's largest sources of revenue other than taxes.

"'A culture of ethical failure' pervades the agency, Mr. Devaney wrote in a cover memo.

"The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration's watch."

Woodward Watch

Josiah Bunting III reviews Bob Woodward's new Bush book for The Washington Post, calling it mainly "a study of what happens when men and women, charged with leading the country in wartime or with counseling those who lead, do not tell each other what they really think. White House advisers are faithless to their responsibilities if they withhold their conclusions and convictions from those they serve, or from their colleagues. It is a toxicity that, by Woodward's account, infected the whole grim process. . . .

"More egregious was the modus operandi of Stephen J. Hadley, the White House national security adviser in Bush's second term. 'Hadley didn't believe the NSC should be an arena for contentious and divisive debate,' Woodward writes. 'He believed his task was to ascertain Bush's wishes, and then bring the secretary of state, secretary of defense, the chief of intelligence and others into line.' . . . And Woodward quotes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as saying in an interview that summer [of 2006], 'I don't think you'll find that there is a lot of disagreement about the strategy. I think you'll find that most people think we're on the only reasonable course.' Woodward notes that Rice and her staff kept up 'the appearance that widespread agreement existed on the current strategy,' even though, as she acknowledged two years later, 'it was pretty clear' that the strategy was 'not going to succeed.'"

But Bunting notes that Woodward "rarely mentions the heavy costs of misjudgment: Two continents away, 19-year-old Americans were dying while grand strategy was being debated around conference tables in air-conditioned rooms in Washington."

Craig Seligman reviews the book for Bloomberg: "George W. Bush strides through 'The War Within,' the fourth volume of Bob Woodward's Bush administration chronicles, radiating certainty, strength and presidentialness. It must have been a challenge for him to walk so confidently with Woodward's lips attached to his backside.

"At the end, Woodward does append a disapproving assessment of the president ('blind faith in his instincts' . . . 'impulsiveness and carelessness' . . . 'rarely was the voice of realism'). It seems intended to counter the 400-plus pages of slavering that have gone before. . . .

"Who talked and who wouldn't: That's the underlying story. Beneath the myriad accounts of endless policy meetings that produced long lists of recommendations for the president to ignore, Woodward's real theme is his own excellent access. He's so dazzled with his passport to the corridors of power that he fails to register the depth of the idiocy that goes on in them. . . .

"Much like the Bush administration, 'The War Within' founders on the absence of dissenting views. Without a little perspective, the modest but real gains the surge achieved are inflated into the climax of a triumphal narrative in which, through the grit and faith of a strong, stubborn president, near-defeat was transformed into victory."

Impeachment (Non) Watch

Levi Pulkkinen writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott wants to see George Bush impeached, whether or not, he says, Bush is still in office.

"The long-serving Democrat and outspoken advocate for liberal causes made his displeasure with the president official Tuesday, joining a call from Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, to launch impeachment proceedings against Bush. . . .

"'It's increasingly clear to me that we were led into a war without any justification whatsoever,' McDermott said in an interview Wednesday. 'And the president deliberately did this. It wasn't an accident of any kind.'"

McDermott cited several new books in prompting his decision, among them "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" by former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.

Pulkinnen writes: "In Seattle on Wednesday . . . , Bugliosi said he's pleased that McDermott is calling for impeachment. But, in his view, congressional action doesn't go far enough.

"Bugliosi said state officials should prosecute Bush for murder in the deaths of American soldiers fighting in Iraq. 'Impeachment alone would be a joke for anyone interested in justice,' he said

"McDermott said it's highly unlikely impeachment proceedings will move forward prior to the November elections. At the moment, he said, Congress is focused on the presidential race and their own contests.

"But, McDermott argued, impeachment proceedings could be levied even after Bush left office.

"Doing so would be a first in American history, and would be limited by the Constitution to preventing Bush from holding 'any office of honor' in the country. But McDermott asserted such action is necessary to re-establish that even presidents are subject to the law."

Cartoon Watch

Mike Luckovich and Ed Stein on Bush's biggest fan, Pat Bagley on Bush's failure, Joel Pett on McCain's seven-year itch, John Sherffius on the pig under the lipstick, and Clay Bennett on Karl Rove's return.

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