First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
How Bush Caused 9/11
For the past two years, I could have sworn it was a bunch of fanatical Muslims under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden that hijacked four planes and crashed three of them into American buildings.
But now I learn that these events were actually caused by George W. Bush. I know this because I've heard noble patriots like Richard Clarke come forward and blame him for it.
It's time for a few doses of reality.
CIA vs. FBI
It's true that there was data available on the terrorists, at various levels in the FBI and CIA. And if anyone in those two organizations had gotten together and compared notes, 9/11 might have been prevented.
Unfortunately, in those days the only place where those two bureaucracies intersected was at the top -- in the National Security Council. And because the information each organization had didn't amount to much by itself, neither dataset was deemed important enough to send up to the decision makers who might have put two and two together.
A tragic error. But it is astonishing that the Left is actually using this to show that Bush did something wrong.
Let's suppose that, on his first day in office, George W. Bush had foreseen all the potential problems and had ordered information-sharing at very low levels between the FBI and CIA.
Do you know how hard it is to get entrenched bureaucracies to change the way they do business? Anyone who knows about the screaming and hair-pulling that went on right after World War II, when Truman moved to combine the War Department and Navy Department into the Department of Defense will realize that even in that celebrated case, the interservice rivalry continued. The FBI and CIA did not invent noncooperation.
Even to get their computers to be able to read each other's files would have been a nightmare. Which of them would have to give up all their old equipment and change to new software? Who would fund that massive change?
But all of this is moot. Because the moment President Bush breathed a word about intending to get the FBI and CIA to share information, prior to 9/11, he would have been crucified in the press.
Why? Because there is a strict legal separation between the two services. To keep the CIA from spying on American civilians, it is limited to gathering data abroad. The FBI had a monopoly on domestic counter-intelligence.
When either service had information they thought the other might need, they passed it along, of course -- they were and are loyal Americans.
The trouble is, the FBI was never in a position to know what information the CIA might actually need, and vice-versa. The best they could do was guess.
If President Bush had attempted to change this situation, the civil libertarian lobby would have had his head on a plate. It was only after 9/11 proved how devastating the consequences of separation could be that it became possible to break a few chinks in that thick wall between the bureaucracies.
In other words, it was always desirable to have information sharing, in order to do a good job; but it was also desirable never to have information sharing, in order to protect the civil liberties of citizens.
Without a direct and obvious threat to American security -- a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 -- Americans cared a lot more about the latter than the former problem.
Airline Info Gathering
And the situation hasn't changed. There was enough data available, prior to 9/11, to intercept all of the terrorists -- if the government were allowed to use the same information about Americans that corporations are using to track us all the time.
I have seen a completely convincing demonstration, from a corporate security firm that uses fuzzy data searches to find significant intersections between people using credit cards and driver's licenses to move through America, which revealed the following:
If the CIA had plugged the names of the couple of terrorists known to them into that software, all the other terrorists would have been identified before 9/11. And when they all purchased airplane tickets for flights on the same day, even the dumbest guy in government -- heck, even an "anti-war" college professor! -- would have known to detain them and keep them from boarding their planes.
But if that had happened, guess what? Even if the government announced, "Major Terrorist Threat Blocked by Quick Action," we would have dozed through the news reports, wouldn't we?
And the civil libertarians would have kept the courts tied up for years, because of course the government had no right to spy on the airline ticketing system and so they "shouldn't" have found any information about ticket purchases by anyone.
The World Trade Center would still be standing, but the Bush administration would quite possibly have fallen -- as a result of having succeeded in preventing that national disaster.
Personally, I couldn't care less if the government knows when I'm flying. Delta already knows, and I don't get to elect anybody who's working there. If by letting the government know who is buying every ticket on every plane, I could have a better chance of getting home alive, I'd let them have that information in a heartbeat.
It's not a secret. Everybody sees each other on that plane. Does anybody seriously have an expectation of "privacy"?
But even after 9/11, it was impossible to get civil libertarians to allow the government even to study the feasability of such a data-tracking system. If you doubt me, ask Admiral Poindexter, who was shredded in the media for trying.
When George W. Bush and his national security team took office, they immediately began to make preparations to eliminate the threat of terrorism, instead of just slapping bandaids on the wounds.
They recognized that Saddam posed a continual threat, to his neighbors and to his own people. Something would have to be done about Iraq -- they were firing on or targeting our planes several times a week, and thanks to greedy "allies" like France and Germany and "friends" like Russia, the so-called sanctions were giving Saddam plenty of money to keep his hideous regime alive.
Likewise, they knew that the Taliban in Afghanistan was harboring Al Qaeda; that Pakistan was also helping the Al-Qaeda cause; that Iran and Syria were actively funding and training anti-Western and anti-Israeli terrorists and sheltering them from international police efforts; and that other nations like Sudan, Libya, and Yemen were playing footsie with the terrorists and getting away with everything they thought they could.
The trouble was, war is not just a military action, it's a political one as well. There was no way, prior to 9/11, that the Bush administration could have got Congressional support for a preemptive attack on Afghanistan.
And Iraq always required exactly the solution that we have been imposing for the past year. This is why President Bush's father did not take out Saddam when he had the chance back in 1991: without Saddam's repressive regime, every would-be dictator in Iraq would have made his play for the top spot then, just as they're doing now.
So we couldn't get rid of Saddam until we had the national will to stick with the job until a strong government with popular support could fill the power vacuum.
