Bin Laden PDB Anniversary
While many are reflecting on the 62nd anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing today, Steve Benen highlights a more recent milestone: the sixth anniversary of the Presidential Daily Briefing that highlighted a potential terrorist strike by al Qaeda.
He notes this passage from Bart Gellman’s review of Ron Suskind’s One Percent Doctrine:
[A]n unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush’s Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president’s attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
He also cites Fred Kaplan’s summary of George Tenet’s testimony:
For the previous few years — as Philip Zelikow, the commission’s staff director, revealed this morning — the CIA had issued several warnings that terrorists might fly commercial airplanes into buildings or cities.
While there are certainly reasons to criticize Bush’s handling of foreign policy in general and the war on terror in particular, this continues to strike me as among the flimsiest. First, they’re based on post hoc explanations by people like Richard Clarke and Tenet who are actually trying to cover their asses.
Moreover, while Bush’s disdainful comment looks outrageous in hindsight — and is damned unprofessional in any event — his reaction quite understandable even though his response should have been more measured. After months of warnings about grand events that might happen, presidents quite naturally come to the entirely correct conclusion that their bureaucracies are playing the CYA game, making sure to issue dire warnings without much specificity. After years of warnings about wolves, the townspeople naturally start to discount them, after all.
Furthermore, it’s far from clear what Bush was supposed to do. “Oh, well, maybe they’re actually on to something this time. Let’s shut down the nation’s air transit system just to be safe!” That would have gone over like the proverbial lead balloon.