Trump supporters have been lighting up Twitter over the last 24 hours with links to this Buzzfeed story which purports to show that Donald Trump was prescient about the 9/11 attacks. Presumably, in the minds of his supporters, this information bolsters Trump’s credibility when he uses radical leftist talking points about George W. Bush’s handling of the 9/11 attacks.

I am not here to defend everything George W. Bush did in his presidency by a long shot, but the quotes set forth in the Buzzfeed article do not make Trump’s attacks any less stupid or juvenile than they were when he began making them late last week. Let’s first of all look at the quotes attributed to Trump in this article that allegedly show that he had prescience about the 9/11 attacks:

“I really am convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the bombing of the Trade Center look like kids playing with firecrackers,” wrote Trump in his 2000 book, The America We Deserve. “No sensible analyst rejects this possibility, and plenty of them, like me, are not wondering if but when it will happen.”

Trump even mentions Osama bin Laden by name, in a criticism of an American foreign policy that too quickly jumps from one crisis to the next.

“One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin-Laden is public enemy number one, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan,” The Donald wrote. “He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”

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Trump predicted a major attack on an American city that would involved weapons of mass destruction, writing, “Yet it’s time to get down to the hard business of preparing for what I believe is the real possibility that somewhere, sometime, a weapon of mass destruction will be carried into a major American city and detonated.”

Trump added that even if the U.S. mobilized, the country probably wouldn’t be able to stop most attacks. Trump said many people would willingly sign up for a suicide mission in America, and that the many U.S. military incursions create more terrorists who want to harm us.

“Whatever their motives — fanaticism, revenge — suffice it to say that plenty of people would stand in line for a crack at a suicide mission within America,” Trump wrote. “In fact the number of potential attackers grows every day. Our various military adventures — some of which are justified, some not — create new legions of people who would like to avenge the deaths of family members or fellow citizens.

In the first place, knowing what we now know about Trump, his basic rhetorical plan is to take every side of every issue within a very short time span so that everyone can find something that they like and latch onto it. It would not be surprising to find a large number of clearly erroneous (if not directly contradictory) things that Trump said on this exact same subject matter in 2000. But I digress – even if we grant that this was Trump’s sole position in 2000, he deserves no real credit for having it, definitely not above and beyond the credit that George W. Bush is due.

If you look at these quotes, Trump makes three basic claims, one of which is as of this moment false (that a terrorist would detonate a weapon of mass destruction in an American city). The other two were, simply, 1) that Muslim fanatics were trying to carry out a massive attack on United States soil and would likely eventually succeed, and 2) that Osama Bin Laden was one possible mastermind for these attacks.

Nothing about either of these statements evidenced anything beyond the knowledge that any person who paid even marginal attention to the news at the time would have known. Numerous news outlets had been saying for years that Osama Bin Laden was planning something on the order of a major terrorist attack on the United States. For example:

  • A June 16, 1999 piece on CNN indicated that it was feared that Bin Laden was planning a terrorist attack against the United States. From the article: “WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. officials fear that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden “may be in the final stages” of planning an attack against the United States.Bin Laden, son of a Saudi Arabian billionaire, is accused of masterminding the almost simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last August that left 224 people dead.

    U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Wednesday, told CNN that current targets would most likely be somewhere in the Middle East or Africa.

    However, they refused to rule out the possibility of an attack on U.S. soil — including Washington, D.C.

  • Bin Laden himself gave an interview with Esquire in February 1999 in which he indicated clearly his intentions to do the same.
  • Bin Laden issued his infamous Fatawa in 1998 which became highly publicized after he claimed credit for bombing the United States embassies, and about which he was interviewed by ABC.
  • Bin Laden also gave an interview about his desire to destroy both the United States and Britain to Al Jazeera which also were highly publicized after the embassy bombings.
  • By early 2000 (around the same time as Trump’s book), Bin Laden was a prominent enough media figure that he and his plans to harm America received a lengthy New Yorker profile.

The list could very easily go on and on. The bottom line is that anyone who even casually consumed the news in the time period from 1998 through 2000 knew of Bin Laden and his desire to execute a major terrorist attack in the United States. I myself can remember that immediately (and by immediately I mean within minutes or hours) after the 9/11 attacks occurred, the television news anchors were speculating aloud that Bin Laden might have been behind them, even though he had not publicly claimed responsibility for them. In fact, before the day was over, we were treated to news conferences of Taliban leaders (who everyone correctly assumed were hiding Bin Laden) denying that they knew where Bin Laden was or that he had anything to do with the attacks.

The relevant question, then, is not whether Trump could have predicted that terrorists – or even one terrorist in particular named Osama Bin Laden – wanted to attack the United States. Everyone knew that, including George W. Bush. And it wouldn’t have taken a soothsayer to predict that ultimately they would succeed.

The question, of course, is whether Trump as President could have done anything to actually prevent them from occurring, given that the United States is a massive country with a virtually infinite number of potential targets and that the terrorists were limited in their mode of attack only by their ingenuity (which, as it turns out, was considerable). Any jerk in hindsight can say that he would have prevented something that’s already happened, which is what made Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 so utterly unconvincing to the portion of the American public that was not already predisposed to hate George W. Bush.

But what’s astonishing about Trump’s attack in this case is that even after the fact he can’t pinpoint anything he would have done differently that would have prevented the attack. The only solution that he’s offered so far is that his immigration policies would have been different from Bush’s and this would have prevented the attacks.

When Trump talks this way, he reminds me of the gun control idiots who go on TV after a tragedy and propose a solution that, by their own admission, would not have prevented the tragedy they are trying to capitalize on. The 9/11 hijackers would not have been prevented from entering the country by a giant wall on the Mexican border, or any other hardcore immigration policy. They all entered the country legally (not even via Mexico) on temporary student, travel, or business visas.

Also, the suggestion that Bush’s personal immigration policies played a role in the hijackers’ presence in the country shows that Trump is simply not very conversant with recent history. In the first place, the hijackers were granted entrance to the country by Bill Clinton’s state department, who processed their visa applications before Bush had even won the election. In the second place, whatever you think of Bush’s ideas about immigration policy, he had not even attempted to implement them by September of 2001 when the attacks happened; his push for comprehensive immigration reform (which failed, rendering it irrelevant) did not come until much later.

Trump does not deserve credit for any special prescience in predicting the 9/11 attacks, any more than we would give anyone who watched a little bit of news between 1998 and 2000. Everyone knew that an attack would be attempted at some point in the future; the question is whether anyone in September of 2001 could have put in place systems that would have guaranteed that the attack would have been prevented.

You know who agreed that this would have been impossible? Donald Trump, writing in 2000:

Trump added that even if the U.S. mobilized, the country probably wouldn’t be able to stop most attacks. Trump said many people would willingly sign up for a suicide mission in America, and that the many U.S. military incursions create more terrorists who want to harm us.

In this, Trump placed himself alongside the vast majority of Americans who rejected the Monday morning quarterbacking of Michael Moore about 9/11, regardless of how they felt about the invasion of Iraq. However, now that he is running against George W. Bush’s brother, Trump feels just fine about picking up talking points that only found a home among the leftist fever swamps where Michael Moore is popular. And his voters so far are actually cheering him for it.