Point counter point: Is Bush to blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

By and

Pointing out fundamental flaws in the Bush administration’s approach involves questions about national leadership, not a “desperate need to portray Bush as the source of all evil.” In fact, such exaggerations prove that many conservatives are trying to make Bush into a martyr for the right. Many of his supporters try to paint him as a blameless victim in the ruthless world of politics, trapped in red tape of previous administrations. But Bush is not an innocent bystander. He’s not a defenseless bureaucrat with constantly foiled good intentions-he’s the president. The public should be able to hold him accountable for actions (or inactions) that put the nation at risk.

Sept. 11 happened for a myriad of reasons, but there’s no escaping that it happened under Bush’s watch. It’s true that perhaps President Clinton could have done more to prevent terrorist attacks, and maybe the Clinton administration should have taken more steps to address the growing threat, but the facts remain: Bush was in office when the attacks occurred and he ignored numerous specific warnings about terrorism.

He received daily reports about growing terrorist “chatter.” The FBI had specific pieces of information (such as reports of suspicious flight school students) but plainly failed to connect the dots. To claim that liberal, bureaucratic laws forced the Bush administration into inaction is absurd-as president, Bush’s duty is to lead and protect the country, not to shrug helplessly and shift the blame. Federal agencies need to communicate more effectively, but to act like the commander in chief was powerless to do anything but stand idly by is lazy, irresponsible and inaccurate.

In the months before the terrorist attacks, senior administration officials admit that Bush received daily intelligence briefings mentioning that Osama bin Laden could hijack American planes. Richard Clarke hasn’t claimed to be irreproachable-he has publicly apologized, openly taking responsibility for the failures that made the attacks possible. Clarke’s argument is that Bush should have told more people about the danger of terrorism. Top-level cabinet officials were neither informed of the growing risk nor consulted about possible solutions until it was too late.

The fact that such devastating attacks could occur exposed gigantic holes in U.S. security. When criticizing Bush’s inaction, liberals are not arguing that more racial profiling should have occurred sooner. They aren’t arguing that the Patriot Act came too late-in fact, most liberals agree that it is the epitome of government overreach, a frightening violation of civil liberties. Most critics do not maintain that Afghanistan should have been attacked earlier. Bush’s critics reason that al-Qaida itself deserved more attention-known terrorist groups actively targeting the United States should have been in sharper focus. Liberals aren’t calling Bush the Antichrist-they are simply raising questions about why he didn’t alert more national leaders to growing danger of which he must have been aware.

Hindsight brings an imbalanced advantage and clearly Bush isn’t the only one at fault. Countless government officials should have done more to avoid the attacks. No single individual is to blame for the intelligence failure that allowed such attacks to occur. Perhaps we could fault Clarke for not shouting more loudly or maybe we could criticize every president this century for fostering terrorism by contributing to anti-American rage. Yet ultimately, the attacks occurred under Bush’s watch. In examining the months leading up to Sept. 11, it’s inevitable that people of all political views will ask what more the current president could have done.

Pointing out the Bush administration’s weaknesses is hardly “hysterical” or “demented”-it’s logical. In such a powerful position, he is obligated to answer for his actions. Before Sept. 11, he disregarded important information and put American lives at risk.

Since Sept. 11, he blames everyone else and has refused to adequately fund homeland security. But the truth is that the United States received substantial warnings and yet was still attacked with Bush at the helm. It’s not about “delusions” about Bush’s responsibility-like it or not, while in office, any president will get credit when things go right and blame when things go wrong. Keeping the country safe is his responsibility and to some degree, he failed.

Concerns about Bush’s inaction before Sept. 11 are not only reasonable-they are essential to build a more effective security plan for the future.

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