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In November 2002, President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell applaud at the North Atlantic Council Summit in Prague. Between them is National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, to their right, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

As Long as We're Talking about Bush, Iraq, and the Patriot Act...

And let’s set the record straight on 911, too

John Atcheson

Republican Candidates have been tripping over their own tongues when it comes to Iraq.  Rubio and Jeb Bush have been blithering idiots when asked if they would have invaded Iraq knowing what we know now.

For the most part, the press is continuing to pretend Bush and the US were misled by “bad intelligence,” and their questioning maintains the fabrication that the best intelligence we had at the time supported Bush’s rush to war. 

Thankfully, on Monday, Paul Krugman uncorked the “L” word and called the necons in the Bush administration what they were – liars, deceivers and manufacturers of pretext.  As Krugman notes, Iraq was no innocent mistake. 

But we knew this already.  The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Phase II Report concluded – in 2008 – that the Bush Administration “… repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

The fact is, anyone reading the Knight Ridder coverage of Bush’s pre-Iraq propaganda knew as much as early as 2002. Curveball, mushroom clouds, yellow cake from Niger, anodized aluminum tubes as centrifuges for uranium enrichment – all were debunked or questioned by our own intelligence, as well as German, Italian, and British Intelligence long before the Iraq invasion. The Bush Administration ignored these warnings while concocting lies, spins, and distortions. 

911 and the Patriot Act – More Lies?

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are hell bent on re-authorizing the Patriot Act, and they have used 911 as a justification.  According to Republicans, 911 could have been prevented if the Patriot Act had been in place. 

Well, the best available evidence suggests 911 was very likely preventable without warrantless wiretapping or widespread use of illegal government eavesdropping on US citizens.

Here are the facts.

In the critical period leading up to 911, the Bush Administration ignored multiple warnings from the CIA and others about the threat from al Qeada, including specific, actionable intelligence just one month before terrorists struck the World Trade Center.  As David Susskind reported, panicked CIA analysts, concerned that the Administration wasn’t taking intelligence seriously enough, flew to Texas to intrude on Bush’s vacation and brief him personally on an August 6th intelligence memo titled, “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.”

Bush’s response?  “All right, you've covered your ass, now...” and he set them packing and continued with his vacation.

The fact is, from the beginning, the Bush Administration underestimated the threat from terrorism, and once 911 happened they took actions that dramatically increased the number of terrorist attacks globally.

As Bush took office, al Qaeda was a small band of fanatics with limited support in the Muslim world, but they were recognized as the number one security issue in US policy.

As for Iraq, the strategy of deterrence and containment -- which began under Bush's father and continued under Clinton – had effectively kept Iraq from becoming a threat. (As the Duefler Report, the 911 Commission, and the Senate Intelligence committee noted).

But the Bush administration -- whose early foreign policy seems to have been based on doing the opposite of anything Clinton did -- shifted priorities and funding away from terrorism: DOD focused on rogue nations, not stateless terrorists; Justice revamped the budget to increase spending on crime at the expense of anti-terrorist activities. Indeed, within a day of 911, Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to give a speech outlining the administration's foreign policy, and terrorism was scarcely mentioned in the text.

It’s clear that if the Bush Administration had been at all vigilant, there was sufficient intelligence without Patriot Act provisions to anticipate an attack.  Could a full scale effort to intercede have prevented 911?  We’ll never know.  What we do know is that the Bush Administration’s cavalier attitude, guaranteed the success of 911.

The fact that Americans aren’t aware of just how badly the Bush Administration botched the pre-911 intelligence -- or how his counterproductive response expanded the problem across the globe -- is a reflection of Democratic cowardice and the desire of the press to ignore what has to be one of the most ignominious failures in their history.

So as we debate the Patriot Act, let’s be clear about a few things.  

First, a rational foreign policy that doesn’t: 1) strengthen terrorism by grossly overinflating the threat it poses; and 2) doesn’t rely on invading and occupying  Islamic countries can go a long way to reducing and diminishing that threat.  Second, most of our success in preventing terrorist attacks has come from more traditional police work and intelligence gathering.

Bottom line: Trading in our civil liberties for security is one of the most un-American things we can do – it is not only cowardly, it is very likely unnecessary. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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