George Bush’s 9/11 mistakes continue to rip up the globe
Release of inquiry pages confirms suspicious links to Saudi royals rather than Iraq regime
George W Bush talked in Dallas about “finding our better selves”. If only he had found his in office. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
In 2002, Blair affirmed his lapdog bona fidos by sending W a note saying “I will be with you, whatever.” Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters
During George W Bush’s 2000 convention in Philadelphia, my sister showed up at my door. She was volunteering for the Republican nominee and carrying a “W Stands for Women” sign. The hotels were sold out and she wanted to crash in my room. I told her that she could come in but the sign could not.
I brought Peggy along for a meal with Johnny Apple, the New York Times politics and food writer who was known as a legend in his own lunchtime. She asked Johnny if W would win the presidency. I was interested in his reply because he had known W and Al Gore since they were young, having covered their dads.
“Bush will win,” he told my sister in his booming voice, his napkin hanging from his neck like a bib. “And he will be a very popular president.”
I always think of that moment, and how 9/11 upended everything and what could have been different, on the rare occasions when W pops up. The former president gave a short eloquent speech in Dallas at the memorial service for five police officers murdered by a sniper.
In a dig at Donald Trump, a man loathed by the Bush family, W said: “We do not want the unity of grief nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of hope, affection and high purpose.”
He is right that the world has had too much of the unity of grief, plunged into the random lightning strikes of mass shootings and terrorist attacks.
The reputations of W and President Barack Obama are getting a Trump bump, burnished by the contrast.
W talked in Dallas about “finding our better selves”. If only he had found his in office. Instead, his ghosts are never far away. He must watch as riptides from his mistakes continue to rip up the globe.
A new biography, Bush by Jean Edward Smith, makes the same points Trump made when he shook up the Republican orthodoxy and tripped up Jeb Bush – that W ignored warnings before 9/11 and overreacted after.
We finally got to see two long-awaited government documents last week. The sterling former senator Bob Graham of Florida pushed the Bush and Obama administrations to declassify the notorious 28 pages held back when the 9/11 congressional inquiry was released in December 2002. The section details suspicious ties between the hijackers – 15 out of 19 were Saudis – and other al-Qaeda operatives to the Saudi royal family.
In one instance, the first al-Qaeda prisoner in CIA custody post-9/11 had the phone number of a company that took care of Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s Colorado home. The former Saudi ambassador was so close to the Bushes he was known as Bandar Bush.
Saudi terror linksDick Cheney
W said releasing the pages back then would “make it harder for us to win the war on terror”. But now that we can see them, it’s clear that the reverse is true: It was the Saudis who repeatedly stymied US efforts to crack down on al-Qaeda in the years before 9/11.
The British government’s Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War also finally landed – a 2.6 million-word report savaging Tony Blair. In 2002, Blair affirmed his lapdog bona fidos by sending W a note saying “I will be with you, whatever.”
The British public deemed Blair a pariah long ago. But it took the British government seven years to conclude that Blair enabled W to start a war on dodgy intelligence with inadequate planning to control the killing fields of a post-Saddam landscape, a landscape that eventually spawned Islamic State.
Sarah Helm, the wife of Jonathan Powell, a top Blair aide in the ramp-up to war, wrote a piece in the Guardian recently about a conversation between W and Blair. She said she listened with Powell on a crackly secure phone at their house one night in March 2003. A journalist, Helm took notes that she would later use in a play.
This is her account: Blair was still trying vainly to steer the president, who was cocky and impervious. W told Blair he was “ready to kick ass.” He dismissed Hans Blix, the UN weapons inspector who could not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as “that no-count”.
He praised Blair’s body language in pushing for war and urged the poodle prime minister to “hang on in there” and show “cojones”.
When Blair raised the objections of the French, W mocked: “Yeah, but what did the French ever do for anyone? What wars did they win since the French Revolution?” W comes across as a naive, wilful, spangly cartoon cowboy. Sometimes, when at last you get a peek behind the curtain, your worst fears come true.