Via ThinkProgress, which watches CNN so you don’t have to, Holocaust-trivializer and Expelled frontman Ben Stein and conservative radio host Larry Elder discuss 9/11:

Ben Stein’s comments around 1:20 are the least sensible from the entire clip, and that’s saying quite a bit.

Elder’s claim is that George Bush deserves credit for the fact that there were no terrorist attacks on American soil during his presidency, except for 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, which don’t count because 9/11 planning began before January 20, 2001 (when Bush took office). So Clinton was responsible, since he failed to disrupt the planning, but Bush is not responsible, despite failing to disrupt the actual execution of the plan.

This is dumb, and Elder should know better. But he’s at least wise enough not to state explicitly that Bush isn’t responsible, merely insisting that Clinton bear blame beyond what he deserves.

Ben Stein, not content with playing second fiddle in this duet of the damned, jumps in to take a solo halfway through.

Larry King, incredulously, asks Elder “George Bush had nothing to do with this?” As Elder is responding “I didn’t say he didn’t,” Stein interjects “I don’t think, I don’t think anyone blames George Bush for 9/11. I mean no one in his right mind blames George Bush for 9/11.”

Ummm?

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According to the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel whose analysis of 9/11 remains the gold standard, the Clinton administration was tracking al Qaeda operatives who went on to take part in 9/11, both domestically and abroad. The Bush CIA and FBI lost track of them, and reduced the priority of counter-terrorism. In a Jan. 3, 2000 memo, counter-terror chief Richard Clarke and his staff noted “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks on the US are likely” (emphasis in original).

Bill Clinton told the Commission that, during a briefing between him and president-elect Bush in late 2000, he said “I think you will find that by far your biggest threat is Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda.” Bush ignored the memo, telling the 9/11 Commission that he “did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so.” Indeed, the Commission “found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States. ? Tenet does not recall any discussions with the President of the domestic threat during this period,” despite repeated briefings on terrorism in subsequent days. On August 7, 2001, the day after that briefing, Bush was “carefree as he spoke about the books he was reading, the work he was doing on his nearby ranch, his love of hot-weather jogging, his golf game and his 55th birthday.” His mind seemed to be focused on the effect of “hit[ting] the speed limit” on his golf swing.

Other Clinton staffers emphasized the importance of targeting al Qaeda to their incoming equivalents, including Richard Clarke, still head of counterterrorism in the National Security Council. He renewed that call in a January 25, 2001 memo to the new administration, requesting an immediate review of the administration’s handling of al Qaeda. No such meeting took place until September 4, 2001. Clarke stepped out of counterterrorism in May or June, frustrated that the new administration was rehashing old decisions that had been proposed in the Clinton years, and not moving forward. He told the 9/11 Commission that he was “frustrated with his role and with an administration that he considered not ‘serious about al Qaeda.'”

Others were pressuring the President and others to pay closer attention. A worried CIA sent Bush a briefing with the emphatic title: “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.” CIA director Tenet said that “The system was blinking red,” and that, in July of 2001, things could not “get any worse.” In early July, Tenet, Clarke, and others warned the FBI, FAA, Secret Service, Coast Guard, INS, and other groups involved in counterterrorism that “al Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. ? Cancel summer vacations, schedule overtime, have your terrorist reaction teams on alert to move fast. Tell me, tell each other, about anything unusual.” (Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror) But the President and his closest advisors ignored the threats, and warnings about odd flight school students were dismissed by FBI officials, while the CIA and NSA failed to warn domestic law enforcement that know al Qaeda operatives were in the US.

Could Bush have prevented 9/11? There’s no way to know. But did his lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism allow the threat to grow? Surely, and no one in his right mind should deny that George Bush shares some of that blame.

Comments

  1. #1 mark
    August 31, 2008

    And besides that, Bush made matters much, much worse by linking and invading Iraq. Ben Stein is an ass, and apparently wishes to make sure everybody knows it.

  2. #2 Jim C.
    August 31, 2008

    “Could Bush have prevented 9/11? There’s no way to know.”

    Well then, what’s your problem?

    “But did his lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism allow the threat to grow? Surely, and no one in his right mind should deny that George Bush shares some of that blame.”

    Okay. Then you’ll agree Clinton’s 6+ years should get a correspondingly greater share of the blame than Bush’s 8 months.

    Plus Clinton declined to get bin Laden when he was practically handed to us on more than one occasion, as he has admitted.

    BTW, 9/11 was PREDICTED by Rick Rescorla, the security manager of Morgan Stanley, a real hero who died in the collapse. Thanks to his extensive preparations, including frequent drills, almost every MS employee escaped. (I also distinctly remember some other expert on TV in 1993 commenting: “They were trying to topple the towers. They’ll be back to finish the job.”)

    Some people laughed at Rescorla’s preparations, but the management gave him full rein. Why? Before the 1993 bombing, he told management that the towers were vulnerable to exactly that attack! Management had thought he was an alarmist, but that changed their minds.

