Pre-9/11 Bush Administration
By Michael Coblenz
Bush administration has reacted with outrage to suggestions
by former terrorism official Richard Clarke that they did
not take the threat of terrorism seriously. National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote an opinion piece published
in the Washington Post, and has been on numerous television
programs, arguing that the entire Bush administration took
the threat of terrorism very seriously.
To support this contention, Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel
to the President, wrote a letter to the 9-11 Commission on
March 25, 2004 (which was conveniently given to the press
simultaneously with its delivery to the commission) which
says: “as records made available months ago to the Commission
demonstrate, the draft national Security Presidential Directive
on al Qaeda approved by Deputies and Principals before September
11, 2001, included a direction to the Department of Defense
to plan for military action against: ‘Taliban targets in Afghanistan,
including leadership, command-control, air and air defense,
ground forces and logistics’ (as well as numerous al Qaeda
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this statement
is that it directly contradicts testimony given by Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld just one day before. On March 24
Secretary Rumsfeld told the 9-11 commission that he was consumed
by other military matters and “did not recall any particular
terrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11 other
than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system
for possible use against bin Laden.”
Despite Rumsfeld’s statements, Dr. Rice said in her numerous
television appearances that the Bush administration took the
threat of terrorism very seriously, but they never could have
predicted that terrorists would hijack airplanes and fly them
If the White House was so focused on fighting the Taliban
and Al Qaeda before September 11, 2001, wouldn’t there be
evidence to that fact? Wouldn’t, for example, Department of
Defense policy reflect that fact? Wouldn’t the State Department
have identified terrorist groups as among the leading threats
to this country?
The Bush administration is being accused of selectively
interpreting facts to support their own preconceived world
view in regard to the threat of weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq, and they have been accused of manipulating the selection
and interpretation of facts to prove a link between Saddam
Hussein and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, so
it is fascinating to see how they select and manipulate the
facts regarding their efforts before September 11, 2001.
Unfortunately for the Bush team, it is very easy to do an
Internet search and find out exactly what they were saying
and doing before September 11. And it is even more unfortunate
for them that the record shows that, while they occasionally
mentioned terrorism, it was hardly a major focus of their
For example in April of 2001, the State Department issued
it annual terrorism report, titled "Patterns of Global Terrorism
2000." The report noted that terrorism was a continuing problem,
and that Afghanistan continued to be a safe haven for terrorist
organizations. According to news reports from April, 2001,
“Unlike last year's report, bin Laden's al Qaeda organization
is mentioned, but the 2000 report does not contain a photograph
of bin Laden or a lengthy description of him and the group.
A senior State Department official told CNN that the U.S.
government made a mistake last year by focusing too tightly
on bin Laden and ‘personalizing terrorism ... describing parts
of the elephant and not the whole beast.’”
The Bush team is now saying that they wanted to engage terrorism
militarily because treating it as a crime was ineffective,
yet the State Department report states otherwise. The report
mentions the trial of suspects charged in the bombing of U.S.
embassies in East Africa and the Lockerbie trial as a "further
victory for the international effort to hold terrorists accountable
for their crimes."
One of the Bush Administrations highest priorities when
it took office was creating a ballistic missile defense shield.
In the summer of 2001, news reports were dominated by discussions
of whether the United States should withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia. Bush’s advisers were all
over radio and television supporting the withdrawal from the
ABM treaty, and discussing the importance of creating the
missile defense shield. There was virtually no discussion
of the threat of terrorism, except where it could be used
to support missile defense.
While the Bush administration is now saying that they were
working on military plans to roll back terrorist organizations
like al Qaeda, there is no evidence in the public record to
support this contention. One possibility, certainly, is that
it was all done secretly, but according to Richard Clarke’s
book this is not so. Throughout the summer of 2001, Secretary
of Defense Rumsfeld appeared before Congress on a number of
occasions to promote and explain the proposed defense department
budget for 2002. In all of his discussions before Congress
there is no discussion of new military plans to roll back
terrorism. The only discussions of terrorism involve using
it as an excuse to build the ‘Star Wars’ missile defense shield.
For example, on June 28, 2001, Rumsfeld appeared before
the Senate Armed Services Committee to testify regarding the
Fiscal Year 2002 National Defense Authorization Budget Request.
