“I desperately wish, that I had been president when the FBI and CIA finally confirmed, officially, that bin Laden was responsible for the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Then we could have launched an attack on Afghanistan early. I don’t know if it would have prevented 9/11, but it certainly would have complicated it.”
--Former President Bill Clinton, in full damage control mode
I'm not a Clinton-hater, contrary to what some may think. The man had tremendous political gifts, smooth elocution, and he was probably the most charismatic president this country has had since JFK, and before then, possibly FDR. And to be fair, I profited a great deal personally during the bull market of the 90's; whether Clinton was directly responsible for that is a subject of debate for some, but I'll give him a small pinch of credit on it. (Sidenote: We used to have a joke back then that went something like this: "Yeah....Bill and Al are responsible for this market. Bill Gates and Al Greenspan.") That said, there are two things about his presidency that are awfully hard to refute. One, that he failed miserably in getting his administrative agenda through, save tax hikes in '93 and NAFTA (which was started by his predecessors). Secondly, that his personal charm extended only so far is his person. In other words, nobody was capable of riding on his coat-tails, not the least of which was his party. (Hillary notwithstanding.) There's very little room for debate on these points, as the record speaks for itself. After all, if this wasn't the case, how come his party is out of power in every branch of the federal government, and has a minority stake in the state governorships and state legislatures?
As for Clinton's post-presidential work, he has at times infuriated me and at other times impressed me. His speech a few years back on the roots of terrorism was so ridiculous and historically inaccurate I had to shake my head with disbelief that a Rhodes scholar such as he could make such silly statements. (However, I'll set aside dissecting that speech for the moment.) On the other hand, he has impressed me with his tsunami fund-raising work and his statesman-like grace, at least in regards to this effort.
Clinton recently gave an interview in the New York magazine. I haven't read the entire interview, but I have read a few excerpts. And from the excerpts that I've read thus far, it appears that Clinton is doing his level best to disconnect himself with his culpability in regards to the 9/11 attacks. The above statement is indicative of this effort. According to Richard Clarke's assessement of the situation at the time, Clinton knew very well that Al Qaeda was behind the USS Cole attacks, but Clinton swore off retribution in the fears that it would sink the Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement that Clinton was working on. (It subsequently failed, through little fault of Clinton's.) Clinton has also stated that he warned the incoming Bush Administration that Osama bin Laden was the biggest threat to national security at that moment. That might or might not be the case, and pending any documentation that shows that such a warning was given, I'm a bit skeptical of the charge. Either way, Clinton had a good eight years to nail down bin Laden and al Qaeda, and chose not to rock the boat in the Middle East. Additionally, I'm still very interested to find out what the documents that Sandy Berger destroyed were about. And now we have the Able Danger controversy brewing. To my knowledge, I recall very little rhetoric coming out of Clinton's mouth regarding the growing threat of Islamo-terrorism, despite repeated acts of terrorism on American interests and Americans citizens. Additionally, I recall little to no retribution for these acts of terrorism, save the cruise missle attacks on bin Laden's camp, which were futile to begin with because the White House informed the Pakistani government that they were sending them, thereby giving bin Laden plenty of time to vacate the premises. (Remember that Pakistan was one of only two countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.)
Let me make one thing very clear: I do not blame Clinton for 9/11. The people responsible for 9/11 are the people who hijacked the planes, the people who trained them, funded them, and directed their operations. But if Clinton is going to shoot his mouth off about how diligent he was when it came to terrorism, he's going to have to answer the one simple question that comes back in response: What were YOU doing for eight years? Defenders may contend that Clinton was distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Without getting into who was ultimately responsible for the impeachment (Clinton or the GOP head-hunters), that also begs another question: How was Clinton able to wage a war in Yugoslavia, but not against Islamo-terrorists, during the impeachment crisis? I think Clinton knows he dropped the ball on this terrorism issue, and he's doing a lot of ex post facto damage control. I'm fine with that, but he needn't slime his successor to do it, particularly since his successor could very easily do the same, and with more devastating proof.