Joe Conason's Journal

Former Sen. Gary Hart says President Bush "didn't do his job" before 9/11. Plus reader responses to Bush's latest baffling reason for the war in Iraq.

By Salon Staff
Published July 16, 2003 9:11PM (EDT)

Hart speaks out on Bush and 9/11
This afternoon I witnessed an extraordinary exchange at Michael Jordan's restaurant in Grand Central Station, where the great Harold Evans hosted a luncheon discussion -- sponsored by The Week magazine -- of Bush's electoral prospects. Panel participants included author and former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, conservative radio personality Monica Crowley, Republican pollster Ed Rollins, and former Sen. Gary Hart. It was Hart -- still serving as co-chairman of the U.S. Commission on National Security -- who offered the harshest (and most newsworthy) assessment of the president.

"He was around for nine months before 9/11 to create a National Homeland Security agency," Hart said of Bush, noting that he and his co-chair Warren Rudman had turned voluminous recommendations for improving American defenses against terrorism over to the Bush White House on Jan. 31, 2001.

"He did nothing," continued Hart. "Nine more months went by until he endorsed the idea." And he recalled that he had met with Condoleezza Rice on Sept. 6, 2001, to plead with her to act more quickly against the terrorist strike that Hart, Rudman and their fellow commissioners believed to be inevitable and imminent.

Rollins replied, in essence, that unflattering facts don't matter because Bush secured the public's support and trust after the disaster. Said Hart to that, "There is something in a democracy called accountability. He didn't do his job."

That darn quote
In the mail I've received during the past day, many readers venture their own explanations of President Bush's mind-blowing comment about his reasons for invading Iraq. Some think he's mad; others believe he says all kinds of things that can't be taken at face value.

For any who missed his remark, which still hasn't generated much reaction in the mainstream media, this is what the president said about Saddam Hussein: "We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." (Text and video can now be found here). Those words were uttered during a White House press conference about Liberia with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"The easy answer is he meant something else," says a fretful reader, "such as Saddam did not let the inspectors 'in' to the sites and [provide] information to find them. Absurd as [Bush's statement] was, the public seems to accept his foot-in-mouth ramblings as kind of a loveable quirk. I personally believe that his litany of mis-statements shows an incredibly scary lack of coherent thought ... I fear that nitpicking everything he says ruins the credibility of Bush critics with the average American. I greatly fear that he will dodge the State of the Union bullet because it is the least of the administration's campaign of lies to win public support for the war."

Exclaims another: "I just watched the video clip linked to your Salon article. It is surreal, especially where he actually gestures towards Kofi Annan as he says it."

As for the media blackout, more than one e-mail offered an obvious explanation: "Unfortunately, this new flat out lie isn't about sex." And another chides me: "You missed pointing out the relevance of one of the funniest elements of post-invasion politics: Bush deriding 'revisionist historians.'"

That tiny irony wasn't missed by the Howard Dean campaign, whose pioneering, highly creative blog linked to my Journal entry today. (So did the Boston Phoenix's astute Dan Kennedy).
[2:30 p.m. PST, July 16, 2003]

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