Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has, once again, seized control of the news cycle by making the simple observation that George W. Bush was the president when the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists, an observation that was greeted with outrage by presidential bro/hopeful Jeb Bush, and pearl-clutching by even liberals in the media. Bush’s stream of indignant responses have mainly consisted of repeated invocations of The Rubble™, while Trump has led the media on a broader critique of Dubya’s actions before and after the attacks.
Jeb’s umbrage is understandable, because until Trump came along, everyone in the media pretty much agreed to give George W. Bush a mulligan on 9/11, and most of them also agreed that giving a speech at The Rubble™ made Bush the greatest hero America has ever known. Mulligan or not, though, saying it wasn’t Dubya’s fault isn’t the same as saying “he kept us safe.” and so the cracks in Jeb’s defense are multiplying.
Much of that defense relies on the premise that there’s no way anyone could have seen that attack coming, so President Bush deserved the mulligan. That premise was badly undermined by the fact that someone very special did see the attack coming, as Mika Brzezinski told a dumbfounded Joe Scarborough Tuesday morning:
“So he predicted, basically predicted the attacks from Osama bin Laden.”
That’s right, one Donald J. Trump predicted several specific aspects of the 9/11 attacks, probably years before they happened. From Buzzfeed:
“I really am convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the bombing of the Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers,” wrote Trump in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve. “No sensible analyst rejects this possibility, and plenty of them, like me, are not wondering if but when it will happen.”
Trump even mentions Osama bin Laden by name, in a criticism of an American foreign policy that too quickly jumps from one crisis to the next.
“One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin-Laden is public enemy number one, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan,” The Donald wrote. “He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”
Trump’s fight with Jeb over 9/11 has put the media, particularly liberals, in the painful and peculiar position of not only agreeing with Donald Trump, but of being late to the party themselves. The ever self-aware Chris Matthews even had the stones to criticize the Democrats’ lack of stones in confronting Bush, even as Matthews spent most of the Bush administration literally admiring Dubya’s stones.
But Trump is not some sort of bigot Nostradamus. Even in the relatively immediate aftermath of the attacks, there were people challenging the notion that nobody could ever have seen this coming, including the use of airliners as weapons. As stunning as the attacks of 9/11 were to the general public, though, they were anything but unforeseen.
In fact, as Scarborough sat there slack-jawed at Trump’s amazing prescience, I thought of three movies off the top of my head that predicted very specific elements of the attacks years before they happened. Barely a year after the first World Trade Center attack, True Lies drew condemnation for its depiction of “Crimson Jihad” terrorists who try to set off a nuke in a Miami skyscraper. The film was a huge worldwide hit, and the anxiety it exploited was not exactly some subtle undercurrent.
Even more specifically, the terrorists who stage a series of attacks in New York City in the 1998 film The Siege are motivated by blowback from a mujahideen-esque CIA operation, and gain entry to the United States by exploiting student visas.
Then, there’s 1997’s Path to Paradise, which contains this ambiguous scene:
“Next time we will take them both down.”
That’s an actual quote from Ramzi Yousef, who made the bomb used in the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. The truth is that, beyond the intelligence failures and missed warning signs that were detailed in the 9/11 Commission Report, anxiety over a large-scale terrorist attack by al Qaeda was a longstanding fixture in the American consciousness long before 9/11.
The difference was that before it actually happened, people took what comfort they could in the hope that the attacks would continue to be low-tech, low-yield efforts that could be contained, whack-a-mole style. As it turned out, only the first part was true. As shocked as everyone was by the attacks, no one was like “Osama bin who?” when news organizations named bin Laden as the mastermind within an hour of the towers coming down.
It’s up to the individual to decide whether George W. Bush can be forgiven for not immediately shoring up our nation against a stubborn, mercurial foe, but what Donald Trump has done has exposed a longstanding Republican effort to turn the 9/11 attacks into a feature of the Bush era, when they remember it at all. The fact is that we weren’t “kept safe” on 9/11, and as Trump is also now pointing out, we weren’t kept safe by the ill-advised and poorly-executed wars that Bush used the attacks to plunge us into.
That Republicans have tried to erase 9/11 from Bush’s resumé is not surprising, but it’s sad that it takes Donald Trump to finally say what the media has been unwilling to all these years. George W. Bush did a lot of things, but keeping us safe was not one of them.
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