Written by Thom Hartmann
If Bill Clinton – or, presumably, Al Gore (or even Ralph Nader) – had been President in 2001, the Ft. Hood massacre almost certainly wouldn’t have happened. Because George W. Bush was president, it did. Here’s why it’s Bush’s fault:
One of the first lessons aspiring novelists and screenwriters learn is that the goodness of a hero is defined by a single quality – the evil of his opponent. From Superman’s Lex Luthor to Batman’s Joker to Indiana Jones’ Nazis to Luke Skywalker’s Darth Vader, for a hero to be perceived as larger than life, he must have a larger than life enemy.
If Frodo in “Lord of the Rings,” for example, hadn’t been forced to do battle with the supernatural powers of the Ring and its minions, his story would have merely been a boring travelogue. But with an army of supernaturally brilliant, evil, and powerful opponents, Frodo had the opportunity to display his extraordinary inner courage and resourcefulness, qualities he didn’t even realize he had until they were called forth by the peril of an awesome evil.
This is a lesson that was not lost on Karl Rove and George W. Bush. If they could recast George as the opponent of a power as great as the Ring, then the rather ordinary Dubya could become the extraordinary SuperGeorge, rising from his facileness to prevail over supernatural powers of evil.
Bill Clinton had a similar chance, but passed on it for the good of America and the world.
When bin Laden attacked us in the 1990s – several times – in an attempt to raise his own stature in the Islamic world, Bill Clinton dealt with Osama like the criminal he was. He enlisted Interpol and the police and investigative agencies of various nations, brought in our best intelligence agents, and missed bin Laden in a missile-launched assassination attempt by a scant twenty minutes (bringing derisive howls from Republicans that he was trying to “wag the dog” and deflect attention from the Monica investigations).
As Clinton left office, he and the CIA were tightening the noose on bin Laden, and his National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, told me that when he briefed his successor, Condoleezza Rice, he told her to put bin Laden and al-Qaeda at the top of her priority list and thus finish the job the Clinton administration had nearly completed.
As we know, when Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, et al finally came up with the priorities for their new administration in January of 2001, al-Qaeda had been replaced by tax cuts for Bush’s rich donors on the “A” list, and didn’t even appear on the “B” list.
Thus came 9/11, despite over fifty explicit warnings given to the President, including the infamous August 6, 2001 CIA briefing in Crawford, Texas that in the immediate future al-Qaeda intended to hijack commercial planes and use them to attack east coast targets. (Bush apparently took the warnings seriously – Ashcroft immediately stopped flying on commercial aircraft, and Bush moved to Texas for the longest vacation in the history of the American presidency…and even when that was over, he preferred Florida to target-listed Washington, D.C.)
In the days after the 9/11 attacks – much as in the days after Tim McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building – America had the sympathy of the world, and the police and intelligence agencies of even normally hostile nations offered to help us track down and bring to justice its perpetrators.
Muslims all over the world were horrified at the actions of one of their own, a fundamentalist turned criminal and murderer.
Mullah Omar of Afghanistan’s Taliban first offered to arrest bin Laden and turn him over to us (Washington Post, Page 1, October 29, 2001, “Diplomats Met With Taliban On Bin Laden” by Ottaway and Stephens) and then made an explicit offer to arrest Bin Laden and try him for the crime of 9/11 (CNN, October 7, 2001, “US Rejects Taliban Offer To Try Bin Laden”; The Guardian, October 14, 2001, “Bush Rejects Taliban Offer To Hand Bin Laden Over”).
It would have been so easy for Bush to accept Omar’s offer, which had resulted, according to the Post, in over 20 diplomatic meetings and negotiations. The Justice Department could have arrested Bin Laden like they did McVeigh, helped the Taliban dismantle Bin Laden’s training camps and track down their attendees and sponsors, and launch an international effort to disassemble and render impotent al-Qaeda.
It probably could have been done in a year or less, given the intensity of the worldwide empathy for citizens of America and the many other nations whose people died in the World Trade Center. Over 5000 American soldiers would still be alive, and tens of thousands would not have lost arms, legs, and eyes. Hundreds of thousands – possibly over a million – innocent Afghans and Iraqis would still be alive.
But Karl Rove knew that George W. Bush had a problem, and saw in bin Laden the solution. And didn’t much give a damn what it would mean to American Muslims.
