On Friday, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared to lay the blame for the 9/11 terrorists' attacks on former President George W. Bush: "When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.... He was president, okay? Blame him, or don't blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign."
That afternoon, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and Trump's rival for the GOP nomination, responded via Twitter: "How pathetic for @realdonaldtrump to criticize the president for 9/11. We were attacked & my brother kept us safe."
This issue has been batted back and forth between Trump and Bush for more than a month. At the second GOP debate on September 16, Bush got some of the biggest applause of the night when he said:
As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure: he kept us safe. I don't know if you remember, Donald, you remember the rubble, remember the firefighter with his arms around him? He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong and fight Islamic terrorism. And he did keep us safe.
But did he?
Before the terrorists struck New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, President Bush received at least two warnings from the Central Intelligence Agency that Osama Bin Laden was planning to attack the United States.
On July 10, 2001, the first warning was delivered by then CIA director George Tenet, who made a point of driving to the White House and presenting the intelligence community's concerns directly to Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser. He was following up on an executive intelligence item entitled "Bin Laden Threats Are Real," delivered 10 days before that the Bush administration seemed to have ignored.
The second warning came from the CIA less than a month later, in the now-famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief:
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate Bin Ladin since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US. Bin Ladin implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."
On October 7, 2001, U.S. forces launched the first wave of attacks in Afghanistan against Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist organization and the Taliban government that allowed the terrorists safe haven.
A Gallup Poll the following month showed 80 percent of Americans supported the war.
Yet, five months later, the Bush administration started shifting military and intelligence resources out of Afghanistan to begin planning for operations in Iraq.
In August 2002, then Vice President Dick Cheney began laying the groundwork for invading Iraq when he spoke at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and said:
The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, and the demonstrated hostility of Saddam Hussein combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action.... This nation will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terrorist regimes.
After Cheney's speech, in an interview with the Washington Post, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, the former commander of the United States Central Command (Centcom), which encompassed the Middle East and Central Asia (including Afghanistan and Iraq) observed:
In my time at Centcom, I watched the intelligence, and never--not once--did it say, "He [Saddam Hussein] has WMD".... The more I saw, the more I thought that this was the product of the neocons who didn't understand the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilettantes from Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground....I don't know where the neocons came from--that wasn't the platform they [Bush and Cheney] ran on. Somehow, the neocons captured the president. They captured the vice president.... What I don't understand is that the bill of goods the neocons sold him has been proven false, yet heads haven't rolled. Where is the accountability?
The war in Afghanistan is now in its fifteenth year, making it the longest war in our history. By turning from fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan who attacked us, to Iraq, which had not, President George W. Bush did not "keep us safe."
He launched a war that claimed the lives of 4,491 U.S. servicemen and women and resulted in nearly 200,000 wounded. He also set in motion a chain of events that replaced the relative stability of an Iraqi dictatorship, which posed no direct threat to the United States and its allies, with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which do.