You don’t need to be a particularly big fan of Bill Clinton to acknowledge the obvious: he was far more deeply concerned about international terrorism than George W. Bush.
Yet, Mark Hyman is unable to do this. Commenting on the Clinton interview on FOX News in which the former president embarrassed an unprepared Chris Wallace, Hyman claims Clinton “ignored” or “labeled as criminal acts” numerous acts of terrorism.
The “ignored” part is balderdash. As for criminal acts, yes, he labeled terrorist attacks criminal acts because that’s what they were. He also made unprecedented steps to creating a comprehensive national policy to stop terrorism and actually tried to kill bin Laden (over the protests of the Republicans).
A book could be written (and in fact has been, by Richard Clark) detailing the ways Clinton dealt with the issue of terrorism generally and al Qaeda specifically, and comparing it to the sorry Bush record, but here are just a handful of relevant comparisons and contrasts:
When the Clinton received a PDB saying al Qaeda was planning on hijacking American airplanes in 1998, meetings were held, security levels were raised, and arrests were made.
When the Bush got a PDB saying that al Qaeda was planning on hijacking American airplanes in the summer of 2001, he did exactly nothing.
The Clinton administration created the first ever to create an anti-terrorism task force.
The Bush administration never held a meeting on terrorism until after 9/11.
According to Richard Clark, when Clinton was told about possible al Qaeda plots, he ramped up efforts to take out bin Laden.
When Bush was told in the summer of 2001 that there were ominous signs of an imminent al Qaeda attack, he told the CIA agent briefing him, “Okay, you’ve covered your ass, now.”
After the “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993, Republicans immediately wanted to cut and run from Somalia, a country to which bin Laden had actual ties.
In 2006, Republicans accuse even combat veterans of wanting to cut and run when they have the temerity to suggest we might want to disengage from Iraq, a country that bin Laden never set foot in and which had no ties to al Qaeda.
In the 1990s, conservatives attacked Clinton for being “obsessed” with bin Laden and for “wagging the dog” when he tried to kill him.
In 2006, these same conservatives claim Clinton didn’t care about terrorism and did nothing to go after bin Laden.
Clinton worked closely with Richard Clark, the leading expert on terrorism, on plans to take out bin Laden and to stop al Qaeda.
Bush demoted Clark.
When Bush took office, Richard Clark wrote a memo to Condi Rice telling her about the danger posed by al Qaeda and presented her with a plan for dealing with the threat.
Rice ignored the memo, claimed not to have received a plan, blew off CIA warnings in July of 2001 of a possible al Qaeda attack, and called the PDB warning of an imminent al Qaeda attack “a historic document.”
Clinton actively planned to kill bin Laden to the point of being charged with obsession.
Bush cut and run from Tora Bora, letting bin Laden get away *after* the 9/11 attacks and saying bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive.” He subsequently said that he “doesn’t think about him that much.”
But the most damning words, both for the Bush administration and for Hyman, come from Richard Clark (whom Hyman cites in his own editorial), a man who served both Clinton and Bush. I apologize for the lengthy quotations, but they’re worth it.
From Clark’s sworn testimony for the 9/11 Commission:
At the senior policy levels in the Clinton Administration, there was an acute
understanding of the terrorist threat, particularly al Qida. That understanding
resulted in a vigorous program to counter al Qida including lethal covert
action, but it did not include a willingness to resume bombing of Afghanistan.
Events in the Balkans, Iraq, the Peace Process, and domestic politics occurring
at the same time as the anti-terrorism effort played a role.
Administration saw terrorism policy as important but not urgent, prior to 9-11.
The difficulty in obtaining the first Cabinet level (Principals) policy meeting
on terrorism and the limited Principals' involvement sent unfortunate signals to
the bureaucracy about the Administration's attitude toward the al Qida
And from an interview with The Guardian:
JB: Condoleezza Rice wrote today in response to your book - that the Bush
administration did have a strategy for eliminating al-Qaida and that the
administration worked on it in the spring and summer of 2001? Is that true?
RC: We developed that strategy in the last several
months of the Clinton administration and it was basically an update on that
strategy. We briefed Condi on that strategy. The point is that it was done
before they came to office and she never held a meeting on it. It was done
before she asked for it.
JB: What about the claim
that the administration did work hard on the issue?
RC: Its not true. I asked - on January 24 in writing
to Condi - urgently for a meeting on cabinet level - the principal's committee -
to review the plan and I was told I can't have that. It had to go to the
deputies. They had a principals meeting on September 4. Contrast that with the
principal's meeting on Iraq, on February 1. So what was urgent for them was
Iraq. Al-Qaida was not important to them.
Contrast December '99 with June
and July and August 2001. In December '99 we get similar kinds of evidence that
al-Qaida was planning a similar kind of attack. President Clinton asks the
national security advisor to hold daily meetings with attorney-general, the CIA,
FBI. They go back to their departments from the White House and shake the
departments out to the field offices to find out everything they can find. It
becomes the number one priority of those agencies. When the head of the FBI and
CIA have to go to the White House every day, things happen and by the way, we
prevented the attack. Contrast that with June, July, August 2001 when the
president is being briefed virtually every day in his morning intelligence
briefing that something is about to happen, and he never chairs a meeting and he
never asks Condi rice to chair a meeting about what we're doing about stopping
the attacks. She didn't hold one meeting during all those three months. Now, it
turns out that buried in the FBI and CIA, there was information about two of
these al-Qaida terrorists who turned out to be hijackers [Khalid Almidhar and
Nawaf Alhazmi]. We didn't know that. The leadership of the FBI didn't know that,
but if the leadership had to report on a daily basis to the White House, he
would have shaken the trees and he would have found out those two guys were
there. We would have put their pictures on the front page of every newspaper and
we probably would have caught them. Now would that have stopped 9/11? I don't
know. It would have stopped those two guys, and knowing the FBI the way they can
take a thread and pull on it, they would probably have found others.
Oh, and one more contrast:
Clinton was honest enough to say that he failed to get bin Laden.
Bush can’t think of anything he’d do differently.
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 4.76