How is it that the party that credits Reagan for getting the hostages in Iran released because it occurred “on the same day and at the same hour” that he was sworn in can also blame Clinton for 9/11 because they allege that he was guilty of “backing off, letting the Taliban go, over and over again.” While Ben Carson may think that “it’s ridiculous to suggest [Bush] was responsible for” the allowing the events of that day to have occurred, the fact is that W had been in office for almost eight months. This passage of time negates Condoleezza Rice’s excuses that they “were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaida” and “what we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton Administration did in the preceding years.” As the threat against the country built during the month of August 2001, the Bush Administration was not scrambling to rework the anti-terrorism apparatus. Instead the President “was on vacation” in Texas and the CIA Director George Tenet was put “on leave” Jeb’s assertion that his brother “kept us safe” is the equivalent of maintaining that Ted Kennedy had an excellent driving record if you ignore that one night in Chappaquiddick.
While Trump’s talking points are not always grounded in reality, his observations on 9/11 and the second Bush presidency are dead on. While the anchor who interviewed him may have been surprised that he would “blame George Bush for that,” it can not be denied that, in Trump’s words, “he was president, OK?...Blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.” Trump may have been able build up his base through his involvement in the Birther movement, questioning Obama’s place of birth, without “concern” from the Republican establishment, but his statements about Bush were a bridge too far. Former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that when “Trump implies that since 9/11 took place on Bush’s watch he is partially responsible for it, he’s starting to sound like a truther,” ignoring the fact that the leading Republican candidate is not accusing Bush of piloting the hijacked planes. He is simply stating that Bush’s administration did not prevent Bin Laden from achieving his goals. To use Fleischer’s example, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but since it “happened on FDR’s watch,” FDR is responsible.” When it comes to the Oval Office, the sign Truman’s desk should always prevail: “The Buck Stops Here.”
It is interesting that Fleischer cannot concede that his former boss could even be “partially” responsible for allowing 9/11 to occur. It is true that presidents do not rule in a vacuum and that the sins of their predecessors can come back to haunt them. In fact, the 9/11 commission said that both Clinton and Bush “missed chances in terrorism fight,” but these are just contributing factors that cannot excuse the fact that “Bush administration officials spent months considering a new strategy toward al Qaeda” but did not execute a comprehensive new policy that would have stopped the attack. Maybe it was nothing more than pure luck, but the warnings of an impending attack did not come during Clinton’s time in office. He may have also failed at protecting the county, but history did not provide him with this test. Bush, however, clearly failed the test that he was given and to deny this fact is an attempt to rewrite history.