Republicans spin a tangled web of blame

Nathan Hunstad

As a former Daily columnist, I can appreciate the liberty opinion writers enjoy. A diverse selection of opinions is a necessary part of democracy, as well as the University experience. Opinions, however, must be based on a factual foundation – a foundation that was sorely lacking in Chris Schafer’s column, “Blaming Bush for terrorism reeks of hypocrisy” (June 10).

The article starts off with one claim no rational person, let alone any representatives in Congress, would make: that President George W. Bush knew the plans of Sept. 11 before it happened and cavalierly did nothing to stop it. Schafer does not provide any quotes from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., or any other so-called “vultures” to back up his claim this is, in fact, the charge they are leveling against Bush.

It is no wonder: No quotes are to be found.

The Bush White House has made an art of responding to charges never leveled, and the media has reported their response without thinking. Some have even coined a name for it, calling it the “Bush Dodge.” The Bush Dodge allows the president, or any of his representatives, to deflect attention from the charges at hand by showing they are innocent of totally unrelated charges. Saying the president did not know the intricacies of the plans of the terrorists is like saying the president does not beat his wife. Nobody is making that claim, so why is the media giving it any attention?

In reality, both Democrats and Republicans have alleged the FBI, CIA and other organizations had many nuggets of information that should have been put together instead of being ignored. While the government did not have the blueprints of Sept. 11 beforehand, various people did know that Islamic extremists were interested in using planes as missiles and had devised such schemes before. It was known that many foreign students were enrolling in flight schools – possibly for nefarious reasons.

And, most importantly, it was known one of those Islamic extremists and a known terrorist, Zacarias Moussaoui, was one of those flight students who was only interested in learning to turn a jet – not to take off and land. Separately, these bits are scary. Together, they paint a picture that foreshadowed events with deadly accuracy.

Why this information was not acted upon is the real question – not why Bush did nothing after knowing the details of the planned attack. In fact, what is already known shows that Schaefer’s statement, “In all honesty, no one could have possibly conceived of
al-Qaida’s plans for Sept. 11,” is horribly wrong. Plenty of people conceived of these plans. The tragedy is that these warnings were ignored.

Schafer starts out his column with this bit of chicanery. The rest is no better. Probably the most laughable assertion he makes is that President Bill Clinton missed a golden opportunity to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Gulf War ended almost two full years before Clinton took office. Why it would have been logical for a new president to attack Iraq at the start of his administration is beyond me. If an opportunity had been missed, I would have to put the blame with the commander-in-chief at the time of the war: former President Bush.

Schafer goes on to state, “We could have removed Hussein from power quickly, as we did with Manuel Noriega in the 1980s.” Ironically, the Pentagon has been recently trying to change the Bush administration’s mind about invading Iraq. Army Gen. Tommy Franks has said invading Iraq would require 200,000 troops, could cause Hussein to use chemical or biological weapons and could result in urban warfare that would result in the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and civilians. That does not sound like an easy campaign, and while things are different today from how they were ten years ago, the major concerns would have been the same in the past. No matter what we do, it will not be easy or painless to remove a dictator who is all too willing to use deplorable and inhumane tactics.

So, what did happen during the Clinton administration? Schaefer does not go into detail about that, but when compared to what happened in the Bush administration before Sept. 11, it shows far more happened under that “lack of leadership.” Clinton developed the nation’s first anti-terrorism policy and appointed the first national coordinator of anti-terrorist efforts. The millenium bombing plot was stopped. The perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing and CIA killings were brought to justice. Finally, they named the Hart-Rudman commission to report on the nature of terrorist threats and major steps to be taken to combat terrorism.

During the Clinton years, there were attacks against American interests; that much is true. Nevertheless, to assert that nothing was done about it is not accurate.

In contrast, the Bush administration prior to Sept. 11 did little if anything to combat terrorism. They shelved the Hart-Rudman report and are only now moving to implement some of its ideas, such as creating a Homeland Security Agency. The anti-terrorism task force organized under Dick Cheney did not even meet before Sept. 11. The Justice Department, under John Ashcroft, was far more concerned about covering the busts of statues and going after legalized assisted suicide and medicinal marijuana than about terrorism. The Department of Defense wanted to spend money on ballistic missile defense instead of anti-terrorism efforts.

Although former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and FBI Director Louis Freeh warned the incoming administration they would be spending more time on domestic terrorism than any other subject, that directive was obviously not taken seriously. For one, they halted predator drone tracking of bin Laden; Bush was more concerned about trying to build an oil pipeline through Afghanistan and needed Taliban support. Most significantly, as it is increasingly clear, warnings that the Sept. 11 attacks were imminent were ignored.

These are some of the facts surrounding terrorism in our country and what has been done about it. Some of these facts seem to be contrary to what the White House would like us to believe. Obviously, there were many breakdowns in our country’s defenses last summer, and as the nominal CEO of our country, Bush will inevitably shoulder some of the blame. He is in the hot seat, but he should have known this could happen when he decided to run for the job. The presidency is not all tax breaks and defense contracts; when things go bad, there must be accountability. However, it is not appropriate for the White House to engage in tactics such as the Bush Dodge in order to turn down the heat.

Similarly, it is up to representatives of the media to make sure that opinions are based upon facts. In times of turmoil, people deserve the whole, unadulterated truth. Making
inaccurate statements, even in the guise of an opinion column, will only serve to confuse issues, which might very well lead to poor decisions that could possibly put lives at risk. It is high time for the media to refuse to play along with spin games and to report not what those in power want us to believe, but the real truth.


Nathan Hunstad is a former Daily columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to [email protected]