Jeb Bush's noxious myth: Dubya didn't "keep us safe" -- he made the world infinitely more dangerous

George W. Bush failed to heed pre-9/11 warnings, and his cowboy wrought havoc on the Mideast

Published September 17, 2015 4:47PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Jim Young/Rebecca Cook/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Jim Young/Rebecca Cook/Photo montage by Salon)

Jeb Bush is trying desperately to distance himself from his brother, George W. Bush, and for obvious reasons. George W. Bush’s presidency was an unmitigated disaster. Jeb has tried (rather awkwardly) to assert his own independence without publicly reproaching his brother. So far it hasn’t worked. On the Iraq war, for instance, Jeb has offered contradictory opinions, saying knowing what we know now, he would still have authorized the invasion, and then later walking that back.

During the debate last night, Donald Trump attacked Jeb directly on this front. In a heated exchange, Trump pointedly charged, "Your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster those last three months that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.”

Without thinking, Jeb reflexively replied: “You know what? As it relates to my brother, there is one thing I know for sure, he kept us safe. I don’t know if you remember, Donald. You remember the rubble? You remember the firefighter with his arms around it? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism and he did keep is safe.”

Look, the Bush family can harbor whatever delusions they like within the privacy of their home. Whatever they have to tell themselves to feel better about the catastrophe that was George W. Bush’s presidency is fine by me. But this patently untrue trope has to die. And the fact that the audience rapturously applauded this remark makes it all the more urgent to correct the record.

There’s nothing to debate here: George W. Bush didn’t keep us safe. I’m continually struck by the collective amnesia of the Republican Party. Yes, Jeb, we do “remember the rubble.” That mountain of rubble was the ruins of the World Trade Center, which was destroyed on your brother’s watch. And yes, Jeb, we also remember that it was your brother who received a presidential briefing just one month before those towers fell to the earth, warning him that Bin Laden was “determined to strike in U.S.”

Astonishingly, the entire Republican Party seems to have repressed all memories of life in America before 9/11. It’s as though George W. was sworn in on 9/12. How convenient it must be to have no knowledge of the fact that more Americans were killed by terrorists on U.S. soil during George W. Bush’s administration than under any other. I understand Jeb’s cognitive dissonance on this question (it’s family, after all), but it’s maddening that the applauding automatons in that room either don't know or won't acknowledge this.

Even if we abide this Republican fantasy and start the political clock on 9/12, the record is still clear: George W. Bush failed to keep us safe. Let us not forget that the Iraq War was arguably the biggest blunder in the history of American foreign policy. Just think for a moment of the price we paid for fighting and not winning this war: thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, trillions of dollars, and we gifted regional supremacy to Iraq’s neighbor and our geopolitical foe, Iran. Thanks to Gitmo and our illegal torture program, we also gave the Jihadists a tremendous propaganda victory.

Worse still, the Iraq War (which was unwinnable from the start) facilitated the destabilization of the entire region and, even better, prepared the way for ISIS’s emergence, the very group the GOP now considers an existential threat to America. So, George W. Bush invaded a country (under false pretenses) that he didn’t understand, failed to accomplish his stated goals, and in the process unleashed a sectarian conflict that birthed a larger proxy war between the U.S. and Iran and left the broader region more combustible and conflict-prone.

I’m sorry, Jeb, but your brother didn’t “keep us safe.” He made the world infinitely more dangerous. And it’s time your party, if not you yourself, acknowledged that.

By Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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2016 Elections 9/11 Donald Trump George W. Bush Gop Debates Iraq War Jeb Bush The War On Terror