  3. #3 GrayGaffer
    August 31, 2008

    Jim: if you read the article, or better yet the 9/11 commission report, Clinton’s admin was in fact tracking the Al Qaeda operatives, and tried to brief Bush, but Bush dropped the ball. Badly. And I mean, Bush himself, not merely faceless functionaries. He was told, and chose to ignore.

  4. #4 Josh Rosenau
    August 31, 2008

    Anyone who says the Clinton administration didn’t act against al Qaeda is not paying attention. If anything, Clinton himself was more aggressive in pursuing al Qaeda than the military was willing to be. Read the 9/11 report, read Clarke’s book, and get real. Blame rests heavily on Bush’s shoulders. That some smaller fraction also lies on Clinton’s shoulders doesn’t mitigate Bush’s great failings. Whether correcting those failures would’ve stopped the attacks is unknowable, but it would surely have made them less likely.

  5. #5 Carol Brouillet
    August 31, 2008

    Actually the 9/11 Commission was run by Philip Zelikow, part of the Bush National Security transition team, author of the pre-emptive war doctrine, co-author of a book with his buddy Condi Rice, hardly an impartial investigator. On top of that much of the “story” was based on “tortured confessions” and almost anone will say anything under torture to stop the torturers from inflicting more pain upon them.

    We know that they have lied, destroyed evidence, ignored, covered up, denied some very damning facts about 9/11, as well as used the event to launch a war on multiple countries, the Constitution, our civil rights, seize more executive power, institutionalize torture, silence dissent.

    Whether Bush was in the “know” or not, I do not know, but he did give Cheney authority months prior to 9/11 to oversee counter-terrorism. Cheney was issuing orders from the White House Emergency Operating Center on the morning of 9/11, in the midst of multiple war games, while the most sophisticated communications plane was flying over Washington DC (the doomsday plane an American EB-4). Mineta testified to the Commission that a young man asked Cheney multiple times, “There’s a plane 50 miles out, do the orders still stand? A plane thirty miles out, do the orders still stand?..a plane ten miles out, do the orders still stand?” And Cheney replied, “Of course the orders still stand, did I say anything to the contrary?” just prior to the attack on the Pentagon.

    What were those orders? The Commission omitted Mineta’s testimony and we will never know what Bush and Cheney said to them, unless they are subpoenaed and placed under oath. Even then, we’ve had so many lies from them, it is hard to imagine them telling the truth about anything.

    Carol Brouillet
    Organizer of the San Francisco International Inquiry into 9/11

  6. #6 I am so wise
    August 31, 2008

    Carol, if the U.S. government was behind the 9-11 attack there would be a massive paper trail. Why? because nobody wants to be holding the bad for a major attack of terrorism. Each and every person in on the conspiracy would have gotten written orders that way, say if the plot had been exposed early, they’d have leverage to negotiate with.

    If you cannot find that paper trail, then it probably wasn’t a government plot.

  7. #7 I am so wise
    August 31, 2008

    Carol, if the U.S. government was behind the 9-11 attack there would be a massive paper trail. Why? because nobody wants to be holding the bag for a major attack of terrorism. Each and every person in on the conspiracy would have gotten written orders that way, say if the plot had been exposed early, they’d have leverage to negotiate with.

    If you cannot find that paper trail, then it probably wasn’t a government plot.

  8. #8 GrayGaffer
    September 1, 2008

    I am so wise: I do not think that is the issue. The issue is that Cheney was apparently on station _before_ the Pentagon was hit and passively watched it happen, even though he possessed the key to order a shoot-down. So the accusation is of fore-knowledge and illegal opportunism and also of impeachable dereliction of duty, not of being a planner of the attack itself. So there would be no paper trail of that aspect. There is however a mountain of paper trail of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld (the only three people who can order a shoot-down) being warned about the impending attack, and of them officially ignoring those warnings. And being in strangely appropriate places on the day itself. And having the default standing orders changed from ‘shoot’ to ‘stand by’ only a few months earlier – by Cheney. After they had been warned of an impending attack using aircraft as bombs. By Clinton’s team. Doesn’t the rapidity with which the plotters, those not actually on the planes, were rounded up (<24 hrs) say something to that? Also the immediate destruction of evidence by the FBI on all the sites which were by definition crime scenes?

    Although this crowd could have planned the attack, I do not think they are capable. They have demonstrated continuous and all-encompassing inability to predict the future or the consequences of their actions. If they had tried, their incompetence would have left a visible paper trail to anybody who looked.

    But they have at the same time demonstrated a voracious appetite for taking advantage of the power and inside knowledge that came their way for personal and crony gain.

    Why they weren’t there even earlier, say at 8:45 am, I have no idea. They should have been. Maybe even earlier, given no less that four concurrent hijackings.

    Never-the-less, the fact (not supposition or conspiracy theory) remains that there is considerable doubt about Cheney’s actual TOA in the PEOC. And Mineta is no minor hireling either, his testimony should have been included. We do have it on video. On U-Tube.

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