The September 10th President
September 9, 2006
September 10, 2001 was the 213th day of a presidency focused on tax cuts and Iraq. President Bush had yet to even speak of al-Qaida or Osama bin Laden and was “paying no attention” to terrorism, according to former aide Paul Bremmer. Sadly little has changed as we approach the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, as this tragedy has not been used as a call to action to secure the nation from future attacks but rather as a political tool to implement the Bush administration’s September 10 agenda.
With this anniversary coming on the heels of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it is striking how President Bush’s response to the horror and barbarity of Sept. 11 parallels his response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina — both of which are defined by Bush’s three rules of crisis management. The first rule is to disclaim any responsibility for the calamity by claiming that no one had anticipated or imagined planes being used as missiles or levees breaching despite abundant evidence to the contrary and then opposing any independent inquiry of the catastrophe that would expose that claim.
The second rule is to deliver an impassioned speech in a dramatic setting expressing resolve and promising action. After September 11, Bush spoke at Ground Zero, the National Cathedral and before Congress pledging that he “will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it (and) will not yield … rest (or) relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people;” just as he had stood in New Orleans’ Jackson Square and promised to “confront … poverty with bold action” after Katrina.
President Bush’s third rule of crisis management is inaction. Just as Bush has offered no bold action to confront poverty, by the first anniversary of 9/11, Bush was offering only lip service to the fight against bin Laden as he ignored CIA calls in November 2001 to dispatch Marines to Tora Bora to prevent bin Laden’s escape. By March 2002, he conceded that “I just don’t spend that much time on him.” By 2005, the administration would shut down the CIA’s bin Laden unit even though its former head believes that al-Qaida “remains the single most important threat to the (nation)”, while the campaign in Afghanistan receives less than 20 percent of the troops and one-third of the resources spent on the much smaller and less populous Iraq .
Five years after 9/11, the consequences of this inaction are alarming. While Bush has blundered into a quagmire in Iraq , a resurgent Taliban now operates freely in and/or controls pockets of nearly one-fifth of Afghanistan’ s provinces and recently made a peace agreement with Pakistan giving bin Laden safe haven. National security experts overwhelmingly agree that not only is Iraq not part of the “war on terror” but it is part of the reason that we are losing the “war on terror” and are likely to suffer another attack on U.S. soil within the next five years.
There also has been little progress on homeland security, as a follow-up report by the 9/11 Commissioners found unsatisfactory or minimal progress on almost all of the commission’s key recommendations. Nothing highlighted this more than the administration’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina.
President Bush, however, has been diligent in pursuing his September 10 agenda of tax cuts and Iraq . For President Bush, 9/11 primarily has been a political tool to be exploited to promote his agenda and insulate him from criticism. This is evident in the timing of “terror alerts,” or announcements to divert attention from negative press, as well the fact that nearly 70 percent of the White House’s speeches and remarks about Sept. 11 have been during election years and primarily refer to Iraq rather than al-Qaida or bin Laden, including the administration’s latest round of fear mongering equating opponents of the war with bin Laden, Hitler, Lenin and slavery.
The contrasts between Bush and the last president to face such a national emergency are telling. President Roosevelt gave a weary nation hope with swift action and assurance that they need only fear “fear itself,” while Bush has delivered only photo ops and fear. Roosevelt called for Americans to “face the arduous days (ahead) in the warm courage of national unity,” while Bush has promoted division. Roosevelt lifted a nation up from his wheel chair, while Bush has left it dangerously exposed.
On this somber anniversary, all of us wish we could return to world of September 10. The tragedy is that President Bush has never left that world and continues to be a September 10 president.