Friday, September 29, 2006

Political Gotcha Runs Both Ways

Hillary Clinton:

"I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team."

My reaction to the title of that memo was a big yawn. Of COURSE he was planning attacks. He had openly declared it on previous occasions. It was no surprise. To pretend that the title of this memo should have set off alarm bells is silly and disingenuous.

To add fuel to the fire, James Taranto reports that

...the 9/11 commission reported that on Dec. 4, 1998, President Clinton received a Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks."


Anonymous said...


James Taranto continues....

True, George W. Bush didn't do much better during his first eight months in office, but he had the remainder of his terms to make up for it.

Has he really made it up? If so, then why is Bin Laden still alive? Bush has had five years of open war to get the man who attacked us and who continues to threaten us. Why is Bush not being criticized for not "getting him" these past five years, yet Clinton gets hammered for pre-9/11 failures?

Anonymous said...

while i disagree with taranto's conclusion, h. clinton should have fact-checked her statement. another lesson in never using superlatives in politics

Scott Hinrichs said...

Dan, Bush has been repeatedly hammered for not getting OBL, but it's not the same thing as Clinton being hammered. Thanks to Bush's anti terror actions, OBL is no longer the threat he was prior to 9/11. If he lives (some reports have him croaking last month), he has become little more than a figurehead that OBL wannabes can aspire to. You know, kill a bunch of infidels and spend the rest of your life on the lamb living in dank, filthy, remote caves. Sounds like fun to me.

The fact remains that OBL's attack on 9/11 blindsided us. No president took the man or his organization to be more than a nuisance prior to that. Unfortunately for Clinton, he ends up looking bad because he obviously had opportunity but used his judgment to avoid killing the man. Everyone can see what we might have been saved had he acted otherwise.

Few are asking what the political ramifications would have been had Clinton authorized the kiling of OBL. Obviously, Clinton felt that the immediate ramifications would have been unacceptable. Neither he nor W assumed these decisions would end up costing thousands of American lives down the road. It is only in retrospect that we can see what Clinton's decisions cost us.

I'm no Clinton apologist. I just think we ought to consider all sides of the issue. Presidents have to make difficult decisions like this all the time. They don't get to choose, however, how history will regard those decisions.

Bradley Ross said...

another lesson in never using superlatives in politics

Wise counsel.

Anonymous said...


Few are asking what the political ramifications would have been had Clinton authorized the kiling of OBL. Obviously, Clinton felt that the immediate ramifications would have been unacceptable.

Clinton actually did authorize the CIA to kill Bin Laden, but in pre-9/11 days, with a CIA burned by its own actions in the 70s, kept going back to Clinton with clear rules of engagement, and this constant bickering, rather than action, probably led more to Bin Laden never having been killed.

Beginning in the summer of 1998, Clinton signed a series of top secret memos authorizing the CIA or its agents to use lethal force, if necessary, in an attempt to capture bin Laden and several top lieutenants and return them to the United States to face trial.

From Director George J. Tenet on down, the CIA's senior managers wanted the White House lawyers to be crystal clear about what was permissible in the field. They were conditioned by history -- the CIA assassination scandals of the 1970s, the Iran-contra affair of the 1980s -- to be cautious about legal permissions emanating from the White House. Earlier in his career, Tenet had served as staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee and director of intelligence issues at the White House, roles steeped in the Washington culture of oversight and careful legality.

Bradley Ross said...

Dan, you make a reasonable point. Someone has recently argued (though I can't remember the citation) that the real issue here was Clinton's failure as an executive. He insisted in his Fox News Sunday interview that he wasn't able to get the FBI and CIA to certify that bin Laden was responsible for certain attacks. This is essentially the argument that he couldn't get the people that reported to him to obey him or give them clear enough direction.

Anonymous said...


Exactly. Those who are critical of Clinton today look back at him with a post-9/11 view, and they are clearly partisan, because they mention not one harsh word of Reagan cutting and running in 1983 after the Beirut bombing and killing of 241 Marines at the hands of Hezbollah. In a post-9/11 world, Reagan's actions would clearly be recognized as cutting and running and very chicken....except of course, he was Republican.