President Clinton went after al Qaeda and had some successes, but President Bush did not continue the fight and left America vulnerable.
By Frederick Sweet
“There was a terrorist organization going after US, after us! It should have been the first item on the [Bush] agenda.”--Richard Clarke, former White House Antiterrorist Coordinator
When George W. Bush became the President of the United States his foremost, sworn duty was to protect our country and its people--above all other things. Bush violated his oath of office by negligently permitting Osama bin Laden free reign to unleash al-Quaeda and the Saudi terrorists against the U.S. on 9/11.
On October 12, 2000, al Qaeda terrorists attacked the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. That's when Clinton decided to take the fight against al Qaeda to the highest possible level. Instead of arming them like Reagan or ignoring them like George H.W. Bush, Clinton decided to destroy them. He put Richard Clarke as the first national antiterrorism coordinator in charge of coming up with a comprehensive plan to take out al Qaeda. Their plan was ambitious: break up al Qaeda cells and arrest their personnel, systematically attack financial support for it’s terrorist activities, freeze its assets, stop its funding through fake charities, give aid to government having trouble with al Qaeda, and most significantly, increase covert action in Afghanistan to eliminate the training camps and reach bin Laden himself.
After the first attack on the WTC in 1993, Clinton sent strict antiterrorism legislation to Congress as part of his first crime bill. In the wake of that near-tragedy, the legislation passed. But when he tried to expand those measures following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Clinton was vehemently opposed by conservatives in Congress who declared that the measures he was asking for would threaten Constitutional rights. What were these measures? New powers to turn away terrorist suspect immigrants, and a new deportation court which could use secret evidence and hasten the deportation procedures.
Clinton responded to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center by capturing, trying, convicting, and imprisoning those responsible. Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, and Wali Khan Amin Shah are all currently behind bars.
Nevertheless, the most vocal critics of Clinton’s counterterrorism efforts to broaden the government’s powers were conservatives in Congress.
According to a report from Reuters on October 16, 2003, former President Bill Clinton, before leaving office in 2001, had made every effort to warn President George W. Bush that Osama bin Laden was the biggest security threat the United States faced.
Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the History Channel on October 15, Clinton had said that he had tried to discuss security issues with Bush in his “exit interview,” a formal and often candid meeting between a sitting president and the president-elect.
“In his campaign, Bush had said he thought the biggest security issue was Iraq and a national missile defense,” Clinton said. “I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden.”
Since then Bush has become a national embarrassment by constantly talking about and drawing attention to his so-called war on terror. Foolishly politicking on terrorism has only served to highlight his administration's failure to achieve its central goals, while at the same time committing civil-rights abuses in its name. Bush theatrically paraded around the deck of the USS Lincoln although the war on terror (or even the war on Iraq) is obviously not over. But his shenanigans have highlighted America's weakness and blindness, not strength and resolve.
A senior Bush administration official had told Time magazine, Clarke’s plan amounted to “everything we’ve done since 9/11,” Clinton's plan was completed only a few weeks before the inauguration of Bush. If it had been implemented then, a former senior Clinton aide told Time magazine, “We would be handing [the Bush Administration] a war when they took office.” Instead, Clinton decided to turn over the plan to the Bush administration to carry out. Clinton trusted Bush to protect America.
Clinton’s record on terrorism has been misrepresented by Bush and the Republicans. Clinton no doubt had done damage to our country by lying about his misconduct with Monica Lewinsky that ended in his impeachment. But that had nothing to do with his record on dealing with terrorism. Clearly, Bush's record on terrorism is terrible, although Republican propagandist have regularly tried to shift the blame for the 9/11 tragedy to Clinton's administration.
The facts are, however, between 1996 and 2000 Clinton increased federal spending on counterterrorism to more than $12 billion annually. The FBI's counterterrorism budget had been $78 million in 1996, which was increased to $609 million in 2000. Whether or not the FBI spent the money wisely was up to Louis Freeh, the Clinton-appointed, Republican director of the FBI.
An investigative report in the Washington Post by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, “The Age of Sacred Terror,” contradicts the Republicans faulting Clinton. The Sudanese government offered to arrest Osama bin Laden and place him in Saudi custody. Not American custody. Barton Gellman of the Post reported on how the Clinton administration had tried to get the Saudis to accept custody of Bin Laden. But they refused. There was no offer to turn Bin Laden over to the U.S.
Let’s not forget that at this time Sudan had offered to help in the fight against terrorism, but only if the U.S. lifted the economic sanctions, imposed in response to their genocidal campaign against Christians in their country. Trying to get the sanctions lifted, Sudan repeatedly offered to share its intelligence about Islamic terrorists with the U.S. However, the FBI and the CIA concluded that Sudan was not providing anything useful on Bin Laden or al-Qaeda.
Clinton had aggressively attempted to get bin Laden by ordering the bombing or missile attacks of a site where the terrorist leader was believed to be, narrowly missing him. Although he had seized an opportunity that presented itself, at the time Clinton ordered the attack, Republicans accused him of merely trying to deflect attention from his impeachment problems.
In 1998, Clinton signed a National Security Decision Directive authorizing an intense and ongoing effort to destroy al-Qaeda, and to either kill or arrest bin Laden. Under Clinton’s presidency, the NSC and the CIA formed a special unit dedicated solely to al-Qaeda. This unit stopped several al-Qaeda plots: to blow up Los Angeles' International Airport (LAX), to bomb the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and to blow up the UN building in NYC, and an attempted attack on the Israeli embassy in Washington.
One month before Clinton left office, several conservatives praised him on his antiterrorism record. For example, Robert Oakley, ambassador for counterterrorism under President Reagan, said: “Overall, I give them very high marks… The only major criticism I have is the obsession with Osama, which has made him stronger.” But Paul Bremer, who had had the same post under Reagan, and later chaired the National Commission on Terrorism, disagreed with Oakley. He felt that Clinton had “correctly focused on bin Laden.”
Once again, the Bush administration is trying to revise history, this time by dismissing Richard Clarke's charges that Bush failed America by making us vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks.
As Clarke summarized Bush's national security catastrophe for Leslie Stahl, “the tragedy here is that Americans went to their deaths in Iraq thinking they were avenging September 11th when Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. For a Commander-in-Chief and his vice president to do that is unconscionable.”
The unprecedented incompetence of this administration is such a clear threat to our national security that nothing can be more important to America's safety than voting Bush and his administration out of office in next November's presidential election.
(Posted Tuesday, March 23, 2004)