Political Animal


September 11, 2012 9:02 AM 9/11 and Ideology

By Ed Kilgore

The presidential candidates are taking down ads and keeping a pretty low profile today, the eleventh anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington. In some ways that’s a shame. With new information slowly seeping out about how and why this tragedy occurred, it would be interesting to hear how the candidates would address emerging threats to national security that no one much is talking about.

Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by Kurt Eichenwald that directly addresses the indifference of the Bush White House to the al-Qaeda threat—and more importantly, the ideological reasons for it:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

This was also the conclusion reached back in 2004 by Peter Bergen in a review of two books on 9/11 and the days before and after it.

The fact that the Bush team was strangely somnambulant about the al Qaeda threat is puzzling. It is not as if they were uninterested in national security, were ill-informed or inexperienced, or did not care about the safety of their countrymen; quite the contrary. Nor did they lack enough information to act; indeed, the Bush team likes to highlight the fact that the president was being constantly briefed about al Qaeda as evidence that he was engaged on the issue. Bush administration officials deny that they failed to take the threat urgently enough, but there is no debating the record that in their public utterances and private meetings, the al Qaeda threat barely registered. The real question then, is why, in the face of all this information about the threat, did the most experienced national security team in memory downgrade the problem?
The short answer is: They were in denial. Bush administration officials entered office believing that the great threats facing the country were a remilitarized China and a few, festering rogue states, especially Iraq—states that might try to challenge American hegemony with long-range missiles or, secondarily, by supporting terrorists. Al Qaeda not only didn’t fit into this worldview, it also posed a direct challenge to it. If a network of stateless terrorists using truck bombs and other low-tech weapons represented the top threat to America’s physical security, it would have been hard to argue that our chief security strategy should be to thwart states by building a missile defense—a goal to which Republican hawks had been committed for nearly two decades.
In other words, bin Laden and al Qaeda were politically and ideologically inconvenient and impossible to square with the Bush worldview—a textbook case of cognitive dissonance.

Makes sense when you look at the personalities involved. Ideology filters how political people view every issue and every bit of information they receive. When you look at the neocon types surrounding Mitt Romney and his national security advisory team, you have to wonder what threats they’d perceive as important—and what threats they might well ignore.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on September 11, 2012 9:16 AM:

    "neocon types surrounding Mitt Romney" well, they are many of the same people...Insane John Bolton being the most prominent. It is safe to say that the same tunnel-vision mistakes will be made, and made quickly, in a Romney presidency. Funny thing about Conservatives.....they just make the same mistakes, be it economic or security, over and over and over while continuing to insist that their way is the only right way to do it. How can so many people be so wrong for so long? Maybe the Media is part of the answer.

  • stormskies on September 11, 2012 9:21 AM:

    Just another tragic example of people defined by an ideology that then creates the beliefs who are used to 'interpret' factual reality.

    Here is a much less tragic example and yet it illustrates the same point, and that point is also responsible for the millions who will vote for Romney/ Ryan despite an entire campaign built upon lies, deceptions, and delusions. And those millions know the lies, etc, yet make a conscious choice to 'believe' in those lies anyway because those beliefs defined by an ideology dictate that they do.


    Some Ohio conservatives think Romney responsible for Bin Laden’s death

    By Eric W. Dolan
    Monday, September 10, 2012 17:53 EDT

    A surprising amount of very conservative voters in Ohio apparently believe that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is more responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden than President Barack Obama.

    Fifteen percent of those who described themselves as “very conservative” said Romney was more responsible for the demise of the terrorist leader, according to a survey released by Public Policy Polling (PDF). Another 51 percent said they were not sure. Only 34 percent said Obama deserved more credit.

    In contrast, among those who described themselves as “somewhat conservative” only 6 percent said Romney was more responsible than Obama.

    Overall, 63 percent of those questioned said that Obama was more responsible for the death of Bin Laden. Only six percent said Romney was more responsible, while 30 percent said they were not sure.

    Bin Laden was killed last year after Obama ordered Navy SEALs to raid a compound in Pakistan where the terrorist leader was believed to be living.

    Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post thinks the odd results of the poll could be the result of “psychological trickery.”

    “[V]oters have trouble crediting politicians they don’t like for policy outcomes they do like,” he explained, citing research. “And killing bin Laden is a policy outcome they do like. And so partisan effects have led some Republicans to argue that Obama was not primarily responsible for killing bin Laden or, even more absurdly, that Romney was responsible.”

  • emjayay on September 11, 2012 9:35 AM:

    Richard Clarke's book "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror", also from 2004, is the famous inside story, from his viewpoint,of the same story.

