Less than 48 hours after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in a daring raid that he had ordered, cable-news networks suddenly were featuring a spate of interviews with people who worked for former President George W. Bush, some of them offering congratulations to the Democratic president for the bin Laden raid; all of them reminding Americans that the mission’s groundwork had been laid nearly a decade ago under Bush.
Making the rounds were:
- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who on Tuesday told Fox News: “This really does stretch over two presidencies. There’s a long train here, and it leads back, I think, to good counterterrorism policies that were put in place in 2001.” Rice took her talking points to nearly every major cable network and broadcast affiliate.
- Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who on Monday defended the imprisonment and interrogation policies of Bush administration as critical to the intelligence that led to bin Laden’s demise. “I would assume that the enhanced interrogation program that we put in place produced some of the results that led to bin Laden’s ultimate capture,” he told Fox News.
- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who echoed Cheney’s sentiment Tuesday to CNN—“It is a good thing that the people were held and that there were interrogations and that that information was patched together over a period of time,” he said—and again Wednesday on Fox News: “The Obama administration, of course, deserves a lot of credit for this, making these decisions and for the fact that Osama bin Laden is now dead. But… they campaigned against most of the structures that President Bush put in place” like Guantanamo Bay.
- Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who explained in a Monday appearance on CNN that Obama’s victory this weekend was the culmination of a four-year-long operation: “They actually used some information that that we had derived from some of our high-value detainees that gave us some identifying data on the cure couriers,” he said. “I obviously lost lock on the hunt two years or so ago, but it’s very clear to me now that that process led to [Sunday’s] events.”
- Rudy Giuliani, who while not an administration official, was a Bush-era Republican whose New York City mayorship at the time of 9/11 earned him the title “America’s Mayor.” On Monday, he said in a Fox News appearance, “I think President Bush set in motion all of the things that led to this, and then President Obama picked up on it and carried it out. And I give both of them a tremendous amount of credit.”
Democrats have labeled the sudden reemergence of Bush officials on the talkers circuit an attempt to secure for themselves a piece of Obama’s kudos pie. But perhaps just as much reaction has been in Republicans’ favor: A Washington Times blog published a post Sunday night titled “No Class—Obama Snubs Bush, Praises Himself on bin Laden Takedown;” meanwhile, in a poll posted by conservative media watchdog group News Busters, 94 percent—more than 3,000 voters—said they believe that team Bush hasn’t done enough to credit itself for bin Laden’s death.
It’s an inverted version of the blame game: Instead of fingers pointing at each other, they’re pointing back at themselves. And with Bush’s tarnished presidency and Obama’s reelection bid looming on the horizon, both sides stand to gain legacy points from the bin Laden takedown.
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On the part of Bush’s former officials, “I think what they’re trying to do is rewrite history so that we all forget that in March of 2002, Bush said, ‘I’m not spending my time on bin Laden anymore; we’re going into Iraq,’ which was obviously a very unpopular decision” said Joan McCarter, senior policy editor of the progressive blog Daily Kos. “If they had really wanted to take bin Laden down, they would have done it.”
John Bellinger III, a top State Department lawyer during Bush’s second term, said that such statements are “outrageous.… Whatever one’s views on the wisdom of the Iraq war, senior officials of the Bush administration spared no effort to bring down al-Qaida and bring bin Laden to justice,” he said. Furthermore, he said, “it’s too early to say one way or another that the operation proves whether one administration’s policies were right and the other administration’s wrong.
“Once the actual train of intelligence that led to the location of Osama bin Laden becomes clear, that will allow people to debate the merits and demerits of the CIA program,” Bellinger continued. “At least at this point, it seems the jury is still out.”
Whatever the verdict, as the Bush cast attempts to seize limelight they believe is rightfully theirs, Bush himself has declined to do so even at the offer of Obama: The 43rd president turned down an invitation from the 44th to join him Thursday at a visit to Ground Zero. And following a short statement on Sunday night thanking Obama and the American forces involved in the mission, Bush retreated.
“I don’t know what he’s doing,” McCarter said. “Of the others, Rumsfeld has a book he’s trying to sell … Rice is showing up on 30 Rock; they’re getting themselves out there, and it’s obviously a real effort on their behalf to rehabilitate their image and their legacy. But Bush’s statement was very gracious. Maybe at this point, he’s been through so much [scrutiny] that he doesn’t care [about saving his legacy] anymore.”
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