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Did the Republicans claim that Clinton was too aggressive in going after Bin Laden?

Orin's post raises the question of whether the Republicans supported Bill Clinton's efforts to get Osama Bin Laden back in 1998, or whether they instead thought that he was "wagging the dog" and being too aggressive. As some of my own recent posts amply demonstrate, I am no fan of the Republican Party these days. Nonetheless, the record shows that most Republican leaders strongly supported Clinton's August 1998 missile attacks against Al Qaeda, and some actually called on him to act more aggressively. This August 21, 1998 Washington Post article documents the Republican reaction in detail. Consider the words of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, then the most powerful and prominent conservative Republican politician in the country:

I think the president did exactly the right thing," House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said of the bombing attacks. "By doing this we're sending the signal there are no sanctuaries for terrorists........"

Gingrich dismissed any possibility that Clinton may have ordered the attacks to divert attention from the [Monica Lewinsky] scandal. Instead, he said, there was an urgent need for a reprisal following the Aug. 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

"Anyone who watched the film of the bombings, anyone who saw the coffins come home knows better than to question this timing," Gingrich said. "It was done as early as possible to send a message to terrorists across the globe that killing Americans has a cost. It has no relationship with any other activity of any kind."

The Washington Post article recounts statements of support by other top congressional Republicans, including Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Although it also notes that a few Republicans, such as Senators Arlen Specter and Dan Coats did question Clinton's motives, it summarizes the overall Republican reaction as "warm support for [Clinton's] ordering anti-terrorist bombing attacks in Afghanistan and Sudan yesterday from many of the same lawmakers who have criticized him harshly as a leader critically weakened by poor judgment and reckless behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal."

Even more interesting is the fact that some prominent Republican leaders, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman and future CIA Director Porter Goss not only endorsed Clinton's actions but urged him to go further:

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who in recent days has been very critical of Clinton on the Lewinsky matter, also supported the bombing raids, noting, "In the past I was worried that this administration didn't take this threat seriously enough, and didn't take Osama bin Laden seriously enough; I'm going to support him, wish him well and back him up."

And urge him on, a view supported bluntly by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.). "If anything, this was somewhat overdue, and I'm not talking days, but months and years. This needs to be the first punch we land. We need to land more." [emphasis mine]

Would that Clinton - and after him the pre-9/11 George W. Bush - had taken Goss' advice! The article also quotes Senator John McCain as claiming that Clinton had unduly neglected the terrorist threat.

The seemingly contrary quotes in the Salon article Orin links to are either 1) criticisms of Clinton's December 1998 strike on Iraq or his 1999 war in Kossovo rather than the August 1998 attack on Al Qaeda, or 2) quotations from the small minority of Republicans who did indeed criticize the August strikes, but cited without noting the broader context of strong support for Clinton's actions by the the most powerful Republicans in DC.

I do not mean to suggest that the Republicans were blameless. They, like President Clinton, did not give the Al Qaeda threat the priority it deserved. And I believed at the time and still believe now that they were wrong to seek Clinton's impeachment for a relatively minor offense at a time when both Congress and the president should have been devoting their full attention to frying more important fish, including Bin Laden. However, it is simply not true that Republicans opposed Clinton's efforts to get Bin Laden or that most of them claimed he was just "wagging the dog." To the contrary, most Republicans strongly supported Clinton's August 1998 missile strikes and some actually claimed that he wasn't going far enough.

UPDATE: It's worth pointing out the contrast between the above record and what President Clinton said in his recent interview with Chris Wallace:

I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans, who now say I didn't do enough, claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden. All of President Bush's neo-cons thought I was too obsessed with bin Laden. They had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say I didn't do enough said I did too much — same people.

Note that Clinton does not say that "a few" or even "some" conservative Republicans said he was "too obsessed" with Bin Laden, but that "all" of them had done so. In reality, most Republicans supported Clinton's strikes against Al Qaeda and some urged him to go further. Even the minority who questioned Clinton's motives did not claim that he should have focused on Bin Laden less, but instead argued that he was overly focused on protecting himself from the fallout of the Lewinsky scandal. Bill Clinton is not the demon that some conservatives make him out to be and his administration had a number of important achievements. Unfortunately, the fight against terror was not one of them, and Clinton's retrospective defense of his record on the issue is also not one of his finest hours.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Did the Republicans claim that Clinton was too aggressive in going after Bin Laden?
  2. GOP Leaders Attack President's War on Terror As Mere Political Ploy:
Friedrich Foresight:
By jimminy but that Clinton's one slippery customer. He was accused of "wag the dog" diversions when be bombed the Balkans, and he manages to blend that in with a discussion of Somalia and al-Qaeda. Ah tell y'all once moah: he manages to blend that in with a discussion of Somalia and al-Qaeda. You nearly have to admire that debating skill.
9.26.2006 7:08am
Pete Freans (mail):
President Clinton mentioned in a recent tirade with Chris Wallace of Fox News that he would have sent 20,000 troops to find Osama Bin Laden. I certainly don't believe him and I don't think he believes that either. Did the impeachment mess prevent him from exercising his powers as Commander in Chief? From signing legislation? From giving speeches? From raising money? Or prevent the NSA, CIA, and other intelligence agencies from sounding the alarms? It did not. We are in the early stages of revisionist history and President Clinton is leading the charge.

