Shadow Government

What Did You Do In the War, Mr. Trump?

The controversial presidential contender has claimed that his policies might have stopped 9/11. Is there anything in his record to back that up?


In the latest bizarre convolution of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has leveled a series of accusations against former President George W. Bush, essentially blaming Bush for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. With typical chest-thumping, Trump has added the risible claim that had he been president, his policies would have prevented the terrorists from entering the United States in the first place.

Jay Caruso aptly derides Trump’s attacks on Bush as “soft trutherism.” Trutherism, for those readers who don’t normally visit the fever swamps of conspiracism, refers to the belief that Sept. 11 was an “inside job,” or that Bush had advance knowledge of the attacks. It is a twisted and reprehensible conspiracy theory. Yet regrettably it has shown some persistence particularly on the left, as surveys in recent years reveal anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of Democrats believing in the truther myth.

Trump does not explicitly invoke this myth, though his words might well be interpreted as a dog-whistle of sorts to those who still hold to it (thus making Trump one of the few pathetic conspiracists to trumpet both “birtherism” and “trutherism”). As with many of Trump’s outrageous statements, it is hard to figure out what exactly he means or intends, beyond the shock value and cheap ploy for more headlines. Rather, taken at face value, perhaps his statements are just his own perverse and demagogic way of asserting his qualifications to be commander-in-chief.

Which raises the question of what Trump has done in the 14 years since the Sept. 11 attacks to fight terrorism or prepare to lead America’s foreign and defense policy? Since Trump seems to relish comparing himself to George W. Bush, even a cursory look at their respective records is revealing:

  • In January, 2002, as President Bush led Operation Enduring Freedom to its victory over the Taliban and the expulsion of al Qaeda leadership from its safe haven in Afghanistan, Trump was being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraudulent financial reporting.
  • In 2003, when President Bush oversaw the capture and interrogation of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Trump was launching his reality television show, The Apprentice.
  • In 2006, when President Bush presided over the combat operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor to the Islamic State), Trump was suing a biographer for allegedly understating Trump’s net worth.
  • In 2007, when Bush announced one of the most momentous decisions of his presidency, the surge of five brigade combat teams to salvage Iraq from the abyss of state failure and terrorist haven, Donald Trump was appearing on WrestleMania 23.
  • In January, 2009, when Bush was leaving office having protected the United States for over seven years from any other large-scale terrorist attacks, Trump was preparing one of his businesses to file for bankruptcy — his fourth to go through Chapter 11 restructuring — following the failure of several of his Atlantic City casinos.

The late University of Pennsylvania literary critic Paul Fussell was also a combat veteran of World War II. In his classic 1981 essay in The New Republic, “Hiroshima: A Soldier’s View,” Fussell reflected on the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by the United States, and the unending subsequent debates about those decisions. Fussell, who had fought in Europe and was preparing to join the invasion of Japan when the war ended, took particular exception to one sanctimonious civilian critic of the bombings. Observed Fussell: “What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. I don’t demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn’t.”

Likewise, I don’t demand that Trump experience making agonizing, life-and-death national security decisions as a senior policymaker instead of indulging in vainglorious frivolity and failed business ventures. I merely note that he hasn’t.

Among Republicans, Jeb Bush has staked a claim to credibility and seriousness by denouncing Trump’s scurrilous Sept. 11 comments and pointing out that they undermine any pretense by Trump to be qualified to be commander-in-chief. It is time for the other Republican candidates to follow Bush’s lead. The credibility of the Republican Party, and the good of our nation, demand it.

Disclosure: I support Governor Bush’s candidacy and have contributed financially to his campaign.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Will Inboden is the executive director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and as a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

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