Thursday, January 22, 2009

Claiming Credit While Not Taking Blame

The Bush administration and its advocates like to point out the lack of any terrorist attacks on American soil after 9/11 as evidence of a crowning success in President Bush's Global War on Terrorism. Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen argues as much in today's Washington Post. The argument is fine as far as it goes. In the wake of 9/11 many observers -- myself included -- expected other attacks to follow. They did not. Whether this is the result of Bush policies or an inability of al Qaeda (or anyone else) to follow up on their massive undertaking on that awful September morning is up for debate. But it is true that no attacks followed the terrorism of 9/11.

However, it seems rather shortsighted to simply look at that fact and claim it as a major accomplishment. After all, the Clinton administration went even longer without an attack on US soil from foreign terrorist groups after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Furthermore, how is it possible to take credit for a lack of attacks after 9/11 without at the same time acknowledging that the administration did not stop the worst terrorist attack in American history? Bush's advocates cannot possibly have it both ways, denying any responsibility whatsoever for not preventing 9/11 but claiming a lack of attacks after 9/11 as the result of successful policy. 9/11 happened during the Bush presidency. That is an immutable fact. The failures on 9/11 were systemic, to be sure, and blaming Bush, or blaming Clinton, would be largely pointless. Until you start using the lack of attacks as a political chit. At which point, the rules of the game change.

Finally, the United States has allies. In part as a nearly direct result of their coordination with American policies, Spain and England suffered terrorist attacks after 9/11. (I was in England on the 7th of July, 2005.) Shallow triumphalism on terrorism needs to take into account that the Global War on terror (Bush's titular creation, not mine) was, well, global. To declaim an attack in London or Madrid because it does not fit the narrative qualifies as rank opportunism (and pretty crass abandonment of the significance of our allies). It hardly meets the standard of rigorous political analysis.

1 comment:

montana urban legend said...

This is a complex and important short essay, and, I believe, one of the first to take a comprehensive and realistic view of how we are to measure our success in the endeavor of fighting terrorism and militant extremism.

The ideas you lay out here should be considered foundational in such a complicated new era of politics and conflict, and in our understanding of the interaction that must be managed between them.