As far as I'm concerned, the intriguing question that Democrats must answer honestly before the 2008 election is why they are uneasy with military operations. Recent disclosures in the media only reinforce the stigma that they simply cannot be trusted to pull the trigger when necessary.
9.26.2006 9:05am
AppSocRes (mail):
This is slightly off-topic -- I meant to post earlier on this -- but did anyone else notice the eerie similarity in Clinton's body language in the recent Fox News interview and in the infamous "I did not have sex with that woman..." television spot. There was the same quivering anger, the same forceful finger pointing, the same "in your face" attitude. Clinton is a convincing liar if you only deal with him on one occassion, but he uses the same once-succesful techniques over and over. He'd make a lousy poker player. By the way, I believe this is all symptomatic of a deeper personality problem in our ex-President. Consider how many of the following traits match Clinton's past behavior:
* glib and superficial charm
* grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
* need for stimulation
* pathological lying
* cunning and manipulativeness
* lack of remorse or guilt
* shallow affect(superficial emotional responsiveness)
* callousness and lack of empathy
* parasitic lifestyle
* poor behavioral controls
* sexual promiscuity
* early behavior problems
* lack of realistic long-term goals
* impulsivity
* irresponsibility
* failure to accept responsibility for own actions
* many short-term marital relationships
* juvenile delinquency
* revocation of conditional release
* criminal versatility
If you counted up more than five, you've diagnosed the man as a psychopath according to the Hare Psychopathy scale. (This is not meant to be taken seriously, the scale should only be applied by appropriaately trained personnel with direct access to the patient and his records. However, it is suggestive.)
9.26.2006 9:22am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
You mean that in checking up on Clinton's statements you discovered they were false?
9.26.2006 9:28am
JB:
So are the quotes in the Slate article misleading? Taken out of context? Somehow not representative of the republican mainstream? Opposed by other quotes by the same people?

Why should we believe that Ilya's quotes, rather than Slate's, represent Republican opinion at that time?
9.26.2006 9:56am
Arbusto Spectrum (mail):

As far as I'm concerned, the intriguing question that Democrats must answer honestly before the 2008 election is why they are uneasy with military operations.

Well, they are extremely expensive and often don't work out as planned. See, Iraq. Oh, and by the way, that's the view of most generals in the military, not a democrat.

By the way, why don't you ask the Republicans why they spent $250 billion of taxpayer money to turn Iraq into a fertile training ground for terrorists.


By the way, I believe this is all symptomatic of a deeper personality problem in our ex-President.

Get over it guy, Clinton hasn't been president for a long time. He was invited on to the show to talk about his new gig, and the reporter immediately turns the subject to the Republican talking point du jour -- in spite of the fact that 9/11 happened on Bush's watch, and he ignored intelligence reports that an attack was imminent, it was all Clinton's fault. Everything is Clinton's fault. EVERYTHING What is the name for the personality problem afflicting Republicans who can't give up their pathological hatred of the man?

If you had found someone other than a pampered, one-time drug abusing alcoholic loser whose early ventures were funded by the bin Laden family, who had paid attention when experts warned him that an attack on US soil was imminent, maybe you wouldn't have to wallow in your glory days of criticizing Clinton.
9.26.2006 10:02am
Al (mail):
I just love how this sentence:

What is the name for the personality problem afflicting Republicans who can't give up their pathological hatred of the man?

Is followed by this one:

If you had found someone other than a pampered, one-time drug abusing alcoholic loser whose early ventures were funded by the bin Laden family, who had paid attention when experts warned him that an attack on US soil was imminent, maybe you wouldn't have to wallow in your glory days of criticizing Clinton.
9.26.2006 10:13am
JosephSlater (mail):
With apologies to salon.com for snipping an article there, it is worth passing on this list and analysis at almost its full original length.

Leading GOP political figures and pundits repeatedly voiced such criticisms against Clinton:

Rep. Dick Armey, GOP majority leader: "The suspicion some people have about the president's motives in this attack [on Iraq] is itself a powerful argument for impeachment," Armey said in a statement. "After months of lies, the president has given millions of people around the world reason to doubt that he has sent Americans into battle for the right reasons."

Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y.: "It is obvious that they're (the Clinton White House) doing everything they can to postpone the vote on this impeachment in order to try to get whatever kind of leverage they can, and the American people ought to be as outraged as I am about it," Solomon said in an interview with CNN. Asked if he was accusing Clinton of playing with American lives for political expediency, Solomon said, "Whether he knows it or not, that's exactly what he's doing."

GOP Sen. Dan Coats: Coats, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, "While there is clearly much more we need to learn about this attack [on bin Laden] and why it was ordered today, given the president's personal difficulties this week, it is legitimate to question the timing of this action."

Sen. Larry Craig, U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee: "The foregoing, the premise of the recent film 'Wag the Dog,' might once have seemed farfetched. Yet it can hardly escape comment that on the very day, August 17, that President Bill Clinton is scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury to explain his possibly criminal behavior, Commander-in-Chief Bill Clinton has ordered U.S. Marines and air crews to commence several days of ground and air exercises in, yes, Albania as a warning of possible NATO intervention in next-door Kosovo ...

"Not too many years ago, it would not have entered the mind of even the worst of cynics to speculate whether any American president, whatever his political difficulties, would even consider sending U.S. military personnel into harm's way to serve his own, personal needs. But in an era when pundits openly weigh the question of whether President Clinton will (or should) tell the truth under oath not because he has a simple obligation to do so but because of the possible impact on his political 'viability' -- is it self-evident that military decisions are not affected by similar considerations? Under the circumstances, it is fair to ask to what extent the Clinton Administration has forfeited the benefit of the doubt as to the motives behind its actions."

GOP activist Paul Weyrich: "Paul Weyrich, a leading conservative activist, said Clinton's decision to bomb on the eve of the impeachment vote 'is more of an impeachable offense than anything he is being charged with in Congress.'"

Wall Street Journal editorial: "It is dangerous for an American president to launch a military strike, however justified, at a time when many will conclude he acted only out of narrow self-interest to forestall or postpone his own impeachment."

Sen. Trent Lott, GOP majority leader: "I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Lott said in a statement. "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question."

Rep. Gerald Solomon: "'Never underestimate a desperate president,' said a furious House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.). 'What option is left for getting impeachment off the front page and maybe even postponed? And how else to explain the sudden appearance of a backbone that has been invisible up to now?'"

Rep. Tillie Folwer: "'It [the bombing of Iraq] is certainly rather suspicious timing,' said Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Florida). 'I think the president is shameless in what he would do to stay in office.'"

Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum: "First, it [intervention in Kosovo] is a 'wag the dog' public relations ploy to involve us in a war in order to divert attention from his personal scandals (only a few of which were addressed in the Senate trial). He is again following the scenario of the 'life is truer than fiction' movie 'Wag the Dog.' The very day after his acquittal, Clinton moved quickly to 'move on' from the subject of impeachment by announcing threats to bomb and to send U.S. ground troops into the civil war in Kosovo between Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanians fighting for independence. He scheduled Americans to be part of a NATO force under non-American command."

Jim Hoagland, Washington Post: "President Clinton has indelibly associated a justified military response ... with his own wrongdoing ... Clinton has now injected the impeachment process against him into foreign policy, and vice versa."

Wall Street Journal editorial: "Perceptions that the American president is less interested in the global consequences than in taking any action that will enable him to hold onto power [are] a further demonstration that he has dangerously compromised himself in conducting the nation's affairs, and should be impeached."

Leading GOP senators, representatives, editorial boards, organizations and pundits repeatedly called into question Clinton's motives in taking military action, and thus attacked the commander in chief at exactly the time when troops were still in harm's way. The notion that such accusations were made only by a handful of isolated figures -- which Goldberg has the audacity to suggest were actually liberal -- and that the GOP largely supported Clinton's military deployments and refrained from criticizing his motives is just false. That is a fact that Goldberg would have discovered had he undertaken the most minimal amount of research before making those claims.

It is true that some Republican political figures supported some of Clinton's military decisions in Yugoslavia and the Middle East, but efforts to undermine those actions (as well as earlier ones) came from virtually every significant Republican precinct of influence throughout Clinton's presidency. That includes, most prominently, actions Clinton took against Iraq and Osama bin Laden, which were routinely attacked by Republicans as unnecessary.

