I thought that after the 9/11 Commission report was issued, with its useful history and bad policy recommendations, the United States of America was over the 9/11 blame game.
Former President Bill Clinton's eruption against Fox News' Chris Wallace was unseemly. But it was also, in some respects, understandable.
After all, Clinton is being accused of neglectful performance in office that resulted in the death of nearly 3,000 Americans in the worst domestic attack since the War of 1812. That's serious stuff.Wallace didn't acquit himself very well either. Rather than letting Clinton respond fully and comprehensively after tossing him a hand grenade of a question - why didn't you do more to get bin Laden? - Wallace kept interrupting him, short-circuiting Clinton's narrative.
Although Clinton was wrong to include Wallace and ABC among them, he is right that there is a concerted effort among some conservatives to pin the blame for 9/11, and everything else that has gone wrong since the beginning of time, on him. There's something about Clinton that gets to the right wing, the same way as there is something about President Bush that gets to left-wingers. When Clinton does something to get back in the news, it's like double-dessert day for conservative talk radio.
Moreover, the charge is unjustified. Given what was known and the context of the time, Clinton actually took fairly aggressive action against bin Laden and al-Qaida.
Until 9/11, the various terrorist acts conducted by al-Qaida had killed only about 30 Americans. While Clinton was in office, Hezbollah had a far more lethal record.Nevertheless, under Clinton a special unit of the CIA devoted to bin Laden was established. Clinton's administration got Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to exert considerable pressure on the Taliban to cough up or expel bin Laden.
There is a dispute between senior Clinton administration officials and the CIA over whether Clinton authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden, as Clinton officials insist, or only to kill him in an effort to capture him, as CIA officials maintain. Regardless, Clinton clearly wasn't limiting the effort against al-Qaida to law enforcement-style activities, as critics now maintain.
Before 9/11, there would have been no support in the country to go to war to dislodge the Taliban and remove al-Qaida's safe haven in Afghanistan.Nevertheless, Clinton's outrage is selective. There has also been an effort, very intense during the 9/11 Commission's deliberations, to blame 9/11 on President Bush.
Some Clintonistas claimed that the Clinton administration gave Bush a plan to take out al-Qaida, which the Bush administration ignored. This is also a claim without justification.
The "plan" was some ideas of terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, basically to bomb al-Qaida training camps and give assistance to the Northern Alliance for its fight against the Taliban. These ideas had been rejected by the Clinton administration because of questions about their effectiveness and concerns about the Northern Alliance. Far from ignoring these ideas and the al-Qaida threat, the Bush administration began a process of developing a true plan for potential action, one that involved not just the Northern Alliance but Pushtan organizations, representing Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.
Clinton's wife, Sen. Hillary, D-N.Y., revived the Bush blame game in recent days by claiming that her husband would have taken action - unlike Bush - if presented with the memo Bush received about a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." That's a contemptible assertion.
There was nothing new in that memo. Bin Laden had, in fact, already tried to attack in the United States, in the foiled millennium plots. And the Bush administration did increase domestic counter-terrorism efforts in response to the elevated threat traffic that summer, even though (to the extent that it was specific) it pointed to overseas targets.Apparently, it is beyond the capability of our political class to accept that the opposition acted in good faith and did the best they could, given the context and what was known at the time.
This toxic partisanship afflicts other national security discussions. Democrats continue to try to breathe life into the charge that the Bush administration knowingly manipulated intelligence to get the country into the Iraq war. Meanwhile, the Bush administration remains in deep denial about the extent to which the Iraq war and our continuing presence there inflames the entire Muslim world, and continues to characterize any suggestion of an alternative course as "giving in to the terrorists." In this country, we used to be able to have a grown-up discussion about national security. Now, it's just another battlefield for partisan spin, blame and dissembling.