"What Clinton Didn't Do . . .
. . . .and when he didn't do it.
BY RICHARD MINITER
Wednesday, September 27, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
Bill Clinton's outburst on Fox News was something of a public service, launching a debate about the antiterror policies of his administration. This is important because every George W. Bush policy that arouses the ire of Democrats--the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, detention without trial, pre-emptive war--is a departure from his predecessor. Where policies overlap--air attacks on infrastructure, secret presidential orders to kill terrorists, intelligence sharing with allies, freezing bank accounts, using police to arrest terror suspects--there is little friction. The question, then, is whether America should return to Mr. Clinton's policies or soldier on with Mr. Bush's.
It is vital that this debate be honest, but so far this has not been the case. Both Mr. Clinton's outrage at Chris Wallace's questioning and the ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11" are attempts to polarize the nation's memory. While this divisiveness may be good for Mr. Clinton's reputation, it is ultimately unhealthy for the country. What we need, instead, is a cold-eyed look at what works against terrorists and what does not. The policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations ought to be put to the same iron test.
With that in mind, let us examine Mr. Clinton's war on terror. 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 his Fox interview, Mr. Clinton said "no one knew that al Qaeda existed" in October 1993, during the tragic events in Somalia. But his national security adviser, Tony Lake, told me that he first learned of bin Laden "sometime in 1993," when he was thought of as a terror financier. U.S. Army Capt. James Francis Yacone, a black hawk squadron commander in Somalia, later testified that radio intercepts of enemy mortar crews firing at Americans were in Arabic, not Somali, suggesting the work of bin Laden's agents (who spoke Arabic), not warlord Farah Aideed's men (who did not). CIA and DIA reports also placed al Qaeda operatives in Somalia at the time."...........
........."There is much more to Mr. Clinton's record--how Predator drones, which spotted bin Laden three times in 1999 and 2000, were grounded by bureaucratic infighting; how a petty dispute with an Arizona senator stopped the CIA from hiring more Arabic translators. While it is easy to look back in hindsight and blame Bill Clinton, the full scale and nature of the terrorist threat was not widely appreciated until 9/11. Still: Bill Clinton did not fully grasp that he was at war. Nor did he intuit that war requires overcoming bureaucratic objections and a democracy's natural reluctance to use force. That is a hard lesson. But it is better to learn it from studying the Clinton years than reliving them."