Friday, April 16, 2004

BUSH'S LOST SUMMER Wednesday, I wrote a post exploring how the conventional wisdom about presidential vacations lined up with the August, 2001 reality. But it's worth taking a moment to consider another lesson of this week's revelation about the contact--or really, lack of it--between the President and George Tenet during August, 2001.

And that is: One of the most striking things about Tenet's admission was that it seemed so, well, surprising. After the examination of millions of documents and thousands of hours of 9/11 Commission testimony (not to mention 43 months of news coverage) you'd think by now we'd know all there was to know about the actions of the President--and his White House--in the months leading up to September 11, 2001.

And yet, people like 9/11 Commission member Timothy Roemer (who has been charged, for months now, with uncovering the truth about the months preceding 9/11) and the editors of The New York Times (who gave the disclosure prominent A1 placement) seemed shocked--or at least taken aback--by Tenet's testimony.

Of course the reason they were surprised is that the official line out of the Bush camp for months has been as simple as it was, apparently, disingenuous--that Tenet briefed Bush every day.

And so we now know that the scope and complexity of the White House's project of obfuscation and misdirection was more ambitious than even the cynics had believed. The Bushies may not have told us that up was down, but they seem to have tried awfully hard to create that impression.

Clearly, even commentators critical of the President haven't been working aggressively enough to tease the reality of the months leading up to 9/11 apart from the administration's version of events.

So in the spirit of unblinkered reflection, I spent some time last night looking at news accounts of the action in Crawford, Texas on August 7, 2001--the day after the famed Bin Laden PDB.

That week is full of newspaper stories about Presidential jogging, fishing, brush-clearing, etc. But the Associated Press account of the President's August 7 activities is the one that sticks out:

President Bush rolled out of his ranch at dawn Tuesday for golf and talk, saying he is thoroughly at home amid the outdoor play and work of his Texas vacation.


The president, who received his daily security briefing while his motorcade traveled to the golf course, said he is making progress on a number of issues. (Emphasis added.)

So there it is.

The White House can spin and obfuscate all it wants. The fact of the matter is, during a month of heightened terrorism threat, when warnings of an impending attack were pouring into US intelligence agencies--and the day after he received a PDB titled Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States--the President of the United States took his daily security briefing...in a limo on the way to his golf game.

He golfed, incidentally, at Ridgewood Country Club in Waco. Mapquest estimates a 33 minute ride from Crawford.

But I'd be willing to bet that, with the benefit of a presidential motorcade, the 18 mile trip can be completed in 20 minutes flat.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan has more.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.