Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Nation's Alfred E. Newman George W. Bush, which replaced "what me worry" with "worry" as his slogan was hillarious. But there is nothing hillarious about the Bush administration's approach to terrorism in the days leading up to 9/11: they didn't worry at all .

Bush Gave No Sign of Worry In August 2001

By Dana Milbank and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 11, 2004; Page A01

CRAWFORD, Tex., April 10 -- President Bush was in an expansive mood on Aug. 7, 2001, when he ran into reporters while playing golf at the Ridgewood Country Club in Waco, Tex.

The day before, the president had received an intelligence briefing -- the contents of which were declassified by the White House Saturday night -- warning "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US." But Bush seemed carefree as he spoke about the books he was reading, the work he was doing on his nearby ranch, his love of hot-weather jogging, his golf game and his 55th birthday.

"No mulligans, except on the first tee," he said to laughter. "That's just to loosen up. You see, most people get to hit practice balls, but as you know, I'm walking out here, I'm fixing to go hit. Tight back, older guy -- I hit the speed limit on July 6th."

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, in her testimony Thursday to the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, spoke of a government on high alert for terrorism in the summer of 2001. "The president of the United States had us at battle stations during this period of time," she testified. Rice's talk of battle stations is part of the Bush administration's effort to counter an impression that it did not do enough about terrorism before Sept. 11; a Newsweek poll released Saturday found that 60 percent think the Bush administration underestimated terrorism before the attacks.

But if top officials were at battle stations, there was no sign of it on the surface. Bush spent most of August 2001 on his ranch here. His staff said at the time that by far the biggest issue on his agenda was his decision on federal funding of stem cell research, followed by education, immigration and the Social Security "lockbox."

Of course, many of the efforts to thwart an attack would not have been visible on the outside. But some officials on the inside -- notably former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke -- say the administration was not acting with sufficient urgency to the spike in intelligence indicating a threat. And there is nothing in Bush's public actions or words from August 2001 to refute Clarke.

During that month, Bush's top aides were concentrating on the president's political standing: His approval rating had slipped, his relations with Congress were tense, and Democrats had regained control of the Senate. The only time Bush mentioned terrorism publicly that month was in the context of violence in Israel.

In public, Bush often engaged in playful banter. Reporters teased him about his golf game and whether he would take an afternoon nap. Bush teased them about their suffering in the Texas heat. "I know a lot of you wish you were in the East Coast, lounging on the beaches, sucking in the salt air, but when you're from Texas -- and love Texas -- this is where you come home," he said.

...In an Aug. 29 speech to the American Legion titled by the White House "President Discusses Defense Priorities," Bush spoke about higher pay for soldiers, an increase in military spending, military research and development, and the need to defend against missile attacks. "We are committed to defending America and our allies against ballistic missile attacks, against weapons of mass destruction held by rogue leaders in rogue nations that hate America, hate our values and hate what we stand for," he said.

Bush vowed to the veterans, 13 days before the attacks: "I will not permit any course that leaves America undefended..."

Maybe I'm being too hard on Bush. After all, it must be difficult to worry when you're in the midst of the longest presidential vacation in 32 years, right (thanks to Matt Bivens, of the Nation for bringing this to my attention)?


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