Former Florida governor Jeb Bush continued to defend the record of his brother, George W. Bush, while on the presidential campaign trail Monday. The younger Bush said his older brother deserved a “tip of the hat” for keeping the nation safe for the final 2,600 days of his presidential administration and suggested that President Bill Clinton deserved more blame for the 9/11 attacks. But once again, Bush offered a factually inaccurate take on the historic events.
In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Bush argued that “when we were attacked, my brother created an environment where for 2,600 days, we were safe. No one attacked us again. And he changed the laws, he did everything necessary, he united the country, and he kept us safe. Just a tip of the hat to that.”
During the post-9/11 days of the Bush administration, Americans endured domestic attacks in other forms, including anthrax attacks, a failed airline shoe bomber, the DC sniper, the Ohio sniper, and ricin in the Capitol — and thousands of U.S. troops were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the interview with Jeb Bush on Monday, Hannity repeated a widely debunked claim from his 2002 book that the Sudanese had “offered [Osama] bin Laden on a silver platter” and suggested that Clinton should have imprisoned the terrorist merely for his desire to commit future crimes.
Bush responded by arguing that there are “two ways to look at Islamic terrorism: One is a threat that has to be taken out, as it relates to creating a strategy that calls it a war. Or we view it as a law enforcement operation, where people have rights. I think the Clinton administration made a mistake, of thinking bin Laden had to be viewed from a law enforcement perspective. Similarly, President Obama’s policies seem to be focused on that as well.”
But it was Clinton, in 1995, who issued the first ever Presidential Decision Directive labeling terrorism “a national security issue,” rather than a law enforcement matter (as it had been under all prior administrations, including President George H.W. Bush’s). In 1996, Clinton’s CIA created a special unit focusing specifically on Osama bin Laden. And in 1998 Clinton ordered missile attacks that narrowly missed bin Laden in Sudan and authorized covert action against Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
At the time, congressional Republicans slammed Clinton’s attempt to kill bin Laden as merely an attempt to distract from his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Many of them likened it to Wag the Dog, a 1997 film about a fictitious president who creates a diversionary war to change the subject of conversation from his own sex scandal.
Indeed in 2000, one week after the U.S. Supreme Court declared George W. Bush the president-elect, President Clinton invited him to the White House for an exit interview. Clinton has said he told his soon-to-be-successor that “the biggest security problem” facing the nation was bin Laden, rather than Iraq, but that Bush was not convinced. (Bush told the 9/11 Commission that while he “felt sure President Clinton mentioned terrorism,” he did not recall “much being said about al Qaeda).
In 2001, the George W. Bush administration removed the terrorism czar from cabinet access, rejected his request for a cabinet-level meeting on bin Laden, and took no apparent action on an August 6 Presidential Daily Brief entitled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.”
Moreover, contrary to Jeb Bush’s assertion, it was President Obama, not George W. Bush, who successfully moved to take out the threat posed by bin Laden. Six months after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush admitted “I don’t know where [bin Laden] is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.” Two years after Barack Obama became president, U.S. troops found and killed the al Qaeda leader.