By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008
President Bush took credit yesterday for "keeping America safe" from terrorists since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, arguing that his administration had prevented more bloodshed at home through aggressive policies and that such a result should outweigh any second-guessing of his methods.
As he nears his final month in office, Bush told a friendly audience at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., that he took "a deliberate and comprehensive approach" to preventing terrorism that combined military action overseas with strong defensive measures at home.
"While there's room for an honest and healthy debate about the decisions I made -- and there's plenty of debate -- there can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe," Bush said. "Here at home, we've prevented numerous terrorist attacks."
Looking back at Sept. 11, when more than 3,000 people were killed, Bush said that "virtually no one would have predicted that more than seven years would pass without another terrorist attack on our soil."
"It's not a matter of luck," he continued. "It is a tribute to the dedicated men and women who work day and night to defend our great land. It's the result of tough decisions that we began making immediately after September the 11th."
The speech was the latest in a series of appearances aimed at highlighting accomplishments during Bush's tumultuous presidency. It came in the wake of dramatic terrorist incidents overseas recently, including a three-day rampage that killed nearly 200 in Mumbai and the discovery of dynamite planted at a Paris department store.
Bush listed a series of terrorist plots allegedly foiled by U.S. officials since 2001, including some, such as a fanciful plan to destroy the Library Tower in Los Angeles, that counterterrorism officials have called aspirational at best.
Moira Whelan, director of strategy at the private advocacy group National Security Network, said that Bush is "attempting to rewrite history" by ignoring a range of failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and controversies over detention and interrogation policies.
"The men and women who have been working to protect this country from terrorism deserve enormous credit," Whelan said. "But to then claim that we are as safe as we need to be from terrorism and that we have George Bush to thank for it is a step too far."
Bush made a rare reference to Osama bin Laden, the fugitive al-Qaeda leader who has eluded capture by U.S. forces for the past seven years. "We have delivered a devastating blow to al-Qaeda in the land Osama bin Laden once called the central battleground in the war on terror," Bush said of Iraq.
The president focused on the defeat of the Taliban and the holding of elections in Afghanistan, making no mention of the rapidly deteriorating security situation there. Bush made unannounced visits to Afghanistan and Iraq over the weekend.
In Washington, Bush homeland security adviser Kenneth L. Wainstein also highlighted the administration's counterterrorism efforts when he sat down with reporters. Wainstein cited the USA Patriot Act, intelligence and homeland security reorganizations, and the removal of legal barriers to cooperation between intelligence and law enforcement agents as important steps.
Wainstein noted that al-Qaeda or its followers have often struck within days or months of political transfers, including the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993; the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; and the Madrid train bombings in March 2004.
"The people that I've been working with [on President-elect Barack Obama's transition team] recognize that the terrorist threat is real," Wainstein said. "Based on my discussions with them, they recognize it takes intense and sustained focus."
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.