Watch this space for daily posts from the DNC in Boston.
The final report of the 9/11 commission confirms many of the panel’s preliminary findings that have–or should have–embarrassed the Bush administration. The commission does note, “Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned.” And it is true that the report does point to screw-ups and negligent policymaking committed during both the Bush II and Clinton administrations. But George W. Bush is the incumbent president who has to face the voters in November. Although Republicans in recent days have been highlighting the mistakes of the Clinton years, it is not inappropriate for voters to focus on what report tells us about Bush and his administration. As a public service, here is a look at several of those critical portions.
* Bush’s initial reaction. Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 has made famous–or infamous–the scene when Bush, after having been told that a second airliner had hit the World Trace Center, sits for seven minutes in a Florida classroom, as the kids read a book. The 9/11 report says,
The President was seated in a classroom when, at 9:05, Andrew Card whispered to him: “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.” The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The press was standing behind the children; he saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.
In the Moore film, Bush hardly looks as if he is projecting “calm.” To me–and, of course, this is a highly subjective view–he has a what-the-hell-should-I-do expression on his face. But Bush backers and detractors are likely to see what they want to in that seven-minute performance. Bush’s reaction, though, cannot be judged on the basis of what is now known about the 9/11 attacks. Consider this: when Bush was told about the second plane, it was obvious that the United States was under attack. Today we know that attack involved four planes. But at the moment that Card whispered into his ear, Bush (and everyone else) had no idea about the full extent of the assault. There could have been twenty airliners hijacked. There could have been WMD attacks coming. Perhaps minutes mattered. So how was it a projection of strength and calm for Bush to remain in a classroom–doing nothing–when who-knew-what was happening? He could have easily excused himself, especially as pagers and cell phones were sounding. His explanation rings hollow.
* Terrorism as a priority for the Bush administration. Former counterterrorism Richard Clarke triggered a fierce, partisan debate earlier this year when he wrote in a book that the Bush administration pre-9/11 did not take the threat of al Qaeda seriously enough. The Bush administration challenged Clarke’s account and attacked him vigorously. The 9/11 commission’s report does suggest the terrorism was not an A-list topic for the Bush White House: