Bush versus 9/11 commission

By Gus Bode

The Bush administration is beginning to understand it cannot duck the 9/11 commission forever.

The investigation into the failures and missed opportunities to prevent the World Trade Center attacks has built a head of steam with the recent testimony of Richard Clarke, Bush’s former senior adviser on terrorism.

Clarke alleged in his book, “Against All Enemies” and before the commission that President Bush did not make terrorism a high enough priority before Sept. 11, and his testimony is likely to hurt Bush’s reelection prospects.

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The administration’s response to Clarke’s badgering was to send out National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to make the administration’s case and to discredit Clarke’s allegations.

Bush must not have anticipated the unintended consequences of the move. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress called for Rice to testify under oath to the commission itself, and now Bush has been forced to allow her testimony.

We still doubt the president’s seriousness about the commission, but allowing Rice’s testimony is a good start. The commission can help uncover what could have been done differently, and what might be done better in the future, if only Bush will allow the commission to do its work.

Bush must realize that, whatever damage the commission’s findings might do to his poll numbers, the appearance of a cover-up is far more damaging. This administration’s track record of secrecy has made Bush justifiably vulnerable to conspiracy theories, and a further attempt to block the commission’s progress would exacerbate that vulnerability.

There is no doubt President Bush could have done more to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, as could have the Clinton administration. The 9/11 commission’s investigations will help us understand what could have been done differently, but it would be unreasonable to vote against Bush in November because he failed to prevent the attacks.

Few of us took terrorism seriously enough before the attacks, and Bush is guilty of that as well. But the candidate who receives our presidential votes should be the one we believe will do a better job against terrorism in the future.

Bush is not exactly in good standing on that issue. The most important allegations made by Clarke have been that Bush focused on Iraq after the attacks instead of focusing on al Qaeda. If Clarke is telling the truth, his assertion that Bush asked him to find a link to Saddam Hussein shortly after Sept. 11 is a damning indictment of Bush’s policy regarding terrorism.

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Our military force was diverted to a region where the terrorists were not active, at least not before we showed up. Meanwhile, the operation in Afghanistan was put on a back burner, and Bush has left it to the Pakistanis to hunt the terrorists for us.

Osama bin Laden has not been captured. Al Qaeda and other similar organizations are still active. Resentment against the United States has reached an all-time high. If this is how Bush believes terrorism should be fought, then perhaps voters will not need to bother themselves over his failings before Sept.11.

His failures since then have been far more telling.

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