Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Bush/Cheney Administration And Their Conservative Supporters
Did Not Take 9/11 Seriously

As with most military (and quasi-military) threats, the line among conservatives has often been that only they take the problem seriously--liberals underestimate it. And now that we know that the last administration tortured prisoners during interrogations, it is common to hear that this was, in effect, a consequence of their more-serious attitude toward terrorism.

But none of this is true. First, it is not true that Bush, Cheney and their conservative supporters took 9/11 seriously while liberals did not. Liberals wanted to focus on al Qaeda and Afghanistan--that is, the group that actually attacked us and the military actions against it. We argued against taking our eye off the ball, against starting an irrelevant war that would divert resources from the task at hand--retaliation for 9/11. We argued against any war against Iraq in the absence of substantial evidence in support of Iraq's involvement with 9/11. Bush, Cheney and their supporters were willing to push the actual response to 9/11, the action against al Qaeda, to second place, on the basis of patently inadequate evidence, in order to begin an unrelated war for impenetrable reasons.

It is liberals who took 9/11 seriously, not conservatives.

Taking 9/11 seriously would involve retaliation against al Qaeda, focused like a laser would not involve gallivanting off on unrelated adventures while bin Laden slipped away unpunished.

Conservatives have long argued for the conclusion that it would be reprehensible to fail to take the 9/11 attacks seriously. And I certainly agree with them on that point. They are simply wrong about which group did take it seriously, and which group saw it as an excuse to do other things they already wanted to do.

Now we are told that the Bush/Cheney administration tortured prisoners...and the excuse is: because it took 9/11 so seriously. But, especially in light of the above, this claim simply does not hold water. The administration did not take 9/11 too seriously, and, in fact, it did not take it seriously enough. It used it as a stalking-horse for its other projects. In fact, it now seems that torture was used after Iraq was already invaded to elicit "information" about Iraq-al Qaeda links. This can hardly be attributed to "caring too much" about the 9/11 attacks. A genuine concern with those attacks would involve a clear-eyed search for the truth about them, not a devious attempt to shore up a botched response to them.

"Taking x seriously" does not mean doing something crazy in response to x. Rather, it means something more like: addressing x rationally, with great energy. (This is part of Richard Clarke's concern discussed here.) Bombing Venezuela--while admittedly an extraordinary response--would not constitute taking an attack by China seriously.

The main error of Bush, Cheney and their supporters was not taking 9/11 too seriously. It was not taking it seriosly enough.


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