I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team.So, in Hillary's world, if only President Clinton had been handed a formal report, he would have taken action against al Qaeda and bin Laden. Alas, there was no such report given to Clinton. Were there other indications that, perhaps, al Qaeda was a threat to be taken more seriously? Today's Wall Street Journal provides a useful list of such indications:
Some 38 days after he was sworn in, al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center. He did not visit the twin towers that year, even though four days after the attack he was just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, talking about job training. He made no attempt to rally the public against terrorism. His only public speech on the bombing was a few paragraphs inserted into a radio address mostly devoted an economic stimulus package. Those stray paragraphs were limited to reassuring the public and thanking the rescuers, the kinds of things governors say after hurricanes. He did not even vow to bring the bombers to justice. Instead, he turned the first terrorist attack on American soil over to the FBI....
• In 1994, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (who would later plan the 9/11 attacks) launched "Operation Bojinka" to down 11 U.S. planes simultaneously over the Pacific. A sharp-eyed Filipina police officer foiled the plot. The sole American response: increased law-enforcement cooperation with the Philippines.
• In 1995, al Qaeda detonated a 220-pound car bomb outside the Office of Program Manager in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing five Americans and wounding 60 more. The FBI was sent in.
• In 1996, al Qaeda bombed the barracks of American pilots patrolling the "no-fly zones" over Iraq, killing 19. Again, the FBI responded.
• In 1997, al Qaeda consolidated its position in Afghanistan and bin Laden repeatedly declared war on the U.S. In February, bin Laden told an Arab TV network: "If someone can kill an American soldier, it is better than wasting time on other matters." No response from the Clinton administration.
• In 1998, al Qaeda simultaneously bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224, including 12 U.S. diplomats. Mr. Clinton ordered cruise-missile strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan in response. Here Mr. Clinton's critics are wrong: The president was right to retaliate when America was attacked, irrespective of the Monica Lewinsky case.
Still, "Operation Infinite Reach" was weakened by Clintonian compromise. The State Department feared that Pakistan might spot the American missiles in its air space and misinterpret it as an Indian attack. So Mr. Clinton told Gen. Joe Ralston, vice chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, to notify Pakistan's army minutes before the Tomahawks passed over Pakistan. Given Pakistan's links to jihadis at the time, it is not surprising that bin Laden was tipped off, fleeing some 45 minutes before the missiles arrived.
• In 1999, the Clinton administration disrupted al Qaeda's Millennium plots, a series of bombings stretching from Amman to Los Angeles. This shining success was mostly the work of Richard Clarke, a NSC senior director who forced agencies to work together. But the Millennium approach was shortlived. Over Mr. Clarke's objections, policy reverted to the status quo.
• In January 2000, al Qaeda tried and failed to attack the U.S.S. The Sullivans off Yemen. (Their boat sank before they could reach their target.) But in October 2000, an al Qaeda bomb ripped a hole in the hull of the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 sailors and wounding another 39.
When Mr. Clarke presented a plan to launch a massive cruise missile strike on al Qaeda and Taliban facilities in Afghanistan, the Clinton cabinet voted against it. After the meeting, a State Department counterterrorism official, Michael Sheehan, sought out Mr. Clarke. Both told me that they were stunned. Mr. Sheehan asked Mr. Clarke: "What's it going to take to get them to hit al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon?"
Furthermore, according to the Washington Post article cited above:
Some of Clinton's statements on Fox have drawn scrutiny. He said that after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, "I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan." The Sept. 11 commission, though, found no plans for an invasion of Afghanistan or for an operation to topple the Taliban, just more limited options such as plans for attacks with cruise missiles or Special Forces. And nothing in the panel's report indicated that a lack of basing rights in Uzbekistan prevented a military response.Now it's true that, despite Condoleezza Rice's claim to the contrary, Clarke did present the incoming Bush Administration with a plan to deal with al Qaeda. Nonetheless, despite these protestations to the contrary, Clinton's inattention to the rising threat of al Qaeda is clear.
Clinton also asserted that the Bush administration "didn't have a single meeting about bin Laden for the nine months after I left office." In fact, the Bush team held several meetings on terrorism through the interagency group known as the deputies committee and one on Sept. 4, 2001, through the principals committee composed of Cabinet officers. What Clinton may have been referring to was counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's frustration that the principals disregarded his urgent calls to meet sooner because of a months-long policy review.
I have long argued the 9/11 represented a failure of US deterrence. The unwillingness of the US to respond to a long string of terror attacks against American interests led al Qaeda to believe that it could strike the US with at best impunity and at worst a limited response. It's hard to imagine that if bin Laden and al Qaeda had anticipated the consequences of the American response to 9/11, in particular the destruction of their quasi-state in Afghanistan, the ripping of their financial networks and the relentless hunting of their leaders, they would have carried out the attack.
President Bush rightly and necessarily comes under scrutiny and criticism for his policies in dealing with international terrorism. President Clinton's policies deserve the same.