Love him, hate him or simply be appalled, Donald Trump knows how to goose his fellow Republicans running for president. His latest sound bite to go viral — a criticism of President George W. Bush because the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened on his White House watch — was clearly intended to get a rise out of Gov. Jeb Bush and it did.
Like most criticisms of his brother, Governor Bush has struggled to project independence without distancing himself from his family and it's frequently gotten him tongue tied. Mr. Bush has described Mr. Trump's comments as "pathetic" and told CNN on Sunday that "my brother responded to a crisis, and he did it as you would hope a president would do — united the country, he organized the country and he kept us safe."
Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, his response has only compounded the problem. Most Americans don't blame George W. Bush for 9/11 and they shouldn't. While there were warnings prior to the terrorist attack, as the 9/11 Commission Report detailed, the nation was ill-prepared for a wide variety of reasons but most especially because of the various institutions from the military to our intelligence gathering agencies had no clue of the true nature — and the seriousness — of the threat posed by the enemy, a vulnerability that predated President Bush.
On the other hand, President Bush most assuredly didn't keep the nation safe with regard to Iraq which he foolishly connected to 9/11. Instead, he plunged the country into an ill-advised war with conflicting and misrepresented information about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, bringing greater political instability and anti-U.S. hostility to the region. We are still paying the steep price for it and most Americans now recognize the folly of that choice.
But on Jeb Bush's first point — that the terrorist attack was chiefly the fault of the perpetrators and not of his brother — that's fair and deserves our endorsement. Was the attack on Pearl Harbor the fault of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? The U.S. certainly had intelligence about the gathering threat posed by the Japanese and failed to adequately protect its Pacific warships. Yet to blame President Roosevelt for the infamous "sneak attack" now seems ludicrous.
One can only hope that this point — blame the attackers, not the attacked — will resonate with fellow Republicans this Thursday when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears before the House committee looking into the 2012 Benghazi attack. That the long-running $4.5 million investigation (having surpassed the Watergate inquiry of the 1970s and many other, although not all, landmark Congressional investigations) is mostly about politics has become obvious as no better a source than House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has made that point unabashedly.
Before dropping out of the race to become the next House speaker, Mr. McCarthy bragged about how the manner in which the Benghazi hearings had reduced voter approval for Mrs. Clinton was a key accomplishment of the current Congress. "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" Mr. McCarthy said on a Sept. 29 appearance on Fox News. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, [and] what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping."
What happened in Benghazi was terrible. Four Americans including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died in the attack (as did an estimated 100 of the Libyan attackers), the matter was investigated and it's clear that the consulate could have been better secured. But what has happened over the last two years has been mostly a partisan exercise, a game of "gotcha" and then "gotcha back," by Republicans and Democrats on the Hill.
We don't know what new information, if any, Mrs. Clinton may provide the investigating committee but we strongly suspect her appearance will be little more than the customary Washington dog and pony show with Republicans attempting to embarrass her and Democrats rising to her defense — in short, it will be an enormous waste of time for all involved. Perhaps the next time there is a terrorist attack — whether by Islamic militants with plane tickets or a disgrunted community college student with a gun collection — Americans will remember Congress was no longer capable of 9/11 Commission-style nonpartisan investigations into these disasters that actually generate sound policy that might "make us safe" as Jeb Bush likes to say. We are in the age of Trump — all bluster, all the time with an occasional rewrite of history.