The claim that Clinton paid insufficient attention to terrorism was one that virtually no Republicans made during the Clinton presidency. To the contrary, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism were barely on their radar screen, and when they were, it was most prominently to use those issues as a weapon to attack Clinton politically and to suggest that he was deploying the military not for any legitimate reason (such as the terrorist threat) but only to distract the country's attention from the far more pressing sex scandal engulfing our government.
9.26.2006 10:51am
Dale C. Wyckoff (mail):
I haven't seen this point raised yet. I don't see how the "Wag the Dog" criticism can be equated to Clinton being too aggressive. The WTD criticism rung true to many because Clinton's actions were atypically aggressive, announced by Clinton himself, and appeared too well timed.

Reading through the quotes at the time I see the Republicans went beyond supporting the actions. They urged further action on the part of the Clinton administration. Such comments would not have been meaningful had Clinton been more aggressive, and certainly cannot be construed as criticizing him for being too aggressive.

Also, as I recall, it was unusual for Clinton to personally announce this sort of action. Prior strikes say in Iraq were announced by underlings. In the case of Afghanistan and Sudan Clinton made a big show of it. At the time he was on vacation at Martha's Vineyard and came back to D.C. to make the announcement. This added the power of the Presidency to make news to the event itself. (It also got him away from Hillary, who was mighty upset with him.)

I think Clinton's linking the criticism of the timing bombing and his personally announcing the event with his being too aggressive is a slick bit of reframing of the issue. People are no longer questing whether or not he did enough, but whether or not Republicans and conservatives criticized him for doing too much. He has shifted the debate and impugned his critics.

Dale
9.26.2006 11:14am
Pantapon Rose (mail):
Is this really the first time Clinton had been asked this? Seems weird that we'd be discussing this 5 years later.
9.26.2006 11:25am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Just to clarify some dates for people, since there were several bombings under discussion...

President Clinton bombed IRAQ on December 16, 1998. He bombed Afghanistan and Sudan on August 20, 1998. The impeachment vote was set to begin on December 17, 1998.

Thus, the Dick Armey and Gerald Solomon quotes do not show GOP criticism of Clinton's claimed efforts to kill Bin Laden. Clinton's ranting on Sunday was about GOP criticism of his efforts to get Bin Laden, not about GOP criticism of his military adventures generally. Unless the left suddenly wants to admit a connection between Bin Laden and Iraq?

P.S. Just for the record, the bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan took place 3 days after President Clinton's grand jury testimony.
9.26.2006 11:44am
LotharoftheHillPeople:
Ilya Somin strangely ignores this excerpt from the Washington Post story that explains why the GOP Senators decided to support Clinton in the bombing:<blockquote><b>It was clear from several lawmakers' statements that support for Clinton was not just a knee-jerk reaction, but also a response made easier because of former GOP senator and current Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. "I have enough confidence in [Cohen] to believe that he would not be involved in anything orchestrated for domestic political purposes," Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) said.</b></blockquote>Puts a different spin on it, I think.
9.26.2006 12:04pm
LotharoftheHillPeople:
Sorry, I don't know why the formatting isn't working.
9.26.2006 12:05pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
But Lothar, the point that Clinton was making in his rant was that the Republicans were damning him both ways, not that Republicans were generally suspicious of him and his motives. He specifically said that Republicans didn't support his bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan. Regardless of their motives (trust in Clinton, trust in Cohen, or real desire to fight al Qaeda), they supported that bombing. In his recent rant, Clinton even made the point that he had a Republican Defense Secretary and the GOP STILL criticized him for the bombing. Ilya's post, and the Post's story, show that claim by Clinton to be false, at least as far as the Republican leadership at the time was concerned.
9.26.2006 12:13pm
frankcross (mail):
After reading the quotes, I think that the charge is inaccurate as directed at the Republican officeholders.

But it appears fairly accurate with respect to rightwing media, such as the WSJ editorial page and National Review. Which is interesting that they are more partisan than the Republican officeholders.
9.26.2006 12:26pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
It hardly matters that some republicans supported him. As long as their was a significant number of republicans making the accusation the problem is there.