He was specifically asked to explain the funding requests,
and rank the various threats facing the country. He notes
that the request for missile defense is $8.2 Billion, and
compares that to the $11 billion requested for terrorism related
issues. Senator Allard asks “Do you think the threat in this
area is growing greater than in other areas of threat?”
"I think that the threat of a major land conflict
in Europe is very low. I think the threat of a major strategic
nuclear exchange with Russia is very low. I think that the
problem of proliferation and the advancement of technologies
and the relaxed tension in the world has led to the availability
of weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver
them in a variety of ways. And because it is so difficult
to cope with Western armies, navies and air forces, the
nations that have an interest in dissuading us from doing
things and have an interest in imposing their will on their
neighbors, have looked for these asymmetric threats, from
terrorism, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, I would
guess down the road cyber-warfare as well, because we have
vulnerabilities in those areas that distinctive compared
to the vulnerabilities we have with respect to typical warfare,
I would rank all of those as risks.
"The proliferation of cruise missiles is taking place.
I worry a great deal about germ warfare and what we read
in the intelligence reports about what's taking place in
the world. There's no question but that the number of nations
that are getting ballistic missiles is growing, and I certainly
rank ballistic missile threat up among those asymmetric
threats very high."
Clearly the main concern is not the direct threat of terrorism,
but the potential that terrorists might get ballistic missiles.
So the response it not necessarily to go after terrorism,
but to build a missile defense shield to protect the country.
Perhaps the most directly relevant example involved testimony
by Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz before the
House Budget Committee on July 11, 2001. Representative Dennis
Moore (D-Kansas) asks: “I have heard and read from other defense
experts that they have very real concerns about the threat
that a terrorist attack on this country with chemical or biological
weapons might represent. In that regard, how would you assess
that kind of threat relative to the threat of a missile attack
from a rogue nation?”
"Basically I would say they are both very serious.
We spend a lot of money -- some estimates are as much as
$11 billion in countering terrorist threats, and I would
spend more if I thought it could be spent usefully. I was
in Israel during the Gulf War. Former President Bush sent
me and Undersecretary of -- Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence
Eagleburger, to persuade the Israelis to stay out of that
war. I've been in a country under ballistic missile attack.
It was ten years ago, Mr. Congressman, and ten years later
we still don't have an effective defense against those primitive
SCUD missiles that were landing on Israel. It's not what
the United States does when we're serious. We didn't get
to the moon that way. We didn't build Polaris submarines
"This is a real problem. It's not a future problem. We
have got to get serious about it, in my view. And we have
to be serious about both. You could even frame it this way:
we lost -- I'm sorry I don't remember these terrible numbers
-- I think we lost 19 people to a truck bomb in Khobar Towers
in Saudi Arabia, yes. We lost 24 people to a SCUD missile
in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Those are
both real threats. We need to work on both of them."
Clearly the numbers show how the Bush Department of Defense
rated the threats. The SCUD missile won by 24 to 19, and so
the best way to address terrorism was missile defense. They
found their solution, and it could solve every problem. (Sort
of like the Tax Cut, which was the solution for government
surpluses, economic recession, and now government deficits.)
The Bush Administration's willingness to dissemble about
their own record is truly baffling for a number or reasons.
First, why the Bush Administration cannot admit to imperfection.
Why can’t they say that we evaluated the threats and decided
that terrorism was a low priority? This would be an honest
mistake, one that apparently other administrations made. But
Bush and his team seem completely unable to admit mistakes.
Second, it is troubling that they can’t even get the facts
right when they control the facts. The only logical explanation
is that they don’t care about the underlying facts; they only
care about their beliefs. If they believe Saddam is a bad
man, then it must be true that he’s hiding WMD’s or at least
weapons programs. If they believe that tax cuts cure every
economic ill then it must be true. And if they believe that
before the terrorist attacks of September 11 they were sufficiently
vigilant, then that too must be true.
But the most baffling thing of all is their arrogance. They
misstate the facts even when the truth is readily discoverable.
They just don’t seem to care about the truth or what the public
thinks. And that’s truly frightening.
Michael Coblenz is an attorney and writer from Lexington,
Kentucky. He has recently completed a novel focusing on the
relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist.