Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 26, 2009

A TWIST OF THE 'KEPT US SAFE' ARGUMENT.... As the Bush/Cheney administration was poised to end, and there were an abundance of pieces reflecting on the Bush era, the most common defense tended to be that Bush "kept us safe." I've never understood this argument.

Indeed, it's generally offered with a series of pretty important caveats. Except for the catastrophic events of 9/11, and the anthrax attacks, and terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, and the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush's international unpopularity, the former president's record on counter-terrorism was awesome.

Now, with recent torture revelations bringing the Bush/Cheney record back into focus, we're not only hearing the "kept us safe" argument again, we're hearing it the context of abusing detainees. Noemi Emery makes the case in the Weekly Standard (via Matt Duss).

Some Democrats, from the White House on down, are pushing the idea of a "truth commission," a la South Africa, to deal with the "harsh measures" used by the Bush administration in interrogating al Qaeda detainees. Good. Let's have lots of truthtelling. Please bring it on.

Let's tell the truth about Bush's conduct of the war on terror, which is that it's been a success. His ultimate legacy hasn't been written -- Iraq is improved, but not out of danger -- but the one thing that can be said without reservation is that the country was kept safe. He delivered on the main charge of his office in time of emergency, in a crisis without guidelines or precedent. Attacks took place in Spain, and in London, in Indonesia and India, but not on American soil, which was the obvious target of choice. Bush couldn't say this before he left office, for obvious reasons, and after he left, attention switched to the new president. This little fact dropped down the memory hole, but with all this discussion, it will rise to the surface.

First, the notion that the former president was reluctant to talk about his national security record before he left office is pretty silly. Bush and Cheney, in the hopes of giving their legacy a boost, spoke about little else towards the end of their terms. Indeed, Duss noted, "Bush said this a lot before he left office. In fact, he delivered a special last formal address to the nation specifically to make that point."

Second, Emery's is setting the bar awfully low for "success." As Matt Yglesias concluded, "I find this whole line of argument truly and deeply baffling. The overwhelming majority of Americans to ever be killed by foreign terrorists were killed during Bush's presidency. And even if you give him a pass on 9/11 itself it's still the case that his conduct of the 'war on terror' led to the deaths of thousands more Americans."

Emery is so convinced of Bush's counter-terrorism "success," she wants the torture debate -- it still pains me to type those two words together -- to help shine a light of the former president's record on the issue. Indeed, she's taunting Bush's critics on this, saying, "Please bring it on."

How very odd.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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I find the whole "he kept us safe" line to be strange as well. My response to anyone handing out that line is something like "I guess you are willing to praise Clinton for doing the same thing after the World Trade Center bombing. After all, there were no more attacks on American soil after that either, at least not until Bush came alon."

Posted by: JCtx on April 26, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The idea that, in terms of keeping America safe, Bush's term began on September 12, 2001 is one of the most asinine delusions possessed by the right.

Posted by: Rabi on April 26, 2009 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK
but the one thing that can be said without reservation is that the country was kept safe
I have been using rhinoceros repellent every day since 2004 and I haven't been attacked by a rhinoceros. Therefore, rhinoceros repellent works. Posted by: navamske on April 26, 2009 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

What other option do these idiots have, except to double down and hope no one calls their bluff? They're hoping that a show of confidence can obscure the utter failure of the Bush approach. But they should remember how well things worked out the last time one of them crowed, "Bring it on".

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on April 26, 2009 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

There's an old cliche' about Pacific islanders throwing a virgin into a volcano to placate the Fire God.

That's how Bush kept us safe. Except instead of sacrificing one maiden each year, Bush was willing to sacrifice several soldiers and marines each week to placate the terrorists. He put them in harm's way, without a plan and without adequate equipment.

Bush didn't protect Americans. He just saved the terrorists the fucking plane fare!

Posted by: SteveT on April 26, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, "bringing it on" may also lead objective observers (assuming there are any left in this country) to conclude that the "terrorist threat to America" was (and is) wildly overblown, hugely overhyped, and disgracefully exploited by politicians (Bush, Cheney, etc.) for their own nefarious ends.

This isn't to downplay the horror of 9/11/01 by any means: but the notion that the 9/11 attacks might have been a fluke, a one-off opportunity enormously unlikely to be repeated seems to have occur ed to astoundingly few people (I've never seen the notion seriously discussed or debated in the MSM, or the Internet, even in 7+ years).

It goes without saying that politicians and their enablers actually like Horrible Existential Threats To Our Existence - particularly those which are unlikely to materialize, since they are quite handy, and can be used to manipulate the public, or grab power - or usually both.

Posted by: Jay C on April 26, 2009 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, so RWers are in favor of a Truth Commission, too!

Great! This is bipartisanship I can believe in!!

Posted by: mars on April 26, 2009 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

In the early 70s, some record industry genius came up with the Bay City Rollers, thinking that what the world needed was a bubblegum version of glitter acts like Sweet and T. Rex. But Sweet and T. Rex already were perfectly bubblegum themselves; basically the Bay City Rollers were a solution in search of a problem, and vanished as quickly as they appeared.

Similarly, the Weekly Standard was conceived as a conservative version of the New Republic. But TNR is already, to say the least, plenty conservative, arguably as conservative as it is possible to be and still be sane, reputable, and relevant. And so the Weekly Standard's whole reason for being is based on a fundamental misconception. Their current nadir as a neocon echo chamber (no doubt high-fives and 'boo-yahs' were exchenged by the editors as they perused Emery's item) only belabors their uselessness.

Posted by: kth on April 26, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

she's taunting Bush's critics on this, saying, "Please bring it on."
How very odd.

Why? If Republicans believe they can argue their side of the debate successfully when their outnumbered 7 to 3 (Chavez and the handshake) by the American public, they must be thrilled at the prospect of a near 50/50 split.

Posted by: tempered optimism on April 26, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

In 2005, the Bush administration had the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for a terrorist attack, namely, the floodwall and levee failures in New Orleans following the indirect hit from Hurricane Katrina. That the floodwalls were breached due to natural factors instead of attack doesn't really matter...except perhaps for the fact that the administration was well aware of the impending danger, as opposed to a surprise attack.

The degree of ineptitude and childish finger pointing tells you pretty much everything you need to know about "the Bush administration keeping us safe."

Besides, why does Al Qaeda NEED to attack us again (unless provided with an extremely easy target of opportunity)? Their mission, deranged as it might be, was accomplished--the United States is engaged in warfare that they can point to in order to justify their own extreme worldview.

Posted by: Michael on April 26, 2009 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

How did pushing the economy into depression, drowning New Orleans, and destroying the Constitution make us safe? Reminds me of that Vietnam village we saved by leveling it.

Posted by: Sparko on April 26, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

If you consider there was an 8 year gap between the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the attack on the WTC on 9/11 one has to wonder if they could have done absolutely nothing and protected our country with eqaul success. But when you add the failure in Afghanistan, the tragedy and thousands of Americans killed in Iraq and the fact that Osama Bin Laden is still alive and a still a threat to the U.S. and the world I do not see how Bush/Cheney can take any credit whatsoever for keeping us safe and can only take credit for the absolute failure to do anything right.

Posted by: tiredofgreed on April 26, 2009 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know Noemi Emery. Was she homeschooled? Did she attend Liberty U? Has she been tortured? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 26, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

So if an American isn't standing on American soil are they less of an American? Are they then considered fair game?
Because, to me, painting a target on your children and staking them out on foreign soil in order to draw enemy fire is one heinous way to keep yourself safe.

Posted by: thebewilderness on April 26, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

John McCain claimed on this morning's 'FACE THE NATION' that those who wrote the authorization for torture merely gave "bad legal advice".

I guess if a gang leader were up on murder charges, and his lawyer told him he could get him off if only the lone witness against him were no longer around to testify, McCain would merely consider that "bad legal advice".

No crimes committed here folks. Move along... Move along...

Posted by: Joe Friday on April 26, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Bin Laden determined to strike within the United States.
Steve, you should link to this:

Great post.

Posted by: Obama / Steelers / etc on April 26, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Less than 100 Americans lost their lives to terrorism during the Clinton Presidency. Bush lost thousands in a single day, and then, in an effort to keep from adding to that number, he proceeded to sacrifice thousands more in his “War on Terror.” And he is the successful one?

Posted by: Shadow on April 26, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Bush and Cheney used the "keeping us safe" defense because emotional issues can be easily manipulated by government. They deliberately capitalized on Americans' post 911 fears and continually campaigned to gin them up whenever it was politically expedient. It's a classic Karl Rovian emotion-based tactic: create fear of imminent threat and danger and then claim responsiblity for protecting the country from them. In spite of the conspiracy between the executive branch, the DOJ, the DOD, the State department, and the CIA to protect themselves through unprecedented secrecy, to deny and coverup their crimes, the stench of illegality could not be controlled.

Posted by: CarolA on April 26, 2009 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

So far as I can tell, the Bush Administration successfully protected us from any kind of success for eight years, and has protected us from the chance for success in the near future. Is this what Ms. Emery means?

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 26, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Yglesias is wrong in two ways. First because I doubt that most Americans, whatever their positions on the wars, view the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same light as the deaths of US civilians as a result of a terrorist attack on New York City.

Second because it's absurd to give Bush/Cheney a pass on 9/11. No one will ever know, but can you imagine President Gore telling his CIA briefers that "you've covered your ass" after being told that bin Laden intended to attack?

Posted by: larry birnbaum on April 26, 2009 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

"...Except for the catastrophic events of 9/11, and the anthrax attacks, and terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, and the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush's inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush's international unpopularity, the former president's record on counter-terrorism was awesome...."- Benen

You forgot that Bush allowed the terrorists to not only claim, "Look what we did to them", but to also claim "Look at what we made them do to themselves", as Bush eviscerated the 4th amendment, broke international laws and treaties on torture, and virtually bankrupted the nation to carry out his war and his no contract nation building policies where millions of dollars were shrink wrapped in hundreds on palettes and delivered into a war zone and immediately "lost" with no accountability. Bush's mistake of firing the Iraqi army which began the insurgency which destroyed thousands of lives to increase profits for the war contractors and completely divided our own nation by all his fear mongering...heck of a job there Bush.

And never forget that for whatever reason you attribute to his action ...it was Dick Cheney who told our defenses to "stand down, this is just a military exercise" which allowed 9/11 to happen or those towers would still be standing today.

Kept us safer my ass. Through incompetence and poor decision making millions of people are dead, disabled and displaced, who would not be
except for these two being in office.

Emery needs to take lips off of republican butt long enough to see the light, providing of course Emery's head is pulled out of its own ass first.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 26, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
[Long pause while Homer thinks]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Posted by: Rockfish on April 26, 2009 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

"He kept us safe" is a clause that the wingnutters only apply to terrorist attacks. They never say anything about the dangers caused by the collapse of the housing market (although they desperately spin their wheels trying to blame it on Obama and the Democrats) or the dangers caused by the massive job losses or the dangers to our returning soldiers caused by the lack of adequate care or the dangers caused by our poorly maintained infrastructure or the dangers caused by increased toxic pollution... In other words, terrorism is not by even close the only danger to our lives and well-being, but it is the only danger that Cheney/Bush can claim to have protected us from. All the other things that have destroyed our society and our good name in the world happened on Cheney/Bush's watch.

Ask the people forced into poverty how well they've been protected. Ask some kid suffering from something that his parents can't afford to have treated how well he's been protected. Ask someone who no longer can afford the schooling they need to advance in the world how well he's been protected. The list is endless.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on April 26, 2009 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

They kept us safe except for their totally screwed up response to Hurrican Katrina, the various failures of their regulatory and oversight agencies to prevent our soldiers in Iraq from being electricuted while showering, failing to procure and provide sufficient armor for the same soldiers, several food poisoning episodes, insufficient FDA oversight that lead to killer drugs being approved.

Posted by: Winkis8@hotmail.com on April 26, 2009 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

And there were, what, 11 people who weren't kept too safe with the DC Sniper matter. Wasn't that 2002? In our nation's capital? Lots terrorized, if I remember correctly. That doesn't count though for some reason.

Posted by: bubba on April 26, 2009 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Notice most in the GOP arent trying to defend it, they are just saying its time to move on. The moment those pictures hit the television and the papers, the defenders will do what the rest of us will, walk away and get a shower. The American people can't stand organized cruelty, its not in their nature.

Posted by: aline on April 26, 2009 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Also apparently not counted in "keeping us safe" - the attack on the El Al counter at LAX which DOJ said fit the definition of terrorism, and the attack on the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006. And of course there have been a number of attacks on clinics where abortions are performed.

Posted by: Scott on April 26, 2009 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK
His ultimate legacy hasn't been written -- Iraq is improved, but not out of danger --

I can write part of his ultimate legacy right now: Iraq was an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign state. Based on the recent memos that were made public, the United States of America tortured people to gin up a non-existent connection between Saddam & Bin Laden.

Every time Iraq is mentioned in any context whatsoever, it's worth remembering that.

Posted by: zhak on April 26, 2009 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget, too, that this was a *Global* "War on Terror," not just in the U.S. He was going to stamp out terrorism wherever it occurred. Until the State Department stopped publishing the statistics because they were just too damned embarrassing to the Bush administration, incidents of terrorism worldwide *increased* each year under Bush.

Posted by: PaulB on April 26, 2009 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

Anthrax. Anyone remember that?

Posted by: steverino on April 26, 2009 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Which were those and how do you distinguish them from non-terrorist attacks? Are all attacks against our troops by terrorists? Just a semantics check. I've had the meanings of many useful words change on me, but usually by conservatives.

P.S. As if it needs to be said. ALL attacks against our troops suck.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on April 26, 2009 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

In the last week, I've heard several Republicans declare on the cable news channels the reason that we should all move on and forget about investigating or prosecuting anyone over the Bush administration's illegal torture program:

"The way to deal with the problem of torture is through elections."

Mac Thornberry [TX-R] is one of them (see this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPhldpCfIKk), Pat Buchanan was another (see these clips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FOzqIL4Qnw

Republicans are elaborating on their crazy unitary executive claim to include the old Nixon assertion that "When the President does it, it's not illegal" and that losing an election is punishment enough.

If losing the election is the verdict, can we then move straight to the sentence and toss Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al, into prison?

The Bush administration has figured out the perfect crime, where a president will never have to face justice. Impeachment is no longer any check on executive power. Pelosi took it off the table because Republicans would never have voted to impeach, much less remove from office. So now we have to accept that a president can run amok for 8 years, and the only way to check him is to make sure that the other party controls the house and the senate.

The founders are whirling in their graves.

Posted by: Marc Spinoza on April 26, 2009 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

number of americans killed by terror - 1993 to 9/10/01: under 200

number of americans killed by terror from 9/11/01 to 1/20/09: several thousand

chose one...

gop: either we suck at math...

gop: "safe" doesn't mean what we think it means

or perhaps its both.

Posted by: mr. irony on April 27, 2009 at 7:52 AM | PERMALINK

Remember the "we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here" canard?

It's simply astonishing how the RW can hold competing bumperstickers in their pea brains. It must really hurt. but then again, maybe that is why they are so angry all of the time.

Posted by: esaud on April 27, 2009 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK



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