So much can happen in a week's time.
The last time we wrote of Dr. Condoleeza Rice, she was still refusing, as a matter of principle, to publicly testify under oath before the commission investigating the conditions that enabled the attacks of September 11, 2001 to take place. In a matter of days, however, the Bush Administration abandoned its own principles for the sake of politics, and allowed Dr. Rice's testimony to take place.
Dr. Rice's appearance was great theatre, as she refused to answer many questions directly, and gave long, filibustering lectures when none were asked for. With her testimony occurring only for a specified limited time, Dr. Rice ran out the clock with extravagant and lengthy verbal flourishes.
Even with such practiced evasion, Condoleeza Rice was unable to completely evade revealing deeply telling information. For example, she was forced to acknowledge that the title of a Presidential Daily Briefing that she described as merely "historical" specifically warned George W. Bush "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US".
That Presidential Daily Briefing, including its title, had been kept classified, again supposedly as a matter of principle, by the Bush Administration. Once again, when political necessity demanded it, George W. Bush abandoned his principles and allowed the document to be declassified.
Now that we can read the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, it appears that, in direct contradiction to Condoleeza Rice's grudging tesimony, George W. Bush was specifically warned that Osama bin Laden's organization was planning attacks on Washington and New York City using hijacked airplanes, and had operatives within the United States already preparing for such attacks. It also appears that Bush did almost nothing, if anything at all, in response to the specific warning.
Well, so what?
Even if the answer to this question sounds obvious, the question must be answered only after being considered seriously. We need to think deeply about why it matters that George W. Bush was warned about specifics of Osama bin Laden's plans to attack the United States, yet gave little response.
The easy answer, the one given to us by Richard Clarke and taken up by many newly indignant Democrats, is that George W. Bush should and could have done more to prevent the September 11 attacks, and that he is, therefore, a bad leader who does not deserve to be re-elected.
Condoleeza Rice agreed to one of the fundamental premises supporting this argument when she said that if the Bush Administration had been given specific information suggesting that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were going to take place, "we would have moved heaven and Earth to stop it."
Moving heaven and Earth to stop the attacks of September 11, 2001 sounds like a great idea, but is it really? Let's evaluate the literal meaning of Condoleeza Rice's statement to find out what it really suggests.
What would have happened if George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice had literally moved heaven and Earth to stop the attacks? Those sticklers for detail among our readers will protest that this is an absurd matter even to consider because George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice do not have the power to literally move heaven and Earth. This is actually a very revealing point, because it means that Condoleeza Rice was making a promise she knew she would never be expected to live up to. It's like someone saying, "If I ever won six trillion dollars in the lottery, I would give it all to charity." Well, no one ever has won anything close to six trillion dollars in any lottery, and no one will within our lifetime, so making this sort of promise amounts to empty self-flattery. Condoleeza Rice's statement was equally meaningless. She might as well have promised to convert the entire planet of Jupiter into a nudist colony for unemployed Swedes, as if it were in her power to do so.
We do not believe, of course, that Condoleeza Rice really meant that she and George W. Bush would have moved heaven and Earth. She was just using a figure of speech, but what was she getting at?
Taking the figure of speech at face value, moving heaven and Earth to stop the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 would have actually done more harm than good. Moving the Earth would have brought Earth out of its ancient orbit, possibly causing the Earth to crash into the Sun, as well as putting it into the paths of nearby meteorites in the meantime. The effort of moving the Earth so abruptly would change the rate of its rotation, altering the length of our days from 24 hours to something much less predictable. The Moon would be left behind, and so would the the system of tides that had heretofore enabled a huge amount of ocean life to thrive. With the seas dying, huge tsunamis would race around the planet, smashing coastal cities. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions would also result from such sudden movement.
As for the results of moving heaven, we cannot even imagine them, except to guess that, given the scale of the heavens in relation to Earth, the devastation would be at a much greater magnitude.
So, if we are to interpret Condoleeza Rice's statement literally, she is saying that she and George W. Bush would have decided to endanger the entire planet just in order to prevent the attacks of September 11 in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Oh, but we're being silly, aren't we? I mean, Condoleeza Rice surely didn't literally mean that she and the President would have jiggled the Earth out of orbit and upset the Cosmos just in order to stop one set of terrorist attacks, right?
