September 11, 2015, marked the 14th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on United States soil.
Inevitably, this was a time to remember those 3,000 Americans whose lives were so cruelly snuffed out.
But it also marked a time to remember those who made this atrocity inevitable–by refusing to acknowledge and address the impending threat from Al-Qaeda.
For Republicans, it’s taboo to hold President George W. Bush accountable for this atrocity. That’s why Donald Trump’s daring to note that it happened on Bush’s watch was greeted with a Right-wing outcry.
And Democrats have been too cowardly to state this truth–a major reason for their losing the 2004 Presidential election.
But British historian Nigel Hamilton has chronicled the arrogance and indifference of those officials in his 2010 biography: American Caesars: Lives of the Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush.
Hamilton noted that during the first eight months of the Bush Presidency, Richard Clarke, the national security advisor on terrorism, was forbidden to brief President Bush, despite the mounting evidence that al-Qaeda was planning to strike.
Even more vexing for Clarke: During his first eight months as President before September 11, Bush was on vacation 42% of the time, according to the Washington Post.
Clarke was certain that Osama bin Laden had arranged the USS Cole bombing in Aden on October 12, 2000.
For months, Clarke tried to convince others in the Bush Administration that Bin Laden was plotting another attack against the United States–either abroad or at home.
But Clarke could not prevail against the know-it-all arrogance of such higher-ranking Bush officials as Vice President Dick Cheney; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.
Rice initially refused to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject. Then she insisted the matter be handled only by a more junior Deputy Principals meeting in April, 2001, writes Hamilton.
Wolfowitz, the number-two man at the Department of Defense, said: “I don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.”
Even after Clarke outlined the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz–whose real target was Saddam Hussein–said: “You give bin Laden too much credit.”
Wolfowitz insisted that bin Laden couldn’t carry out his terrorist acts without the aid of a state sponsor–namely, Iraq.
Wolfowitz, in fact, blamed Iraq for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Clarke was stunned, since there was absolutely no evidence of Iraqi involvement in this.
“Al-Qaeda plans major acts of terrorism against the United States,” Clarke warned his colleagues. He pointed out that, like Adolf Hitler, bin Laden had actually published his plans for future destruction.
Osama bin Laden
And he added: “Sometimes, as with Hitler in Mein Kampf, you have to believe that these people will actually do what they say they will do.”
Wolfowitz heatedly traded on his Jewish heritage to bring Clarke’s unwelcome arguments to a halt: “I resent any comparison between the Holocaust and this little terrorist in Afghanistan.”
Writing in outraged fury, Hamilton sums up Clarke’s agonizing frustrations:
- Bush’s senior advisors treated their colleagues who had served in the Clinton administration with contempt.
- President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz seemed content to ignore the danger signals of an impending al-Qaeda attack.
- This left only Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Richard Clarke and a skeptical Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, to wage “a lonely battle to waken a seemingly deranged new administration.”
Clarke alerted Federal Intelligence agencies that “Al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us.” He asked the FBI and CIA to report to his office all they could learn about suspicious persons or activities at home and abroad.
Finally, at a meeting with Condoleeza Rice on September 4, 2001, Clarke challenged her to “picture yourself at a moment when in the very near future Al-Qaeda has killed hundreds of Americans, and imagine asking yourself what you wish then that you had already done.”
Apparently Rice couldn’t imagine such a scenario, because she took no action to prevent it. Nor did she urge anyone else to do so.
Seven days later, Al-Qaeda struck, and 3,000 Americans died horrifically–and needlessly.
Neither Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld nor Wolowitz ever admitted their negligence. Nor would any of them be brought to account.
Disgustingly, these were the same officials who, afterward, posed as the Nation’s saviors–and branded anyone who disagreed with them as a traitor, practices the Right continues to exploit to this day.
Only Richard Clarke–who had vainly argued for stepped-up security precautions and taking the fight to Al-Qaeda–gave that apology.
On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. Addressing relatives of victims in the audience, he said: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.”
It’s an admission that no other Republican has been willing to make.
And it remains an indictment that no Democrat has the courage to assert.