Perhaps the first hint of what to expect yesterday came early in the morning: Fox’s Brian Kilmeade said any criticisms over the 9/11 attacks should be directed at Bill Clinton “for not taking a legitimate shot” at Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. Kilmeade added that the Clinton administration did not fully prepare the Bush administration for the terrorist threat.
Hours later, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was also on Fox, arguing that “it was an intelligence failure” that led to the 9/11 attacks, and those failures “predate George W. Bush’s presidency.”
And last night, Jeb Bush joined the fun. The Washington Post reported:
Jeb Bush, under fire from Republican rival Donald Trump over his brother’s anti-terror policies, launched an attack on the same subject against Bill Clinton Monday night, charging that the 42nd president’s administration did not pursue Osama bin Laden aggressively enough.The comments, made in an interview on Fox News Channel, marked the latest instance of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush surfacing as an issue in a campaign featuring candidates with the same last names.
During the interview, the Republican presidential hopeful argued, “I think the Clinton administration made a mistake of thinking bin Laden had to be viewed from a law enforcement perspective. Similarly, the – President Obama’s policies seem to be focused on that, as well.”
Remember in “Zoolander,” when Will Farrel’s Mugatu character, exasperated by the madness around him, says, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills”? It’s hard not to have a similar feeling right now.
George W. Bush’s brother is complaining about President Obama’s counter-terrorism successes? Are. You. Kidding. Me?
As for the Clinton administration, consider Peter Beinart’s piece in The Atlantic yesterday.
When the Clinton administration received word of a potential attack in December 1999, he notes, President Clinton ordered his national-security adviser to “hold daily meetings with the attorney-general, the CIA, FBI.” As a result, the leaders of those agencies instructed their “field offices to find out everything they can find. It becomes the number one priority of those agencies.” This vigilance, [Richard] Clarke suggests, contributed to the arrest on December 14 of an Algerian named Ahmed Ressam, who was arriving from Canada with the aim of detonating a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport.The Bush administration could have done similar in 2001.
But it didn’t. As Beinart explained, “There’s no way of knowing for sure if Bush could have stopped the September 11 attacks. But that’s not the right question. The right question is: Did Bush do everything he could reasonably have to stop them, given what he knew at the time? And he didn’t. It’s not even close.”
Intelligence officials repeatedly urged George W. Bush and his team to recognize al Qaeda and bin Laden as a grave threat. The Republican administration chose not to heed those warnings.
Fourteen years later, as a result of Donald Trump’s rhetoric (of all things), the failures of 2001 are suddenly a campaign issue in 2015 and Republicans are eagerly pretending that George W. Bush’s missteps are Bill Clinton’s fault.
It’s been a strange year for campaign politics, but this is among the most baffling development of them all.