From Elizabeth Drew writing at The New York Review of Books:
Poor Jeb. Or I should say, Poor Jeb! (I’m not given to exclamation points, but Jeb! is so magnetic.) It’s unfathomable how he thought that he could run for the Republican nomination without having to wrestle with his brother’s record as president.
Soon enough, he was so entangled in the question of whether he would have gone into Iraq, knowing what we know now, that it took him four tries to come up with the currently politically acceptable answer: No. But while the war in Iraq is widely accepted to have been a disastrous mistake, another crucial event during the George W. Bush administration has long been considered unfit for political discussion: President Bush’s conduct, in the face of numerous warnings of a major terrorist plot, in the months leading up to September 11, 2001.
The general consensus seems to have been that the 9/11 attacks were so horrible, so tragic, that to even suggest that the president at the time might bear any responsibility for not taking enough action to try to prevent them is to play “politics,” and to upset the public. And so we had a bipartisan commission examine the event and write a report; we built memorials at the spots where the Twin Towers had come down and the Pentagon was attacked; and that was to be that. And then along came Donald Trump, to whom “political correctness” is a relic of an antiquated, stuffy, political system he’s determined to overwhelm. In an interview on October 16, he violated the longstanding taboo by saying, “When you talk about George Bush—I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.”
Trump’s comments set up a back and forth between him and Jeb Bush—who, as Trump undoubtedly anticipated, can’t let a blow against him by the frontrunner go by without response—but the real point is that with a simple declaration by Trump, there it was: the subject of George W. Bush’s handling of the warnings about the 9/11 attacks was out there.
Jeb Bush had already left himself open to this charge by saying that his brother had “kept us safe.” Now he has insisted on this as his response to Trump. But the two men were talking about different periods of time. As Jeb Bush said later, “We were attacked, my brother kept us safe.” That’s true enough in Jeb’s framing of the issue as what happened after the attacks—and if one’s concept of safe means fighting two terrible wars whose effects continue to play out in the Middle East; continual reports of terrorist plots and panicked responses to them; invasive searches at airports; and greatly expanded surveillance.
But that’s not the heart of the matter. The heretofore hushed-up public policy question that Trump stumbled into is: Did George W. Bush do what he could have to try to disrupt the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001? It’s not simply a question of whether he could have stopped the devastation—that’s unknowable. But did he do all he could given the various warnings that al-Qaeda was planning a major attack somewhere on US territory, most likely New York or Washington? The unpleasant, almost unbearable conclusion—one that was not to be discussed within the political realm—is that in the face of numerous warnings of an impending attack, Bush did nothing.
Read the rest of the story at The New York Review of Books.