Also I just don't get what about Clinton provokes such irrational rage from so many people. Just hearing his name seems to make some conservatives steam at the ears. My best hypothesis is that he reasonably and convincingly defends views they disagree with and outarguing someone always makes them madder then disagreeing mistakenly with them.
9.26.2006 12:50pm
Captain Holly (mail) (www):

Also I just don't get what about Clinton provokes such irrational rage from so many people. Just hearing his name seems to make some conservatives steam at the ears. My best hypothesis is that he reasonably and convincingly defends views they disagree with and outarguing someone always makes them madder then disagreeing mistakenly with them.


Actually, Bill Clinton is arguably the best thing to ever happen to the Republican Party. And as his recent performance shows, he's a gift that keeps on giving.
9.26.2006 1:00pm
DDG:
frankcross,

I don't know where you get the idea that the right wing media (i.e. pundits) were opposed to Clinton's 1998 missle strikes. NRO resposted the NR editorial from the relevant time. It's quite supportive of Clinton's actions.
9.26.2006 1:03pm
Former Republican (mail):
Isn't it kind of silly even questioning whether either the Clinton or Bush Administrations did enough to try to stop bin Laden? Obviously, neither did, because we were successfully attacked on 9/11. It seems pretty pointless, except as an exercise in political blame-shifting, to even argue this issue publicly.

The real issue is whether our response since the attack has been the proper response.
9.26.2006 1:09pm
David Walser:

Isn't it kind of silly even questioning whether either the Clinton or Bush Administrations did enough to try to stop bin Laden? Obviously, neither did, because we were successfully attacked on 9/11. It seems pretty pointless, except as an exercise in political blame-shifting, to even argue this issue publicly.

The real issue is whether our response since the attack has been the proper response.
- Former Republican

Yes, of course. As many have said, most of us are willing to give everyone pre-9/11 a pass. None of us took the threat seriously enough. Having said that, it's important to acknowledge the context in which Clinton's interview with Mike Wallace took place. Democrats, led by Clinton himself, were very upset with the ABC mini series The Path to 9/11. (Technically, they threw a hissy fit.) Since Clinton raised the topic by his reaction to the ABC program, it was natural for Wallace to ask the question.
9.26.2006 1:20pm
Pantapon Rose (mail):
Clinton was asked a similar question by Tom Brokaw two years ago. So what's all the uproar over this now?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5517619/
9.26.2006 1:20pm
Thales (mail) (www):
I believe Clinton made the point in the Wallace interview that many of the same neoconservative Republicans who criticized him for being too aggressive on the al-Quaeda threat have changed their tune under Bush and urged agression. He didn't name names, but it sounded to me like he was not referring to the main political Congressional leadership, which did and does not include many neocons (Gingrich was a prominent exception at the time), but foreign policy elites/thinkers. He also pointed out that Richard Clarke had a comprehensive anti-terror program plan that was essentially ignored by the new administration. I think stacking up quotes from the people who were impeaching him may be evading the point (and I'm not saying his story is completely accurate, but it sounds like there's something to it).
9.26.2006 1:21pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
The argument that Clinton forwarded a "comprehensive anti-terror program" on to the new administration has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere, including, I believe, even in Richard Clarke's own book.

Logicnazi... I'm sure that's the same reason why the left holds President Bush in such irrational hatred and contempt as well. There's no point in engaging in comparative demonology, but do find me any pictures of any well-attended demonstrations by Republicans during the late 1990s carrying pictures of Bill Clinton as Hitler, or a vampire, or anything similar.
9.26.2006 1:28pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I believe Clinton made the point in the Wallace interview that many of the same neoconservative Republicans who criticized him for being too aggressive on the al-Quaeda threat have changed their tune under Bush and urged agression.


By any chance would these unnamed "neoconservative Republicans" be related to the ever elusive "Some Puerto Rican Guy"? It seems to me that if the accusation is that someone has changed their tune, the least Clinton could do is specifically name the vocalist.

BTW: I'm curious why Professor Somin has titled his piece "[d]id the Republicans claim that Clinton was too aggressive in going after Bin Laden?" It seems to me that when we actually look at relevant quotes we have (a) Republicans supporting the bombings, (b) Republicans thinking that we need to go even further, and (c) some Republicans (and Democrats) questioning the timing of the bombings but so far I haven't seen any elected Republicans saying (d) that the bombings themselves were "too aggressive."
9.26.2006 1:36pm
frankcross (mail):
DDG, that's pretty good. I hadn't seen that but was going off another National Review article that said:


Instead of striking a strong blow against terrorism, the action set off a howling debate about Clinton's motives. The president ordered the action three days after appearing before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Clinton's critics accused him of using military action to change the subject from the sex-and-perjury scandal — the so-called "wag the dog" strategy.
9.26.2006 2:19pm
A.S.:
Thorley Winston wrote: BTW: I'm curious why Professor Somin has titled his piece "[d]id the Republicans claim that Clinton was too aggressive in going after Bin Laden?"

