TCS Daily

Outta Time

By Brian E. Finch - August 16, 2002 12:00 AM

The second guessing about 9/11 has been going on for some time now, so new variations on old themes should not be a big surprise. Already we have seen the old standards of blaming the CIA and FBI trotted out, as well as the ever-reliable conspiracy buffs, led by Rep. Cynthia McKinney, arguing that the 9/11 attacks were all a plot by President Bush to fatten the wallets of a few of his cronies.

But the audacity of these accusations reached a new low with the latest report by Time magazine. The report, ominously titled "Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented," sets out a lengthy history of late efforts by the Clinton Administration to "roll back" Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. A careful read of the article however reveals that the former administration did little to nothing to stop bin Laden. The truth, of course, is in fact far different from the picture painted by the Clinton spin machine.

Leadership Vacuum

Time reporter Michael Elliott quite dramatically frames his article as "the secret history" of the Bush Administration's failure to try and disrupt or destroy al Qaeda based on the plans drafted by Clinton's National Security staffers in the waning days of his term in office. In those plans, it was proposed that the United States would commit resources to "roll back" al Qaeda over a 3 to 5 year period. Under this proposal, law enforcement personnel would "breakup" al Qaeda cells and arrest their members, freeze their money supply, supply aid to countries where al Qaeda was based (such as the Philippines and Yemen) and increased covert aid would be given to opposition forces in Afghanistan who would fight against Taliban troops and al Qaeda fighters. In furtherance of that goal, the U.S. would have plans drawn up for air strikes and the use of special operation forces in Afghanistan (although the article never makes clear when or even if the military option would be utilized).

But the notion that the Bush Administration's failure to rapidly implement this plan led to the 9/11 attacks strains all credibility. Numerous opportunities were offered to the Clinton Administration to strike at the heart of al Qaeda, but for various reasons they were never seized upon. While the Time article does not mention all these missed opportunities, a careful read of the article reveals a more serious crime: a dereliction of duty on the part of the Commander in Chief.

Throughout Elliott's article, various Clinton Administration "staffers" gripe about their efforts to make the Bush Administration aware of the danger from al Qaeda and bin Laden. Staffer after staffer recounts how they urged the Bush Administration to immediately launch an offensive against bin Laden, and how they ruined perfect opportunities presented to them with bureaucratic bungling and a misdirected focus on silly "obsessions" with programs like national missile defense.

Yet, if one reads the article carefully, there is one key element missing - a sense of urgency at the highest level of the Clinton Administration. More simply, there is nothing in the article to indicate that President Clinton himself cared to make anti-terrorism programs - much less programs aimed at stopping al Qaeda and bin Laden - a top priority. The article barely mentions Clinton himself, only once quoting him. Instead, the article focuses on how Clinton National Security Adviser Samuel Berger and White House Counter-Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke felt the urge to beef up the anti-al Qaeda program. There is a decided lack of commentary about whether President Clinton felt that such a program was a top priority or even a priority. In fact, the article notes how Berger, not Clinton, shelved this vaunted anti-terror program, leaving the reader with the distinct impression that Clinton did not care enough to even review the plan.

Other comments made throughout the article are instructive. Elliott points out how the new program was only drawn up after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, but was not executed supposedly because the FBI and CIA could not "officially" conclude that bin Laden was behind the attack on the Cole. That proposition is downright silly. If seven years of bin Laden attacks, both executed and aborted, were not enough for President Clinton to let the U.S. military's hands dirty, then nothing would ever have constituted sufficient justification.

But perhaps the silliest of all is Elliott's comment that it was "politically impossible" for Clinton to launch an offensive against bin Laden because the 2000 presidential election was upcoming. At various points, Clinton staffers argue that launching such an offensive would have been misinterpreted as an attempt to help Vice President Al Gore's election chances, and that absent such an election, President Clinton would have taken to the offensive against bin Laden.

Huh? Apparently Mr. Elliott forgot Clinton's year long orgy of political programs designed solely to highlight the 8 years of prosperity brought to us "courtesy" of the Clinton/Gore Administration. One has to surmise that Clinton was too concerned about how to get the District of Columbia's new "Taxation Without Representation" license plate on the Presidential limousine to embarrass Republicans to worry about bin Laden.

Far from being an indictment of inaction by the Bush Administration, the Time article reveals a profound disinterest on the part of President Clinton with respect to terrorism matters. For a man who relished his involvement in the intricate details of various policy initiatives, his absence from the record on anti-terror activities is striking.

Time Misses The Mark

Think about it this way: Many political commentators and media outlets (including Time and its editorial staff) have not been exactly kind to the intense efforts with which the Bush Administration has pursued al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Day after day we are faced with articles and editorials about how the Bush Administration is basically ignoring the Constitution and steamrolling over all of our allies in its effort to dismantle al Qaeda. Yet, according to Time, we are supposed to believe that much less intensive efforts, carried out in a world that did not feel the urgency to act created by the deaths of 3000+ Americans, would have been sufficient to knock al Qaeda out of action.
That notion is preposterous. It is dishonest to argue that if we had tickled al Qaeda with a feather like Clinton proposed, we would have had the success that our current use of thumbscrews has not achieved. It's worth recalling that Time and Mr. Elliott reported on the American deaths suffered at the battle of Shah-i-Kot and how the U.S. might not tolerate such battle deaths in the future. Considering that subtle yet persistent negative tone, it is not unreasonable to spot a bit of eagerness in the media's coverage of alleged failures in the Bush Administration's anti-terror efforts.

The most important lesson to be drawn, though, from the Time article is that many of the alleged "answers" as to why 9/11 occurred are nothing more than bald-faced attempts to cover the posteriors of former politicians. Instead of dedicating space to what amounts to nothing more than unpaid advertisements for the Clinton Administration, the media and public at large should devote their efforts to trying to locate the real roots of the failures that led to 9/11. In doing so, we may just discover that while the Bush Administration might have made a few mistakes here and there, they are nothing compared to the preceding decade of negligence. Waving around a half-hearted, last minute plan to address the bin Laden problem does not wipe Clinton's slate clean.



TCS Daily Archives