  • Grumpy on September 11, 2012 9:37 AM:

    Or, as Al Franken called it, "Operation Ignore."

    Stem cells, shark attacks, and missile defense were much more urgent in the summer of 2001.

  • davidp on September 11, 2012 9:45 AM:

    The point about the same old neocons surrounding Romney puts into context the invisibility of GWB in Tampa. Though they avoid mentioning their last President, the fact is that, if they win, the policies and to some extent the personnel will be the same.

  • jeri on September 11, 2012 9:48 AM:

    Lets not forget that Bush's Security Advisor built her reputation on protection from the USSR. Condi is now a Romney advisor, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that he too considers Russia our greatest threat. When the only tool you have is a hammer..........

    And speaking of hammers, when will WM follow through with the promised demise of Crapcha?

  • c u n d gulag on September 11, 2012 9:55 AM:

    Since they're not spending the rest of their lives in jail, the very least the assholes who ignored over 6 months of warnings, including one from the outgoing administrations that specifically cited bin Laden and Al Qaeda, is sit at home, and STFU!

    Condi Rice speaking at the RNC should be her last public appearance.

    Why these people aren't off somewhere atoning for their grievous sins by doing good deeds, demonstrates their amorality, or immorality.

    They're lucky the rest of us aren't throwing rotten fruits, vegetables, and meats at them every time they leave their homes.

  • flydoc on September 11, 2012 9:55 AM:

    If you look at the "New American Century" documents, they wanted to invade Iraq from the get-go. They just needed some excuse. I think they had no idea the attacks would be that bad, and were expecting a hijacking or something with maybe 100-200 victims. These would be merely collateral damage, and would provide a much-needed excuse to invade Iraq. This was an obvious failure of imagination (or a failure to have read Tom Clancy's 1994 novel "Debt of Honor") and is no more callous than the torture memos that Cheney is still proud of. Had they known the actual toll, I don't think they would have sat idly by and waited for it. At least I hope not.

    So I agree they were in denial, but only about the severity. I think they actually were looking forward to something happening, which they expected to be the same order of magnitude as the USS Cole, which they could then use as a rationale to go after Iraq.

  • ajrichar on September 11, 2012 10:04 AM:

    This is very interesting in light of Marc Thiessen's column taking the president to task for reading his briefings instead of receiving them orally. I guess there isn't really anything inherently better about Bush's method. Shocker.

  • T2 on September 11, 2012 10:09 AM:

    @flydoc, well, at the very least it is clear that the warning signs were ignored. To go the step further and say the signs were ignored on the chance that an attack would happen, opening the doors for an invasion of Iraq would by no means be a stretch. That line of reasoning will get you called "tin foil hat" by lots of people. But I'm not one of them.
    I believe they thought a minor attack would open the door for a variety of neo-con wet dreams, and they either felt that acceptable or simply looked the other way. What they got was not a minor attack.....but the doors opened just the same. In many ways, they are still open - think of that the next time you take your shoes off at the airport.

  • Peter C on September 11, 2012 10:12 AM:

    The Republican Party is a coalition of three groups: the wealthy 1%, the Religious Conservatives, and the Libertarians. Each of these three groups has a marked tendency to self-delude. Libertarians have an unshakeable belief that, if only they can remove Government from interfering, a capitalist utopia where all markets are perfect will spontaneously emerge. Religious Conservatives believe that all essential information has already been disclosed by scripture and every situation can be solved by applying religious principles. And every business I've worked for has had an amazing number of top executives who believe that their command of the 'big picture' is more pertinent than mere facts and figures.

    But, Government needs to deal with reality; it must be grounded in fact; it has to react to real conditions on the ground. It is no place for unshakeable preconceptions. This is why Conservatives are bad at it. That, and they hate it and don't want it to exist.

  • jcricket on September 11, 2012 10:13 AM:


    These two words describe the Bush administration, especially in the run up to 9/11.

    And many of these VERY people would be back in similar positions if Mittens were elected, as many of them are on his campaign advisory team.

    Let's hope their incompetence sinks his campaign, just as badly as they let down their fellow citizens eleven years ago.

  • Gandalf on September 11, 2012 10:13 AM:

    Should we really be surprised by this. The modern republican party doesn't beleive facts and reality. Their proclivity to not accept facts and reality when they don't square with their ideology and dogma leads to these situations.