Thorley:

I presume that Prof. Somin wrote that because that's what Orin Kerr wrote on the immediately preceding thread:


Greenwald's point, I believe, is that many in the GOP thought Clinton was being too aggressive, not insufficiently aggressive. Do you disagree with that claim as to what many in the GOP thought at the time? I think that's the key question, and of course I'm very interested if you think that reenwald is wrong about that.


Now, as you point out, Orin was completely wrong. In fact, nobody has pointed out a single quotation from a Republican that Clinton was "being too aggressive" in his al Qaeda-related bombings.
9.26.2006 2:35pm
Ilya Somin:
BTW: I'm curious why Professor Somin has titled his piece "[d]id the Republicans claim that Clinton was too aggressive in going after Bin Laden?"

As commentator A.S. surmises, I used this title because 1. Orin raised the issue in his post.

2. More importantly, Bill Clinton himself has claimed that Republicans criticized him for being too aggressive in going after Bin Laden.
9.26.2006 2:55pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"The argument that Clinton forwarded a "comprehensive anti-terror program" on to the new administration has been thoroughly debunked elsewhere, including, I believe, even in Richard Clarke's own book."

Care to provide a reference to the Clarke book or these thoroughly debunkings? Certainly most non-partisan accounts in the news media seem to indicate that Clarke cared passionately about the issue of al-Quaeda, was a dedicated civil servant of several Presidents, and that his studied, experienced views on terrorism prevention, whether amounting to a comprehensive program or not, were simply not placed near the top (or even the bottom) of the new President's priorities until after 9/11/01. Bush seemed much more focused in the domestic realm with tax reform, and in the foreign policy/defense realm with reinterpreting or abrogating treaties seen as unduly constraining the U.S. and also the failed missile defense/Star Wars redux project. John Ashcroft did not ask for any anti-terrorism appropriations in his first DOJ budget submission. Indeed, even today there is no course focused specifically on anti-terrorism at the FBI Academy. Surely Clinton could have done more (and he says in the Wallace interview that he failed because he did not capture Bin Laden or invade Afghanistan), but it does appear that he was attempting to do much more throughout his second term and as he left office than President Bush did until after the catastrophic attack. The concept of a gap in coverage, whatever the exact contours, is pretty well documented by relatively neutral sources.
9.26.2006 2:59pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
I am wondering why both Somin and Kerr are focusing on the bombings, and not on Somila and withdrawing from there.

Because in the question from Fox which started this whole mess, that seemed to be more of the focus. "There's a new book out which I suspect you've read called the Looming Tower. And it talks about how the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, Bin Laden said I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of US troops." and As in that Greenwald selection of quotes It is very clear the Republicans were the ones STRONGLY pushing us out of Somalia.
9.26.2006 3:25pm
Captain Holly (mail) (www):
the failed missile defense/Star Wars redux project.

Since you're big on links, care to back that one up? From what I've read, the US missle defense system looks more and more promising every day.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Which is why Japan deployed US-made anti-missle batteries during the recent dust-up with North Korea. Apparently they don't feel it's a failure, and they're the ones who are literally willing to bet their lives on it.
9.26.2006 3:28pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Whoops, I forgot to put a link to the quotes on somalia and mispelled it. So there it is
9.26.2006 3:32pm
A.S.:
Tom Maguire barrel-fished with Sock Puppets Greenwald's Somalia post, here.
9.26.2006 3:41pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
GOP.com cites copious mainstream media and Democratic accounts to debunk the claim that President Clinton passed on a comprehensive plan to take on al Qaeda. Some of the controversy seems to depend on what the meaning of "is" is. Clarke passed on a couple of reports making suggestions for combatting Al Qaeda. But those reports don't seem to constitute a "comprehensive strategy" or a "war plan". And one of those reports was prepared in 1998 and not followed by the Clinton administration, either. Finally, Richard Clarke has admitted that that even if all his recommendations in his collection of policy suggestions were followed, 9/11 would still have happened.

But nobody on the GOP side of the aisle started this fight, or have tried mightily to blame Clinton over the last 6 years, contrary to Clinton's claim. We didn't start blasting in to him; he started this fight.