Bush had not defeated Al Gore fair and square, and was seen by most Americans as a spoiler, an illegitimate leader. As soon as the details of his proposed “supply side” voodoo economics hit the press in the first months of his presidency, the markets went into a nosedive.
And already there were stories circulating in the media of his cozy relationship with corrupt oil barons like Ken Lay and the secret energy meetings in the Spring of 2001 – before 9/11 – in which Cheney, Lay, and others in the oil industry were apparently carving up the oil fields of Iraq.
Bush, in short, was seen as a buffoonish pretender, an ineffectual manager, and a sellout to big oil and other scandal-ridden industries. He was the butt of late-night jokes, a former college cheerleader, a “dry drunk” (except when tempted by beer and pretzels), an inside trader, a small man on the national and international stage.
George W. desperately needed his own Lex Luthor if he was to reinvent himself as Superman.
Rove and Bush realized that if they simply branded Bin Laden as the criminal thug that he was – the leader of an obscure Islamic mafia with fewer than 20,000 serious members – they wouldn’t have the super-villain they needed for George W. Bush to be seen as a super-hero. If Bush only authorized a police action, or cut a deal with Omar, he’d miss a golden opportunity to position himself as the Battle Commander of The War Against Evil Incarnate.
And so began the building of the mythos. Osama as evil genius. Osama as worldwide mastermind. Even Osama as the antichrist (as General Boykin reminded us so candidly).
If the remnants of al-Qaeda tried to pull our strings by increasing “chatter” about particular flights, for example, the Bush White House hyper-reacted with many press conferences and televised appearances by Tom Ridge. Every action was trumpeted. Bush put “Terror Alerts” on the screens of TVs nationwide as often as possible. The constant drumbeat was that George The Good was battling the One True Dragon. And that Dragon was Islamic.
For George to remain SuperGeorge, Bin Laden had to be as big as Hitler in the minds of Americans. Thus, Richard Perle wrote in his breathless and hyperbolic book An End To Evil: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”
But Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t Germany, and Bin Laden wasn’t even a pale imitation of Hitler. It wasn’t a nation that attacked us – it was a tiny, local, but well-funded Islamic mafia. And that band of thugs run by Bin Laden no more represented the interests or opinions of the majority of the world’s Muslims than Tim McVeigh represented the majority of America’s Christians.
This archetypal transformation of George W. Bush from spoiled, rich-boy pretender-to-the-presidency into the caped (well, flight-suited) SuperGeorge, Defender Of All Things Good And Right had a powerful impact on the American people – and particularly on their perception of Muslims.
The shadow of the “good” SuperGeorge was, necessarily, the “evil” of Muslims. They were vilified – talk show hosts called for their outright murder (“Kill them all” said Michael Savage) – and a steady drumbeat of suspicion was cast toward American Muslims.
Fox News and right-wing talk jumped in with both feet, feeding anti-Muslim hysteria that continues to this day with teary-eyed TV shows, a “secret Muslim” president, and Nazi-image Tea Parties.
“Be afraid,” they tell Americans every day. “Be very afraid.”
In retrospect, it’s surprising that Major Hasan was the first to snap in all these years.
Bill Clinton knew what to do with a terrorist, be he Bin Laden or Tim McVeigh: brand them as criminals.
The countries of Europe who endured years of terrorism – from the crimes of the IRA against the citizens of Britain, to the crimes of the November 17th terrorist group against Greece, to the crimes of the Red Brigades against Italy – they were fought by investigators, intelligence operatives, and the highly effective web of police agencies that stretch across the world. Although less filled with shock and awe, these able people could have brought Bin Laden and his associates to justice without turning him into a super-villain or demonizing Muslims.
But that would have deflated the heroic SuperGeorge action figure in the minds of average Americans, and possibly Cheny’s company Halliburton – which was on shaky ground financially before 9/11 – would have even gone under because of Cheney’s ill-thought-out purchase by that company of a bankrupt asbestos supplier. (On December 10, 2001, before the bombing of Afghanistan began, Halliburton stock lost 43% of its value in a single day because Cheney’s business decision was pushing them toward bankruptcy.)
So George and Dick made out just fine. But Major Hasan went nuts. And probably never would have, had somebody other than Bush/Rove/Cheney been in the White House back in 2001.
Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent book, just released, is “Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It.” Other books include: “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” “Unequal Protection,” “We The People,” and “What Would Jefferson Do?”