  • Kathryn on September 11, 2012 10:16 AM:

    @flydoc makes a good point, an extremely cynical and evil point. As we all know, the plan of action did not change, they continued with the Iraq War, trying mightily to link it to the 911 attacks. Cheney, Rice, G.W. Bush and all other decision makers in that rancid White House should be condemned to sack cloth and ashes In a monestary somewhere to atone for their cynicism and stupidity that cost 3,000 lives and limitedless amounts of the country's fortune. To watch the haughty Condi Rice being hailed at the Repiblican Comvention, Dick Cheney still walking this earth with someone else's heart, Dan Señor leading Romney's campaign, John Bolton, pontificating bastard planning a comeback is hellish. There is something deeply wrong with a country that closes it eyes and allows these people back near power.

  • berttheclock on September 11, 2012 10:16 AM:

    Would you, please, stop using the Bush Administration in your thread. It was very much the Cheney-Bush Administration for that period. Both men had their own reasons for wanting to go to war against Iraq and those neocons behind Cheney were a cult with Cheney as their true leader.

  • Milt on September 11, 2012 10:19 AM:

    Stormskies is on target. Ideologues wear self-imposed blinders to anything other than their personal goals. There is nothing that can detract them from what they see as vitally important. Normally this is fine but not when they are in charge of a country. Unfortunately Romney too is making use of these same ideologues.

  • golack on September 11, 2012 10:24 AM:

    If they were actually trying to deal with the terrorists, but couldn't put the dots together in time, that's one thing. At least they tried.

    If they didn't have the intelligence, but were developing intelligence networks and just didn't get to the point were they could see what was being planned, that's one thing. At least they tried.

    If they didn't have evidence of some foreign nationals doing strange things, like taking flying lessens but not wanting to learn to take off or land, that's one thing. At least they tried.

    But they had the warnings, they had the networks that could have been better but were able to give some useful information, they even had the evidence....and didn't try. Yes there was some bureaucratic nonsense that got in the way of the dots being connected. And it may not have been preventable no matter who was in office. Hind sight can be 20:20....or 20:600 if you're rewriting history....

    As mentioned above, "this was an obvious failure of imagination..." I think it was worse--they refused to imagine. Must. Go. To. War. With. Irag.

    Bill Bennett was on This Week last Sunday and just had to say "Bush won the Irag war". Yes, "Mission Accomplished".

  • jjm on September 11, 2012 10:27 AM:

    I have long realized that the Bush regime was highly negligent but Eichenwald's detailed report shocked me to the core. What does it mean? That the Bushies were too lazy to be bothered, or that they salivated at the prospect of another 'Pearl Harbor'?

    Either way, these skunks should never be allowed to get their mitts on the reins of government again (pun intended).

  • berttheclock on September 11, 2012 10:29 AM:

    To a lesser degree, but, nonetheless, very costly to the lives of many soldiers, Montgomery did not want to read the intelligence reports of a Panzer unit being in the woods near the drop zone of his planned air drop in Holland.

    Upper echelon staff of Eisenhower, wineing and dining in Paris, did not want to read the many intelligence reports of a rapid buildup by German forces east of the Bulge. Why, they, collectively, crooned, "The War will be over in days". Even the powers to be in both France and England refused to believe intelligence reports flooding in during the last stages of "The Phony War". Ye olde, "I've earned these Stars and ribbons and those make me All Knowing". However, tie those examples of arrogance in with a zealot's view of any ideology and countless lives have and will be destroyed.

  • Memekiller on September 11, 2012 10:46 AM:

    Pre-911, the latest conservative myth in fashion was how Saddam was behind the first WTC bombing. Unfortunately, this might not have just been fodder for the rubes, but something they actually convinced themselves of. See, for instance,"Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War against America"by Laurie Mylroie, which was glowingly reviewed by Paul Wolfowitz.

    Bin Laden as a "Clinton obsession" to be ignored due to the prevailing philosophy at the time, ABC (Anything But Clinton). Clinton was concerned, so they weren't.


  • Jack Moss on September 11, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Libs blame Bush falsely for 9/11. NB has been on this for a while. But if they're going to blame, they need to go back further. By the way, I was on the ground during that time, Clinton flinched, not once but many times. No Bin Laden, no attack. http://macsmind.com/wordpress/2012/09/clinton-more-to-blame-for-911-that-bush-simple-fact/

  • esaud on September 11, 2012 11:10 AM:

    The Republican Party's complete and sudden shift to the neocons is where I mark the final wheel to go off the rails.

    Those people were wrong about everything, in fact, Cheney and a few others have such severe congitive impairment, they shouldn't be trusted to run a lemonade stand.

    And notice that there is not a single Republican to stand up and say - let's hit the reset button and go back to sensible realists like Brent Scowcroft.