From GOP.com:

MYTH: President Clinton Said He Left "Comprehensive Anti-Terror Strategy" For President Bush:

Former President Bill Clinton: "[I] left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy ..." (Fox News' "Fox News Sunday," 9/24/06)

FACT: Clinton And Bush Administration Officials Agree "There Was No War Plan ... Turned Over":

Former Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger: "Now, the second question you asked - which comes off the Time Magazine story, I think, was there a plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. If I could address that. The transition, as you will recall, was condensed by virtue of the election in November. I was very focused on using the time that we had - I had been on the other side of a transition with General Scowcroft in 1992. But we used that time very efficiently to convey to my successor the most important information - what was going on and what situations they faced. Number one among those was terrorism and Al-Qaeda, and I told that to my successor. She has acknowledged that publicly so I'm not violating any pr ivate conversation. We briefed them fully on what we were doing - on what else was under consideration and what the threat was. I personally attended part of that briefing to emphasize how important that was. But there was no war plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. And the reports of that are just incorrect." (Sandy Berger, Select Committees On Intelligence, U.S. Senate And U.S. House Of Representatives Hearing, 9/18/02)

Richard Clarke In 2002: "[T]here was no plan on al-Qaida that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration." (Richard Tomkins, "WH Throws Own Words Back At Clarke," United Press International, 3/24/04)

*
"[T]here Was A Strategy In Place Dating From 1998 That The Clinton Administration Had Not Acted On." (Richard Tomkins, "WH Throws Own Words Back At Clarke," United Press International, 3/24/04)

Unnamed Former Clinton Administration NSC Official: "There were certainly ongoing efforts throughout the eight years of the Clinton administration to fight terrorism ... It was certainly not a formal war plan. It was certainly not a formal war plan. We wouldn't have characterized it as a formal war plan. The Bush administration was briefed on the Clinton administration's ongoing efforts and threat assessments." (Byron York, "Clinton The Anti-Terrorist," National Review, 9/2/02)

"A Senior Bush Administration Official Denies Being Handed A Formal Plan To Take The Offensive Against Al-Qaeda, And Says Clarke's Materials Merely Dealt With Whether The New Administration Should Take 'A More Active Approach' To The Terrorist Group." (Michael Elliott, "They Had A Plan," Time, 8/12/02)
9.26.2006 4:08pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"But nobody on the GOP side of the aisle started this fight, or have tried mightily to blame Clinton over the last 6 years, contrary to Clinton's claim. We didn't start blasting in to him; he started this fight"

Do the producers of "Path to 9/11" count as being on the GOP side of the aisle or as having started this fight? Because it seems from the interview that Clinton was responding to some of the false or distorted allegations in that television program.

Also, the provenance of some of the quotes provided above (GOP.com? Are you serious?) leaves some doubt as to the veracity and original context. One sentence quotes from Clarke, unnamed Clinton and Bush officials. The Sandy Berger quote actually supports most of what Clinton said--unless you think comprehensive strategy means war plan. I think the overall point is that the Bush team was warned and did not move al Quaeda to the top of the priorities list but rather did the opposite. None of this is to make the speculative claim that the events of 9/11 would not have occurred had the Bush team made al Quaeda a priority. We will obviously never know, and it is fruitless to make such assertions. What is useful is to be accurate about the past to the extent we can learn from it, and about the present, because we have a pretty strong basis for thinking Bush has a lousy record on dealing with terrorism (irrelevant wars and ineffective muscular posturing aside), one that began before he declared war on it.
9.26.2006 5:37pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Clinton didn't accuse the producers of the Path to 9/11 in the Wallace interview. He accused "all those conservative Republicans". And Bush didn't come across looking good in the second half of 9/11, either. Clinton, and Clinton alone, is the one who has been making this a big deal the past few weeks.

As for the rest, you're correct that some of those quotes lack potentially relevant context. As I noted in my last post, some of the debate seems to turn on what is meant by a "comprehensive plan". But in the larger picture, even if you call Clarke's reports a "comprehensive plan", it's clear from Clarke that the Clinton Administration didn't follow the plan, either, which weakens a great deal Clinton's self-defensive revisionism.
9.26.2006 5:59pm
DDG:
Irrelevant wars like the one that eliminated Al Qaeda's main state sponsor and shelter in Afghanistan?
9.26.2006 6:00pm
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx:
Clinton can't stop lying, can he. As you pointed out "all the conservatives" What a lying bastard. Clinton and the D's have no interest in a real examination into his "fight" against Al Queda. They want to muddy the waters to make it look like they are better than the GOP on national security when they want to turn it into a law enforcement matter. We saw throughout the 90's and on 9/11 that that doesn't work.
9.26.2006 7:06pm
Josh Jasper:
I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans, who now say I didn't do enough, claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden.