It is not a "failure" of our policy that Iraq is suffering from attempted rebellions -- the best hope for Iraq's future is for these warlords to make their play while our troops are still there to slap them down and clean them out.
Likewise, it's not a "failure" of our policy that now, absent the Taliban, opium production in Afghanistan is twenty times higher than it was under the Taliban. That sort of thing always happens in times of uncertainty and transition.
The question is never between a choice that is all good and a choice that is all bad. Every good choice has bad consequences, too, and every bad choice was made because it seemed to offer benefits.
Even though the Bush administration understood that the only way to eliminate terrorism was to transform the governments that sponsored it, they could not take action until they could marshal the political will.
In other words, the only way of preventing something like 9/11 was not possible, politically, until after something like 9/11 had galvanized the public into supporting drastic action.
The "Might Have Been" Problem
Successful disaster prevention always looks unnecessary, because after all, nothing bad happened.
Failure to prevent a disaster always looks inexcusable, because we forget that the will to take drastic action was not present until afterward.
The political leaders of the Left are now criticizing the Bush administration for not doing the very things for which, if they had done them, they would have been savagely attacked by the very same people.
Franklin Roosevelt saw in the 1930s that war with Germany was necessary and ultimately unavoidable. He also knew that if Britain and Russia fell to Hitler, America's eventual war would be infinitely harder to win.
So even though the American people had no will to go to war before Pearl Harbor, FDR persuaded, cajoled, and arm-twisted Congress into providing enough military aid to Britain and Russia that they did not fall; and when we did enter the war, we were far closer to being ready than we had been back in 1917.
Yet after Pearl Harbor, there was no shortage of critics eager to charge Roosevelt with not having done enough -- ignoring the fact that he had done all that he could.
George W. Bush did all that he could to prepare to rid the world of Islamic terrorism prior to 9/11; and because of 9/11, he finally got the political support to make it possible to begin the real job.
Right now, though, the Left is doing everything it can to blame him for everything he did and everything he didn't do. He's being blamed for not taking preemptive action in Afghanistan, and for taking preemptive action in Iraq.
In other words, Bush's critics are simply taking hold of every tool they can find to try to block his reelection.
It's the lowest form of politics, to throw rocks at the guy who's leading us with amazing success in a war that was forced upon us by our enemies.
Wasps in My Office
I have screens and double windows with tight-fitting sashes in my attic office. But somehow wasps occasionally find their way inside.
I don't know how they get in, but there they are, furiously dive-bombing my chair.
That's how terrorism is.
No matter who is President, there is no security system so tight that the terrorists can't get in and cause devastation and fear.
But a good President is one who doesn't forget the terrorists as soon as they've gone, or pay tribute to them in hopes of buying them off.
A good President goes out and finds the wasps' nests and kills them at the source.
It takes time to find them all, and in the process somebody's likely to getstung, and badly.
But the problem isn't solved by swatting them only after they've already crept inside and done all the damage they wanted.
President Bush's strategy is succeeding admirably. Our losses in this war are astonishingly low.
Our mission is far clearer than it ever was in Vietnam, and our enemies don't have the entire weight of the Soviet Union and Communist China behind them, keeping us from taking decisive action.
Nor is there the slightest sign in Bush's administration of the kind of irresolution that led us to betray the Vietnamese people and our own soldiers who sacrificed in that war.
But if you want Iraq to become another Vietnam, just pay attention to the political hacks who are slicing away at Bush in order to persuade you to replace him with Kerry.
Because Kerry has pledged to turn this war into the kind of begging-for-negotiations, we're-getting-out-soon, you-can't-count-on-us travesty that emboldens our enemies and weakens our allies.
We Can't Predict the Outcome
The America of 10 September 2001 could not have prevented or predicted the events that happened the next day. It's no one's fault, it's just a fact. There is no reason to blame any American for it. Not even George Whipping-boy Bush.
But if we stop trying to free the world from the scourge of international Islamic terrorism, then we'll know exactly whom to blame for our failure.
I don't know if the Bush administration's policies will succeed as we need them to -- Korea, Iran, and Syria are still open questions with no easy answers.
But so far the Bush administration has destroyed two hate-filled anti-humane governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
They have also tamed the terror-sponsoring proclivities of Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Libya -- bloodless victories, folks, that we only got because President Bush showed the strength in international leadership, despite all criticism, that Kerry is promising never to show.
So pay no attention to the hypocritical snipers who condemn Bush for acting whenever he took action, and for not acting whenever he didn't. It should be obvious that to these unprincipled clowns, Bush is always wrong. They're counting on us being so stupid that we don't see their game.
They are greatly helped by the news media, which would have pounded mercilessly on Republicans had they done the same thing to Bill Clinton. Bush's critics are all treated by the press as if they were making serious points instead of playing cynical political games.
But we really aren't as stupid as they think we are ... are we?
The only people to blame for terrorism are the terrorists.
The only people to blame for the recent atrocities in Iraq are those who mobbed, murdered, and mutilated Americans who had come to bring peace and freedom to the vast majority of Iraqis who want those things.
And the only way to put a stop to this evil being done in the name of Islam is to make it clear that America will relentlessly pursue any and all terrorist-sponsoring governments.
That's a decision that's up to the Bush administration only as long as they're in office and have the support of Congress.
Guess who decides whether they'll stay in office, and have Congressmen and Senators who support them?
So if we believe these hacks who are exploiting the victims of 9/11 to gain political advantage, then we can vote for Kerry.
Thus we'll prove Osama was right to promise his people that Americans are weak and always lose courage if you bloody them enough.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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