    Off Topic - Digby's blog is hanging up my computer. Anyone else having trouble>

  • dalloway on September 11, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Flydoc and Kathryn have it right. It wasn't merely denial or incompetence, though Bush the Clueless was guilty of both. The neocons, led by Cheney and Wolfowitz, wanted a terrorist attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. They just didn't realize how horrific it would be or that they'd have trouble convincing the country Saddam was the perp.

    Years before 9/11, the neocon Project for a New American Century (PNAC) salivated in print at the prospect of a "new Pearl Harbor." 9/11 wasn't negligence. It was a crime.

  • Zinsky on September 11, 2012 11:20 AM:

    This is not new information. A book by Phillip Shenon' called "The Commission" noted years ago that Bush, Cheney and Condi Rice were warned multiple times on multiple ways by various agencies and did nothing. NOTHING. They could have warned airlines to lock or secure cockpit doors but they didn't even do that. This was gross negligence and the 9-11 Commission white-washed the facts. The truth is 9-11 was a preventable tragedy and Bush, Cheney and Rice should have been held accountable and subject to civil lawsuits for wrongful death by the poor families who lost loved ones due to the incompetence and arrogance of these nincompoops.

  • boatboy_srq on September 11, 2012 11:22 AM:

    One more vote with the commenters above who think the Bush/Cheney machine wanted an event - and ignored the warnings.

    Clinton's approach to AQ was a law-enforcement one. Shrub's immediate reaction was dismissal: if it was a law enforcement issue then it wasn't a federal priority. Memekiller has it right with the ABC comment: anything Clinton did was so obviously wrong to Shrub and that cadre that it was automatically dismissed.

    We do have to remember that 2001 was not a good year. The dot-bomb had gone off and the tech economy had tanked; there were a lot of things about Shrub's first year that for any other administration would have been "growing pains" - except Shrub never grew. There was already talk about the questionable utility of the CEO pResident (who clearly couldn't run a lemonade stand). They needed something - and something drastic. 9/11 was tragic - but tragically convenient.

    I think the thing that burns me most is the idea that massive infrastructure, 3,000 lives and protracted nationwide interruptions in basic activities were perceived as an acceptable price by those clods to enact the agenda without which incident they would have been hard pressed to justify to the public.

  • Zinsky on September 11, 2012 11:23 AM:

    This is not new information. A book by Phillip Shenon' called "The Commission" noted years ago that Bush, Cheney and Condi Rice were warned multiple times on multiple ways by various agencies and did nothing. NOTHING. They could have warned airlines to lock or secure cockpit doors but they didn't even do that. This was gross negligence and the 9-11 Commission white-washed the facts. The truth is 9-11 was a preventable tragedy and Bush, Cheney and Rice should have been held accountable and subject to civil lawsuits for wrongful death by the poor families who lost loved ones due to the incompetence and arrogance of these nincompoops.

  • berttheclock on September 11, 2012 11:25 AM:

    Hmmm, "macsmind"

    A site which printed the macranger nonsense of Walter Cronkite being a pinko "Pinko Cronkite bites the dust" after Cronkite died. Then, referred to him as a "surrendercrat". Extreme right wing positions each and every day.

  • boatboy_srq on September 11, 2012 11:44 AM:

    @Zinsky: until fairly recently that suggestion was a political impossibility. It took the '06 election to get past the binary choice of rallying round the pResident or being branded a "supporter of terrrrrrism." Shrub had the intel agencies and his shiny new DHS looking under all the wrong rocks (remember the investigation of anti-war activists and Quakers as possible terror cells?), and the GOP Congresscritters were shouting down even the most mild questioning of(mal)administration policies. Valerie Plame was enough to silence the critics in Intel and State Dept: essentially "shut up or we'll do the same to your family".

    If BHO has made any colossal mistake, it was assuming that by pushing past all that he'd encourage the GOTea to engage constructively. The only engagement the GOTea seems interested in involves ICBMs and Tomahawks going in ahead of the boots on the ground, and the list of targets for that engagement seems to grow every year.

  • Mimikatz on September 11, 2012 12:11 PM:

    In the early days of the Bush-Cheney Admin Bush himself was way out of his depth on foreign policy and particularly in thrall to Cheney. Cheney had a way of talking about national security that was very soothing and seemingly reasonable, although the things he was saying were absolutely nuts. I have never doubted that Cheney expected some sort of terrorist action, albeit much, much smaller than what actually happened, as did his closest neocon confidents, like LIbby, Wolfowitz etc. Look how ready Cheney was to spring into action and take over that day while Bush was at that school.

    But I wonder how much they had actually disclosed to Bush, and if his stricken mien on 9/11 in the schoolroom was him putting a few bits together and realizing that they had largely left him in the dark and he had no idea what to do.