A simple sentendce, which COULD br interpreted to mean "all the conservative Republican who now say I didn't do enough" COMMA "claimed that I was too obsessed with bin Laden"

Did Clinton edit the draft and put the damn commas in?

Nope. You've still got a hard on for him, and this is a hatchet job that's motivated by your obsession. Perhaps you dream of guest spots on Fox and Friends.
9.26.2006 9:50pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Josh Jasper,

I'm not sure that the way you present the sentence makes the statement true, although it is somewhat more limited. In order for it to be true, every conservative Republican now saying Clinton didn't do enough would have had to have previously claimed Clinton was too obsessed with bin Laden. Are you prepared to support that assertion?
9.26.2006 10:31pm
spider:
To AppSocRes at 8:22am: This is too easy, but it seems to me that our man George W Bush fits quite a few of those descriptors as well.
Perhaps it is impossible for the president to be just a regular dude...
9.26.2006 10:34pm
TC (mail):
While I am neither a prominent Republican nor a prominent neoconservative, I criticized Clinton's al Qaeda strikes as being indecisive and the wrong weapon. Lobbing cruise missiles at terrorist training camps isn't an effective measure, but it sure looks good when you're about to testify to a grand jury.
9.26.2006 11:00pm
Kevin Jon Heller:
Here's a link to quotes from twelve different important conservatives who criticized Bill Clinton for going after bin Laden too aggressively. Two of the quotes come from Armey and Lott, both of whom Somin cites in defense of his thesis.
9.26.2006 11:15pm
Ilya Somin:
Here's a link to quotes from twelve different important conservatives who criticized Bill Clinton for going after bin Laden too aggressively. Two of the quotes come from Armey and Lott, both of whom Somin cites in defense of his thesis.

This is the exact same Salon article that Orin and I both linked to. Both the Armey and Lott quotes excerpted in that piece attack Clinton's December 1998 air strikes against Iraq, NOT his attempt to get Bin Laden in August 1998. The same is true of most of the other quotes in the piece, which also has some Republican statements attacking Clinton's 1999 war in Kosovo. Armey, Lott, and other top Republicans did support the August 1998 strikes against Al Qaeda, as the Washington Post article I linked to demonstrates.
9.26.2006 11:25pm
Scroop Moth (mail):
"All the conservative Republicans who now say. . . ." was colloquial hyperbole, not enumeration or literal assertion. It means "lots of conservative Republicans," or "those very noisey conservative Republicans," or (most likely) the Republicans who said such and such at a particular time." Logically, no politician in a country of 300 million people could ever use the word "all" without technically lying.

Meltdown or controlled burn? If you read the transcript before seeing the video, you couldn't be sure.
9.27.2006 1:47am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Oh, it was vintage Clinton, carefully crafted: Looking us in the eye, indignation written all over his face, as he asks how dare we accuse him of lying while he is lying to our face.
9.27.2006 4:13am
Thales (mail) (www):
"Irrelevant wars like the one that eliminated Al Qaeda's main state sponsor and shelter in Afghanistan?"

I believe attacking Afghanistan was relevant, as I think the context of my other posts and also my general support of Clinton's points in the Wallace interview makes clear--but that war remains sadly unfinished, underfunded and neglected. The Taliban is in resurgence, and we have lost much of the international support we had for that war because of our other foolish endeavors.

I refer, of course, to the war in Iraq, as all but the most vociferous drinkers of White House Kool-aid should concede was irrelevant to the struggle against Al Quaeda. Now, as virtually all thoughtful people of all political stripes who actually study the Middle East predicted (in other words, not Douglas Feith), we have helped splinter an authoritarian regime (and former client) into three factions fighting a religious and ethnic civil war, which war Al Quaeda and like-minded groups are happy to exploit. The ability to tell different groups of Arabs and Muslims (and their neighbors) apart is pretty crucial when one has been attacked by a small group of them, lest one lose focus. Morphing enemies into The Enemy is vainglorious and lacks a crucial connection to reality.
9.27.2006 1:29pm
Friedrich Foresight:
Seriously. Can anyone imagine, in August 2001 (Gary Condit, shark attacks, downed spy planes over China, etc), anyone, GOP or Dem, standing up and warning "We've observed these 19-20 Egyptian and Saudi Arabian Muslim men [a] taking flying lessons, and [b] buying box cutters, so we think they're planning to destroy the World Trade Centre?"

Any official or pundit who'd aired that claim would have been dragged off in a straightjacket.
9.27.2006 6:19pm