Saturday, September 23, 2006

"At least I tried..." - Clinton on bin Laden

Read this amazing transcript from Bill Clinton's appearance on Fox News. The interviewer, who had promised him that the first half of the interview would be about Clinton's charitable work decided, on the second question, to ask him why he didn't do more to capture or kill Osama bin Laden before 9-11. I have no problems with a journalist straying from the promised course of an interview -- Fox's Chris Wallace had a rare chance for a long talk with Clinton and the question is legitimate.

But just read how Clinton laid the smackdown on him for it, via Atrios.

Let's be honest here -- even after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, the embassy bombings that followed and the attack on the USS Cole, almost nobody who was interested in politics during the 1990s was obsessed with Osama bin Laden and, certainly, almost nobody predicted anything like 9-11 would have ever happened. Still, given that Osama was decidedly not the big issue of the 90s, Clinton and his administration were on top of the matter. Clinton even reveals that he had drawn up invasion plans for Afghanistan and that he was ready to go through with it but that the FBI and CIA wouldn't even confirm that the USS Cole attack was al-Qaeda related. That lack of confirmation restricted Clinton's ability to use enough troops to properly pacify Afghanistan -- a country that had, as we all know, fought off the Soviets for more than a decade. My only quibble here, and my big criticism of Clinton, is that we were giving aid to the Taliban throughout the 90s and that's something we shouldn't have done, even if they had no connection with al-Qaeda, because the Taliban was a horrible dictatorship.

My criticism aside -- I take real issue with Wallace bringing up the fact that our withdrawal from Somalia somehow emboldened Osama bin Laden because Wallace doesn't present the full history of why we were in Somalia in the first place and what led to the terrible spectacle of "Black Hawk Down." Clinton didn't put our troops into Somalia. George HW Bush did that, while he was a lame duck who had lost the election to Clinton. Clinton inherited that war. I don't honestly believe that Bush 41 sent troops to Somalia in order to hurt Clinton -- the two are far too cordial for me to believe that Somalia was a "going away present." But, the fact is, even if he was well intentioned, as Bush 41 tended to be in his foreign policy, he sent us into a chaotic civil war and he didn't have a plan for dealing with it. Clinton should have brought the troops home right away. But, as he says in the interview, even if he'd done that, before one of our helicopter pilots was killed and had his body dragged through the streets, Osama would have reacted the same way by calling us cowards.

I know I'm going long on this post (yet again) but between ABC's docudrama and this interview, I see conservatives trying to blame 9/11 on Bill Clinton. They're doing that because the current conservative president is unpopular and down in the polls so far that Clinton, even at the height of his troubles (they tried to impeach the guy, remember... actually, they did impeach him but he won) was never so loathed as Bush is.

Conservatives are playing the "blame game," that they so hated when they failed to save lives on the gulf coast after hurricane Katrina. They want people to believe that Clinton somehow let 9/11 happen and that Clinton is responsible for it.

Honestly, and he kind of admits this in the interview... Clinton is somewhat responsible. He did a lot to stop or curtail bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but he's willing to admit that he didn't do enough. On that point, he's actually being too hard on himself, though. The public was not clamoring to invade Afghanistan before 9/11. It would have been an unpopular and divisive decision for Clinton to make. I wish he had done it, though. He'd have sent enough troops and wouldn't have let Osama escape into Pakistan -- a country that I've long warned is not our ally and that is demonstrating that fact, by the way. Just look at how well Clinton handled Bosnia -- another move I disagreed with him about. He sent the proper amount of troops and he didn't get us into a quagmire and he captured Slobodan Milosevic. If Clinton had invaded Afghanistan, he'd have done it the right way.

I say it's already time to stop blaming Clinton for 9/11. I don't blame Bush for it either. I only blame the people who hijacked planes and turned them into bombs. But, as much fun as it might be to ask Clinton why he didn't get Osama before 9/11, it's much more fun and more relevant to ask Bush why Osama escaped our forces at Tora Bora and why he's still at large today. If the cons want to blame 9/11 on Clinton and the Democrats, they should at least be held accountable for their post 9/11 failures.


At 10:00 AM , Blogger Jon E. said...

I'm inclined to think that Clinton didn't so much lose his temper as pick his opporunity. My hunch is that, if it does have a big rack and big hair, it won't get Clinton to lose his cool. I think he saw an opportunity to cash in on a lot of Democratic anger and independent suspicion about Bush's efforts to weasel out of the consequences of his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. By taking on Wallace he made sure that every story about the interview would carry a line about his trying to kill bin Laden compared to Bush's apparent indifference pre-9/11.


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