    Obviously none of these people should ever, ever be allowed close to power again, and Obama's decision to let them all off the hook entirely was one of his worst. I understand it, given the lynch mob just waiting for him to make a misstep, but if it lets them back into power, it will prove very costly to us.

  • Old Uncle Dave on September 11, 2012 12:42 PM:

    The article below was written for the Journal of 9/11 Studies for the eleventh anniversary of September 11, 2001, the day that terminated accountable government and American liberty.

  • Joe Friday on September 11, 2012 1:11 PM:

    During administration transitions, it is standard procedure for key personal to meet, so the outgoing one can personally brief the incoming one, with the outgoing Secretary of Defense briefing the incoming Secretary of Defense, and so on.

    President Clinton broke protocol and personally met with Candi Rice, who would be Chimpy Bush's National Security Advisor, to strongly warn her of the potential and rising threat from Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and specifically of the threat of al-Qaeda hi-jacking airliners and crashing them into targets.

    This was confirmed by the fact that the Bushies ordered, for the first time in history, SAM batteries deployed around the site of a G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy in late July 2001, less than 60 days prior to 9/11, as a deterrent to the threat by al-Qaeda to hi-jack commercial airliners and crash them into American assets.

    Yet, just hours after the 9/11 attacks, Candi Rice, who was then Chimpy Bush's National Security Advisor at the time, went before a bank of press cameras and stated the following:

    "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center ... that they would try to use ... a hi-jacked airplane as a missile."

  • Joe Friday on September 11, 2012 1:17 PM:


    "Libs blame Bush falsely for 9/11. NB has been on this for a while. But if they're going to blame, they need to go back further. By the way, I was on the ground during that time, Clinton flinched, not once but many times. No Bin Laden, no attack."

    The so-called famous "missed opportunity" to take out Osama bin Laden by President Clinton, turned out to be an Arab Prince, who was very tall and had been mistaken for bin Laden.

    Thankfully, we had a President who wasn't a cowboy.

  • majun on September 11, 2012 1:41 PM:

    When you look at the neocon types surrounding Romney, and obviously ready to jump in and take full control of he foreign policy machinery, what is scary is how many of them are just re-treads from the Bush years. Sheldon Adelson has spent wildly this election cycle to insure that, if there is a Republican victory in November, he will call the shots on foreign policy. And the basis of that foreign policy will be looking after the preceived security interests of Israel.

  • Col Bat Guano on September 11, 2012 1:58 PM:

    While taking out Hussein might have been high on the list, the real priority in 2001 was to get a nice cold war restarted with China. Nothing like a giant military buildup of conventional weapons coupled with missile defense to line the pockets of those defense contractors.

  • castanea on September 11, 2012 2:48 PM:

    Imagine if a Democratic president had been in office and approved the "letter of the two sorries," as Bush had done during the first months of his first term.


    One of the things that saved Bush was when he climbed atop a pile of rubble in the aftermath of 9/11 and hollered through a bull horn.

  • jsjiowa on September 11, 2012 4:05 PM:

    I think, after all of the additional information that has come out with this new release of documents, that no one should ever again take Jeb Bush (or anyone else) seriously when they proudly announce that Bush "kept us safe".

    It is frightening to think that Romney is relying on the same core group of neocon advisers. I'd love to see the press take aim at them, and force Romney to defend their actions -- and make the public aware of what they'd really be voting for. Enough has not been made in the mainstream press about what a Romney Presidency would do in Iran.

  • TCinLA on September 11, 2012 4:22 PM:

    The following is a comment made earlier today to me in an e-mail from a good friend who was at the time a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense:

    One reason why Bushies blew off warnings and Taliban overtures is because they were obsessed with pumping up the defense budget with cold war weapons, including BMD, and maybe restarting the Cold War (which Obama is now being suckered into with pivot to China) The terrorist threat did not fit that paradigm, and prior to 9-11, it could not be used to hype the budget. Most of the budget growth that people think resulted from 9-11 was already in the Pentagon's computers by August of 01 for non terrorist reasons. Their eyes, particularly Wolfie's and probably Cheney's, were on Iraq, but their real obsession was big defense budgets and there is another factor -- Clinton told Bush during transition that bin Laden would be his biggest problem - no way were Bush, Cheney, Rummy, and neoconmen going to take Clinton's advice. My colleagues in the Pentagon and I (to a lesser extent) had been hollering about the 4GW threat since the late 80s, but no one was interested, because it could not generate the requisite budgets for high tech goodies. Nevertheless, the Pentagon adapted after 9-11 and exploited the fear it generated to convert the war on terror into a high cost-high tech boondoggle, which, BTW, Obama bought into hook, line, and sinker.