The GOP's deadly, broken history: Why last week's Paris attacks prove yet again that George W. Bush didn't "keep us safe"

"He kept us safe" isn't just a bad excuse for devastating foreign policy decisions. It's an affront to history

Published November 16, 2015 3:57PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Jim Young)
(Reuters/Jim Young)

In a perfect world, all former members of the Bush administration, specifically former President Bush, along with Dick Cheney and the administration's national security czars, should've spent the last several nights sleepless and emotionally crushed with brutal regret and unbelievable remorse by the horrifying events that transpired in Paris. It's been a rough several days for the so-called Bush Doctrine and the fallacy that the previous White House occupants somehow "kept us safe," given the pair of news stories that ought to further condemn the Bushes in the eyes of history.

The first story, though not the most heart-wrenching of the weekend, was a report from Politico's Chris Whipple who, once and for all, confirmed that the Bush team entirely failed to prevent 9/11 in the face of multiple warnings that a "spectacular" attack was being planned for inside the United States. According to Whipple, the CIA and Director George Tenet were aware that an attack was imminent and reported this information to Condoleezza Rice and others inside the White House, where the intelligence was mostly brushed off. This in addition to the dozen or so counter-terrorism warnings originally revealed by author Kurt Eichenwald that came from other al-Qaeda experts in- and outside the White House. Given the sheer volume of actionable intelligence relating to Bin Laden at the time, there's no excuse whatsoever for failing to prevent the attack, or, at the very least, doing anything about the warnings, even if those actions ultimately failed.

The second story was, of course, the terrorist attacks in Paris, responsibility for which has been claimed by ISIS, a group which likely wouldn't exist had the Bush administration not perpetrated the most phenomenal foreign policy disaster in recent American history, invading Iraq in 2003.

Saddam Hussein's removal by Team Bush -- followed by its disastrous policy of de-Ba'athification, which effectively destroyed existing power structures within the country -- left in its wake a vacuum that encouraged insurgency and paved the way for the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq. It was also the Bush administration that negotiated and authorized the status of forces agreement (SOFA) that effectively withdrew all American combat troops from Iraq -- a process which the current batch of Republicans in Congress and even those running for president have used to blame Obama for the rise of AQI's successor in the region, ISIS.

Insofar as Bush was originally responsible, not only for the massively destabilizing invasion Iraq, but also the SOFA that withdrew the U.S. and coalition forces from Iraq, and because the GOP currently blames that withdrawal for the rise ISIS, there's no reason why Bush shouldn't be blamed for decisions that cultivated the rise of ISIS -- even and especially if you follow Republican logic.

Prior to any of the events of the past couple of years, including Paris, the notion that Bush "kept us safe" was already laughable to anyone with a relatively intact memory and even the loosest grasp on reality. But today, apparatchiks who market in this ludicrously revisionist claim ought to be treated with a similar degree of scorn and incredulity as the claim itself. Indeed, rather than keeping us safe, the Bush administration made the world much less safe, with ISIS at the vanguard of the threat list. The observation that "another 9/11" never happened, and therefore the administration kept us safe, is patently unserious, especially knowing that for many previous decades, there wasn't another incident quite like 9/11. So, the idea that it didn't happen a second time in eight years is merely in keeping with the historical trend, and not necessarily any result of Bush foreign policy savvy.

Using similar terms, former President Bill Clinton also "kept us safe" after the first World Trade Center bombing since there wasn't another Islamic terrorist attack on American soil for the remainder of his two terms. And the Clinton team managed to keep us safe without an incursion of civil liberties like the PATRIOT Act, and without a pair of full-scale wars.

While we're here, it's also worth noting how the GOP protested a possible Clinton-era operation into Afghanistan to get Bin Laden towards the end of his presidency on the basis of the wag-the-dog meme: "No war for Monica."

In spite of everything, though, the entire nation rallied around the Bush White House during the months following 9/11. Even the most hard-left Democrats refrained from impugning the administration's handling of the attacks, even during the contentious 2002 midterms when voters resoundingly handed Congress over to the GOP, while too many Democrats, including war hero and triple-amputee Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), were ousted for saying then what even Republican presidential candidates now would admit: that the Iraq War was a horrible idea.

Today, on the other hand, rather than rallying around President Obama's efforts against ISIS, the Republican Party, which again, failed to keep us safe while also cheerleading us into a war that gave rise to ISIS, is rushing to blame Obama for the Paris attacks.


Jeb Bush:

“Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for the president of the United States to actually admit that we need a strategy.”

Carly Fiorina:

“Mostly I am outraged because the murder, mayhem, danger and tragedy we see unfolding in Paris, throughout the Middle East and, too often, in our own homeland, are the direct consequence of this administration’s policies. You cannot lead from behind."

Rick Santorum:

“ISIS is a creation a creation of a political decision by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to abandon Iraq. If I were president now, I would be launching a major offensive against ISIS right now."

Now imagine A-list Democrats saying similar things in the wake of 9/11. Next, imagine those Democrats being publicly crucified for doing so.

We're a long way from Bush's post-9/11 approval rating of 90 percent, effectively earned by doing nothing other than standing on a pile of rubble while forecasting the war on terrorism into a bullhorn. Since then, the GOP has been feeding off that approval rating, expanding it into the "kept us safe" myth. Limited popular consensus is ultimately meaningless, though, once the fog of collective trauma has dissipated and we begin to clearly see the reality of what was perpetrated by the Bush administration between the Summer of 2001 and throughout the dark ride of the subsequent Bush Doctrine. History can not be allowed to emboss the mythological "kept us safe" revisionism being peddled by Bush loyalists. Sadly, however, the lie has been circumnavigating the discourse for 14 years while the truth is just now getting its pants on.

One last thing: While keeping an eye on how history records the previous administration's devastating foreign policy errors, it's critical to keep an eye on the current batch of would-be Republican commanders-in-chief and paying close attention to their reckless and, in some cases, totally incompetent grasp of the Middle East and the broader war on terror. Save for Rand Paul, every Republican hopeful is calling for similarly foolish interventionist policies in a region that's only been made less stable due to our meddling there. Yes, terrorism needs to be weeded out and destroyed. But not by repeating the same mistakes or by ignoring the blunders of the past.

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By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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Aol_on Elections 2016 Foreign Policy George W. Bush Gop Primary History Iraq Isis Jeb Bush Terrorism