The pre-9/11 intelligence failures are universally recognized. Where the blame should be directed is a question dividing those of us engrossed in partisan debate. Bush supporters think it unfair to examine his handling of counterterrorism, but believe Clinton’s administration to be a fair target. Problematically, Clintonites think the reverse. The Kennedyesque belief in personal responsibility has long laid underground, beneath an eter-nal flame in Washington, DC. Mistakes are made, but not by people, rather by fate or some other political stratagem. The difference between politics and governance are diverging as though they are at complete odds, and in some minds they are. Politics, and the protection of one’s political advancement rather than serving the populace, seems the premier of the two.Did President Clinton do enough to preclude Osama bin Laden and forestall terrorist attacks against the U.S.? No! Absolutely not. He simply failed to quell the dilemma before it manifested itself. For as little as Clinton did however, Bush did less; that’s the quandary facing the White House.
In office, Clinton had his team at least work on the Al Qaeda problem. There were tangible attempts to destroy training camps and capture bin Laden himself. These attempts were disparaged by conservative politicians and commentators as “divergent tactics” against the American people the so-called “wag the dog” theory. Their concern was more on Clinton’s sex life, not some fabricated monster in the deserts of Afghanistan.
The greatest failure of the Clinton administration was their inability to implement the Clarke “action plan.” This radical counter-terrorism proposal was authored by Richard Clarke, who has recently made headlines for his new book which details the failures of those meant to protect America. Clarke’s strategy called for dismantling Al Qaeda cells, freezing Al Qaeda’s global funds, increasing aid to countries struggling with that terrorist organization, placing CIA operatives and special forces into Afghanistan to break apart the hierarchy and capture or kill bin Laden, and the creation of a department of homeland security which would organize and streamline intelligence from various government agencies. The ambitious plan was presented to the Clinton administration in the Autumn of 2000, just months before Bush was to take office. It seemed unfair for Clinton to practically start a war in Asia only to transfer that campaign to an incoming government. The ingress government was pleased to not inherit the project; they had their own wars to concoct.
Under Bush, the Clarke plan was evaluated as a liberal ploy to increase the dimensions of government; after all, there were tax cuts to be had. However, Clarke remained the head of counterterrorism under Bush for a period and it was there that he witnessed the gross negligence towards serious terrorists threats. He continued to fight for his action plan, but was regularly rebuked. He did, however, convince the president to create an antiterrorism task force headed by VP Cheney. The task force never once met. The Bush White House had other priorities. Iraq was a regular topic, Al Qaeda a rare one. Vacations to Texas were common, counterterror meetings a rarity. It seemed to Clarke that the new administration had seemingly regressed from Clinton’s position and there is no evidence attesting otherwise.
The Center for American Progress has recently sought, but not yet discovered, one instance in which the current president, the vice president, or the National Security adviser uttered the words, “Al Qaeda” or “Osama bin Laden” before September 11. None seem to exist. Those kinds of catch phrases were only a Clinton fad.
Perhaps most disturbing was the president’s stance towards the Taliban before 9/11. While cutting counterterrorism programs in the FBI and on the state and local levels, the Bush administration was befriending the enemy. Despite the international sanctions against the Taliban (created by Clinton due to their ties with Al Qaeda), Bush gave a gift of $43 million to the rogue government in the months prior to 9/11. At least Afghanistan was on their map for bribery if not security.
So are the pre-9/11 accounts of the Bush administration important? Yes, just as important as the Clinton record. Why do they matter? They offer insight into our president’s course of action before the nation demanded one of him. It is what a person does when all eyes are not on them that determines the quality of their character.
Bill Casto is a senior and studying Literature with a minor in History.