In that statement and others, Cheney invoked every excuse he and his allies now deride in the Libya fiasco. The warnings weren’t specific enough. Broad analyses of persistent dangers aren’t actionable. Warnings from our people on the ground didn’t “trickle up to the presidential level.” Connecting the dots isn’t the president’s job. It’s a failure of the “system.”
At the same time, Cheney said the White House shouldn’t give Congress a copy of the Aug. 6 brief. Having dismissed the document as devoid of any new or specific information, he turned around and insisted, even in the same interview, that it was “developed from some of our most secret operations” and “comes from the most sensitive sources and methods that we have as a government. It's the family jewels.”
Giuliani, whose city had suffered the attack, showed none of his current outrage about neglected warnings. “Nothing so far suggests to me,” he said in May 2002, that the government “would have had the kind of information that would have suggested that kind of attack.” And Rumsfeld, who had lost 125 people at the Pentagon, defended the administration not just for its handling of pre-9/11 information but for its subsequent intelligence failures in Iraq. “If you had said to me a year ago, ‘Describe the situation you'll be in today one year later,’ ” he told reporters in April 2004, “I would not have described it the way it happens to be today.”
The difference between the failures of Sept. 11, 2001, and the failures of Sept. 11, 2012 isn’t just 2,900 deaths. It’s the ferocity with which Republicans, when they held the White House, denounced their critics as unpatriotic. “Democrat insinuations that the President and Administration had prior knowledge of the September 11th tragedy is an outrageous political attack on the Commander-in-Chief during wartime,” the National Republican Congressional Committee charged in 2002. In a rebuke to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Cheney added:
What I want to say to my Democratic friends in the Congress is that they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions, as were made by some today, that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11. Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.
I’m sure we can count on this kind of pulling together now that the president is a Democrat, the attack was overseas, and the casualty count is four.
William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: