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April 13, 2004

Really, what did people want from the guy?

There's a meme going around in dittohead circles that the same libruls who are now saying Bush didn't do enough to prevent 9/11 would have screamed bloody murder if he'd tried to invade Afghanistan in early 2001 based on the evidence he had at the time. Our old pal Gregg Easterbrook inadvertently reveals just how flimsy this bit of rhetoric is when he tries to play it for pathos-tinged laughs with this alternative history.

Speaking briefly to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before a helicopter carried him out of Washington as the first-ever president removed by impeachment, Bush seemed bitter. "I was given bad advice," he insisted. "My advisers told me that unless we took decisive action, thousands of innocent Americans might die. Obviously I should not have listened."

Announcing his candidacy for the 2004 Republican presidential nomination, Senator John McCain said today that "George W. Bush was very foolish and na´ve; he didn't realize he was being pushed into this needless conflict by oil interests that wanted to seize Afghanistan to run a pipeline across it." McCain spoke at a campaign rally at the World Trade Center in New York City.

One of my pet peeves about humor — it surfaces more often in standup comedy than political satire — is when jokes are based on a premise that is simply wrong. In this case, it's doubly wrong. First, an invasion of Afghanistan in August, 2001 would not have prevented 9/11. Easterfuck (it's a cheap laugh, but it actually generated some search-term traffic last week; must be a seasonal thing) knows this in his heart, so he throws in a line about "the detention of 19 men of Arab descent who had entered the country legally." Which brings us to incorrect premise two: the complaint that Bush didn't do enough about terrorism is not the equivallent of saying he should have invaded Afghanistan.

An unprovoked war, yeah, probably would have raised howls. But a more proactive intelligence and law-enforcement campaign would not have, despite Easterbrook's suggestion otherwise. Sure, the hijackers entered the country legally (though GE's being a bit cute here; three had expired visas, so were no longer here legally and could have been detained without a fuss no matter what). But two of them were on terrorism watch lists and the detention of the rest would have been justified by the investigation into the USS Cole bombing. Not to mention that even pre-9/11 the public would have accepted non-permanent detentions of suspected terrorists that would have allowed the feds to gather evidence — and would have prevented the attacks.

But it wasn't just failure to dot-connect regarding 9/11 that's an issue now. It's a failure to see the importance of terrorism in general. Certainly those same straw man liberal carpers who condemned GE's hypothetical Afghan war would have endorsed (did endorse, point of fact), the level-headed, non-militaristic anti-terror agenda proposed by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman in January, 2001.

If, having taken all these steps, Bush had wanted to carefully make the case for a multilateral attack on the Taliban, he probably would, in fact, have won the country, including the left, to his cause. Don't forget that liberals were decrying the horrors of life under the Taliban long before George Bush got around to it.

But I'll agree with those who say that asking what should have been done is less important than figuringout what should be done now. And to answer that I point, for neither the first nor the last time, to Robert Wright's A Real War on Terror.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Comments

I just love how far he mines his piece for pathos. "I can't believe you liberals got so angry at Bush for doing this thing I made up!"

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