As President George W. Bush is running for re-election primarily based on his track record as “war president” and his fight against terrorism, it was not just National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s credibility that was at stake on the witness stand in front of the 9/11 Commission on Thursday — it was his entire re-election campaign.
It is hard to look at the evidence and proclaim with a straight face that Bush did a great job as president. Several million jobs lost, the biggest budget deficit in United States’ history and two wars, followed by two invasions of countries we are likely to be involved in for years are hardly things to be proud of, let alone run on for re-election.
So the easiest, most tear-jerking way to run for re-election was to saturate the airwaves with as many high-ranking Bush-friendly “experts” and proclaim “vote for us because ‘United We Stand,’ 9/11, we helped the economy, 9/11, we kinda created jobs, 9/11 — and did we mention 9/11?”
This does not seem to be such a good idea in retrospect, as the investigation by the 9/11 Commission indicates the Bush administration dropped the ball on fighting terrorism and then took a turn for the worse by invading Iraq, a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the often-touted war on terror.
Rice, as well as other members of the Bush administration, has been stonewalling the investigation and constantly contradicting itself as much as it can without it appearing too obvious to the average Joe.
Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, probably the only man that has appeared on more television news programs than Rice, has been criticizing the administration for dragging its feet when he warned them of an imminent al-Qaida attack.
For the last two weeks the Bush administration has been trying to discredit Clarke in order to shut him up. Now, after Rice was forced to appear in a public hearing in front of the Commission, she said in her opening statement that she “knew (Clarke) to be an expert in his field, as well as an experienced crisis manager.”
This is exactly the opposite of what was said about him only a few days ago.
Vice President Dick Cheney even said Clarke was “out of the loop” and had no idea what he was talking about, but now the Bush administration claims keeping him on staff as one of its astute decisions in its fight against terrorism.
You can almost hear tap-dancing while the entire administration backtracks to issue new statements that contradict ones given mere days ago.
One of the oft-repeated statements given by Rice during her testimony is that Bush was “tired of swatting flies” and wanted to move against al-Qaida in one big swoop rather than many small ones. This statement has been used as an excuse but also gives an interesting insight into the administration’s thinking on the terrorist threat. Apparently the threat was not taken too seriously; why else would Bush refer to the people that weeks later would kill 3,000 Americans as flies? Flies, while annoying, do not pose much of a threat.
But Rice is standing by her stance (at least for now) that the administration did everything it could. In her testimony she said the warnings had not been specific. “They don’t tell us when,” she said. “They don’t tell us where, they don’t tell us who, and they don’t tell us how.”
Enter the memo of Aug. 6, 2001. Declassified only after the Commission pressed on for months, the communiquÃ©, sent directly to President George W. Bush, bears the ominous title “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” and warns of an al-Qaida member currently in the United States. It also says the FBI “indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” It should have raised all sorts of alarms, but there are no clear indications it actually did.
Yet, the administration is running its campaign on its effectiveness against terrorism. Any other campaign would probably crumble, but if the past has shown one thing, Bush and his resilient strategists will not to be stopped by something as insignificant as the truth and will put their spin on events without ever admitting they were at fault.
Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring in environmental science and an Oracle opinion editor.