I'm sure that Dr. Rice did not mean her statement to be interpreted literally in this way, but I still don't feel that I really know whether the Bush Administration, if it had the power, would restrain itself from throwing the entire Universe out of kilter in its quest to combat terrorism. The thing is that there is a kernel of truth to what Condoleeza Rice said, and it's been demonstrated in the Bush Administration's heavy-handed tactics ever since September 11, 2001.
Think about it. Hasn't George W. Bush behaved as if he has the right to do just about anything in order to prevent any further terrorist attacks? Under Bush, the government has declared its right to spy on our normal, law-abiding daily activities, to imprison American citizens without charging them with a crime or allowing them to see a lawyer. Bush has sent out police officers to infiltrate and disrupt political groups that oppose his policies. He's even started a war under the pretext that another country might some time in the future be able to wage terrorist attacks on America.
Our futures are bankrupt, our freedoms are gone and our nation is fighting a war with no end in sight, all in order to fulfill Bush's obsession of doing whatever he has to do to prevent any terrorist attack whatsoever.
To tell the truth, I don't want George W. Bush to do everything in his power to stop a terrorist attack, because I don't truth him to use that power responsibly. I want to live in a nation of laws, where terrible criminal acts have strong, but limited criminal penalties. There's no vengeance in such a nation, but then again, in such a nation the government does not have the power to lash out arbitrarily in order to satisfy its rageful appetite for revenge and control.
I also want to live in a nation where freedom is so beloved that it is never thrown away out of desperate fear. I want to live in a nation where the citizens and the government alike recognize that the destruction of freedom is in itself a terrorist act.
I don't like George W. Bush, and I don't want him to be my President any longer. Still, that doesn't mean that I'll take any opportunity to criticize him. The fact is that George W. Bush was right not to send the entire American nation into an instant crazy panic because of one memo that suggested that an attack might be coming along sometime soon. The painful fact is that even if Bush were to have created a plan to convert the United States of America into a totalitarian police state in a permanent condition of red alert, he probably would not have been able to crack down soon enough to stop the attacks of September 11, 2001.
I know that this breaks the taboos of post-September 11 American culture, but I have to say that even if such extreme measures would have prevented the attacks, I would never wish that George W. Bush had enacted them. George W. Bush may have just been a little lazy while sitting around at his dude ranch on August 6, 2001, but whatever the cause, he did the right thing by not throwing the American system of law and order into the can. It's just too bad that Bush has been trying to throw the American system of law and order into the can ever since September 11 of that year.
Some prices for security are too high. I'd like to think that we'd all be willing to sacrifice our lives if it were necessary to preserve American freedom. In our society today, that sacrifice doesn't mean going to war. It means not allowing the Bush White House to destroy America's freedoms in the name of a little security.
Still, I am very bothered by revelations contained in the declassified August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing. I'm just not bothered by the fact that Bush had a sane, controlled reaction to a serious warning.
What I am bothered by is that George W. Bush and all his top officials have been so stupid and so disrespectful of the American people that they have decided to keep all this information secret for so long. There's nothing of substance in Condoleeza Rice's public, sworn testimony or the August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing that compromises America's national security in being released. When Bush and Rice told us that there were national security reasons for withholding information from the American people, they were out-and-out lying.
Keeping secrets from the American people and lying for political benefit isn't just disrespectful, it's damaging to America's security. Unnecessary secrecy and deception on the part of the American government damages our nation's credibility overseas, and makes us all more vulnerable. Bush and his advisors have been willing to allow America to become vulnerable for their own personal benefit. That's dishonest, but even worse, I believe that it borders on treason.
The American President is not above the law. The American President is supposed to be the embodiment of the law. When George W. Bush flouts the law in the name of security, he himself attacks the integrity of the nation that he is supposed to protect.
George W. Bush and his advisors have not only lied to us, they have betrayed us. The consequences have been fatal for hundreds of Americans, and thousands of others around the world.
If Mr. Bush were a man of integrity, he would resign. Clearly, he is not. Therefore, every American who has the courage to stand up for freedom even when it is not perfectly safe to do so must vote to deny him another four years in the White House.
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