When disaster strikes

The following editorial is from the Philadelphia Daily News on Oct. 22:

Love him, hate him or simply be appalled, Donald Trump knows how to goose his fellow Republicans running for president. His latest sound bite to go viral — a criticism of President George W. Bush because the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened on his White House watch — was clearly intended to get a rise out of Gov. Jeb Bush, and it did.

As with most criticisms of his brother, Gov. Bush has struggled to project independence without distancing himself from his family, and it’s frequently gotten him tongue tied. Bush has described Trump’s comments as “pathetic” and told CNN on Sunday that “my brother responded to a crisis, and he did it as you would hope a president would do — united the country, he organized the country and he kept us safe.”

Most Americans don’t blame George W. Bush for 9/11 and they shouldn’t. Although there were warnings before the terrorist attack, as the 9/11 Commission Report detailed, the nation was ill-prepared for a wide variety of reasons but most especially because various institutions, from the military to our intelligence-gathering agencies, had no clue of the true nature — and the seriousness — of the threat posed by the enemy.

On the other hand, President Bush most assuredly didn’t keep the nation safe with regard to Iraq, which he foolishly connected to 9/11. Instead, he plunged the country into an ill-advised war with conflicting and misrepresented information about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, bringing greater political instability and anti-U.S. hostility to the region. We are still paying the steep price for it, and most Americans now recognize the folly of that choice.

But on Jeb Bush’s first point, that the terrorist attack was chiefly the fault of the perpetrators and not of his brother — that’s fair and deserves our endorsement. Was the attack on Pearl Harbor the fault of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? The U.S. certainly had intelligence about the gathering threat posed by the Japanese. Yet to blame President Roosevelt for the infamous “sneak attack” now seems ludicrous.

One can only hope that this point — blame the attackers, not the attacked — will resonate with fellow Republicans today when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears before the House Select Committee looking into the 2012 Benghazi attack. That the long-running $4.5 million investigation is mostly about politics has become obvious.

What happened in Benghazi was terrible. Four Americans including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died in the attack (as did an estimated 100 of the Libyan attackers), the matter was investigated and it’s clear that the consulate could have been better secured. But what has happened over the past two years has been mostly a partisan exercise, a game of “gotcha” and then “gotcha back,” by Republicans and Democrats on the Hill.

Perhaps the next time there is a terrorist attack, Americans will remember Congress was no longer capable of 9/11 Commission-style nonpartisan investigations into these disasters that actually generate sound policy. We are in the age of Trump — all bluster, all the time with an occasional rewrite of history.

The Daily News occasionally runs editorials from other sources. This first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.


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