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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Challenging the ‘Bush Kept Us Safe’ Meme

It’s reflection time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. When the inhabitants of the white house and their minions are not milking their fading authority to smash and grab as much as they can, they are busy spinning history to describe their positive accomplishments. All they have is the fact that we have not had a major terrorist incident “on U.S. soil” since 9-11. For this, they figure, Americans should be expansively grateful to the lamest duck.
And a very weak hand it is. It’s sort of a perverse variation on “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Other than 9-11, we have been pretty safe during the Bush years, huh?
Challenging the “Bush made us safe” meme is not merely a matter of partisan squabbling. The meme is intended as cover for an astoundingly broad range of failed policies, arguably the worst of any presidency. If the GOP revisionists have their way, it would become the common wisdom that justifies a mind-boggling array of bad decisions, encompassing letting the neo-cons define our mid-east policy, trashing our cred abroad, drowning the federal budget in red ink, the disastrous deregulating of the financial sector, etc. etc. ad nauseum.
The meme collapses quickly when we ask how safe we are when the head perp is still not apprehended, and that fact alone has encouraged wanna-be terrorist groups. America has never had so many enemies willing to do us harm, thanks to the Bush Administration. And the “on U.S. soil” qualification evades the troublesome facts that thousands of Americans have been killed in Iraq and American civilians have rarely been in more danger abroad.
Digby has a good response to Peggy Noonan’s parroting of the GOP meme “At least Bush Kept us Safe.”

Can someone explain to me how it is that Peggy Noonan can claim that Bush kept us safe? Didn’t we have the worst terrorist attack in US history while he was president? Didn’t his team brush off warnings ahead of time and didn’t the president himself tell tell the CIA briefer on August 6th, 2001 that he had “covered his ass” by telling him that Bin laden was planning to attack inside the United States? Why should he get credit for “keeping us safe.” (I won’t even go into Katrina or the financial meltdown as measures of how well he did at other measures of security.)
Noonan and her friends are searching madly for some kind of bright spot in Bush’s otherwise epically failed administration. This is the best they can come up with. But while the government certainly did tighten security after 9/11 — as any president would have done, by the way — his foreign policy and military exacerbated the threat many times over.

And, as Blue Texan asks at Firedoglake,

But anyway, why does Bush get a total freaking pass on the first worst attack in US history that killed 3,000 people on his watch, especially since the 9/11 Commission concluded that 6 of the 10 major missed opportunities to prevent 9/11 occurred under Mr. Kept Us Safe’s watch?…We’re just supposed to give him a mulligan on that?

David Neiwert, also reacting to Noonan’s screed, has a post at Crooks and Liars on the topic of pre-9-11 negligence on the part of the Bush Administration. Says Neiwert:

What was never excusable was that Bush and Co. were asleep at the wheel on 9/11 regarding their duty to “keep us safe” — and no amount of historical revisionism by wistful dolphin ladies will erase that fact…In other words, Bush botched the job of keeping us safe, both during his tenure and for the foreseeable future.

Safe indeed. As Mark Mazetti wrote about the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate in his New York Times article (flagged by Neiwert) “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,”

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe…. An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology…The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

The Obama and subsequent administrations will be dealing with the fallout from Bush’s Iraq war for many years to come. Digby also writes about how U.S. torture policies helped to multiply the number of terrorists willing to do harm to the U.S. and our soldiers.
Noonan says Dems are afraid that two words will be added to the “President Bush Kept Us Safe” meme: “unlike Obama.” The GOP would have us blame Bush’s predecessor, President Clinton for setting the stage that lead to 9-11 (there was one foreign terrorist attack ‘on U.S. soil’ during the Clinton administration, also on the World Trade Center — see correction in comments). But should a terrorist attack happen during the Obama Administration, they will attribute none of the blame to the Bush gang. “It’s your fault when it happened on our watch, and it will be your fault when it happens on your watch.” But they can’t make a convincing argument that President Clinton encouraged terrorism, “unlike Bush.”
There is a tendency to let bygones be bygones when government changes hands, and to try and say something nice about the old regime. But I would urge Dems everywhere to not let the “Bush kept us safe” meme pass unchallenged, even in a casual conversation. Unchallenged bullshit has a way of snowballing, which is how we got stuck in the Iraq quagmire, as well as the economic meltdown — at a cost of trillions of taxpayer dollars.

3 comments on “Challenging the ‘Bush Kept Us Safe’ Meme

  1. Richard on

    He did not keep us safe as evidenced on Sept, 11. But after that he did not have too.
    Soon after Bush assumed the presidency he began to show what he was made of. That was particularly true when he was viewed by those of other cultures and places. He seemed small and ineffective during the Hainan crisis and childishly rash in his withdrawal from SALT and Kyoto. It is quite lily that Osamma bin laden took note of this and decided now was the time to attack. Bush must have been a Godsend to him. So 911. After that why attack again? Bush foolishly diverted the US from it’s real mission in Afghanistan and headed for Iraq. Imagine if FDR had removed MacArthur from the Pacific 6 months after Pearl Harbor to attack Brazil. The Japanese would have been ecstatic. Bush then went on to squander the thing OBL must have feared: international sympathy. That sympathy was the fertilizer the US needed to grow it’s war on terror and Bush canned it. OBL sat back with a cup of green tea to watch American’s pour French wine in the streets, call the German’s cowards and so forth. I am sure OBL expected a few ripples after 9/11 but I don’t think he ever dreamed of the tsunami Bush made of it. Bush went on to wreck America’s international prestige. Obliterate or moral authority and send thousands of young American’s to their deaths and followed all that with the destruction of our economy.
    Ossama bin Laden did not need to attack the USA again, Bush was doing that for him. Bush did not protect us from OBL, he stepped in for him.


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