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Clinton Let Bin Ladin Away On Purpose

August 26, 2006

Ok, since no one seems interested in my Russian friend, how about some good ‘ol Clinton Administration bashing to get some comments: Govindini Murty reviewing an upcoming mini-series:

One astonishing sequence in “The Path to 9/11″ shows the CIA and the Northern Alliance surrounding Bin Laden’s house in Afghanistan. They’re on the verge of capturing Bin Laden, but they need final approval from the Clinton administration in order to go ahead. They phone Clinton, but he and his senior staff refuse to give authorization for the capture of Bin Laden, for fear of political fall-out if the mission should go wrong and civilians are harmed. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in essence tells the team in Afghanistan that if they want to capture Bin Laden, they’ll have to go ahead and do it on their own without any official authorization. That way, their necks will be on the line – and not his. The astonished CIA agent on the ground in Afghanistan repeatedly asks Berger if this is really what the administration wants. Berger refuses to answer, and then finally just hangs up on the agent. The CIA team and the Northern Alliance, just a few feet from capturing Bin Laden, have to abandon the entire mission. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda shortly thereafter bomb the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing over 225 men, women, and children, and wounding over 4000.

Bin Laden got away from the Bush Administration in the heat of battle. The Clinton Administration let him go on purpose when they would have almost undoubtedly had him, a decsion made in “cold reason”. Bin Laden went on to kill thousands of American citizens, although recently it’s been hard to determine what he’s doing in his super secret location.

I understand the thinking behind the Clinton Administration to a degree, and had they known the depths of his evil plans for the future, I’m sure they wouldn’t have hesitated to pull the trigger. I’m sure they wish they did now. Don’t we all. I just don’t understand why people give Clinton and Berger a pass on this stuff and not Bush. Or why we still worry to the extent we do about “world opinion” when there are American lives at stake. Or that by vigorously pursuing Bin Laden and his ilk with deadly vigor we are making the problem worse. It can’t get much worse, and our enemies are hastening towards that goal wether we fight them or not. Let’s not fool ourselves. Our mistake now would be to wait to retaliate when it happens again. Or to think that we can lock the door so they can’t ever get in. There’s no lock big enough that wouldn’t imprison the rest of us also.

But I ramble read the Solzhenitsyn essay I refer to in my previous post.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob A. permalink
    August 27, 2006 2:10 pm

    Grec writes: >>I just don’t understand why people give Clinton and Berger a pass on this stuff and not Bush.

    Sure you do, Grec. Same reason that conservatives don’t give Clinton a pass while they give Bush one. Whenever Clinton lashed out at Osama, conservatives ridiculed him for “wagging the dog,” for being obsessed with Osama, etc. When Bush declared an all-out war against Osama, let’s all admit that Bush supporters presumed it wouldn’t have taken so long to bag Osama.

    I’m reading “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert and am resonating with his comments about how we have a much lower threshold of proof for our own convictions than for opposing convictions. This is just human nature. At some point, tho, a mature democracy has to expect its citizens to rise above their petty and immature partisanships in order to negotiate effective “we’re all in this together” approaches.

  2. August 28, 2006 9:35 pm

    Thanks for taking the bait, bro. I was beginning to think no one was out there!

    As always, you have a point. I agree we come pre-disposed to favor those supporting our own point of view. I just think you hold this idea up as too much of an all-encompassing explanation. I also think it tends to relativize and gloss over meaningful differences.

    I have much sympathy for your approach because I engaged in it myself for so long. But it’s no longer good enough for me to say “The republicans did this, the Democrats did that, they’re all the same”. It’s become vitally important for me to look at the particulars of each situation. And the Democrats are not holding up very well in the area that I am most concerned about: national security.

    Recall the movie Wag the Dog Was that made by conservatives? How important is Osama now? Even Zarqawi was somewhat obsolete by the time he was nailed. There may be a congruence in results between R and D (Osama got away), but there is a world of difference as to the intentions of each, an important difference that exists to this day, not with Osama, but with prosecuting our enemies in general.

  3. August 29, 2006 4:50 pm

    Hi Rob and Count,

    People with integrity have a much higher threshold of proof for their own convictions than people without integrity. This is why integrity is rare and why integrity is an uncommon virtue; especially in politics. People without integrity don’t really have convictions anyway.

    It is human nature to have positions, not convictions, that are easily affirmed or swayed by selfish motivations and the opinions of others. Some people do rise above their selfish human nature in order to develop convictions that are not influenced by the need for acceptance.

    There is a fundamental difference in character between a man who will not take an action he knows is right, but unpopular, and a man who will take an action he knows is unpopular, but right.

  4. Tim C. permalink
    September 2, 2006 12:12 am

    So you are quoteing from a review by a conservative columnist, of a ABC Miniseries docudrama of the path to 911? Isn’t that about 100 miles away from primary source material?

    Let me try. How about Richard Clarke describing the Afghan Raid:

    “In 1997…A variation of the plan was developed…The Afghan snatch team would go pick him up on his “farm” at the same time the CIA aircraft was flying into the country….The farm complex was several dozen houses surrounded by a twelve foot wall. At each corner of the wall there was a machine gun nest. Parked outside were two T-55 tanks.

    A frontal assault by the afghan team would probably have resulted in the deaths of the few assets the CIA had in that country. The CSG unanimously decieded against
    the assault….George Tenet and I [vetoed the operation] to avoid getting all our CIA assets killed for nothing.

    Which syncs with the 911 comission Report on the same event:

    “Tenant told us that given the information from his Chief Operations Officer, the he alone decieded to ‘turn off’ the operation.

    He simply informed Berger who did not push back. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision…The CIA top management clearly did not think the plan could work. It was the duty of Tenet…to balance the risk of inaction against jeopardizing the lives of the operatives and agents.

    OK then. So at least these primary sources paint a very different picture than the conservative review of the ABC miniseries.

    So well, to your original question how does Clarke compare his two past bosses in Chief — Clinton vs. W on Terrorism pre-911:

    “At the senior policy levels in the Clinton Administration, there was an acute understanding of the terrorist threat, particularly al Qaeda. That understanding resulted in a vigorous program to counter al Qaeda including lethal covert action, but it did not include a willingness to resume bombing of Afghanistan. Events in the Balkans, Iraq, the Peace Process, and domestic politics occurring at the same time as the anti-terrorism effort played a role.

    The Bush Administration saw terrorism policy as important but not urgent, prior to 9-11. The difficulty in obtaining the first Cabinet level (Principals) policy meeting on terrorism and the limited Principals’ involvement sent unfortunate signals to the bureaucracy about the Administration’s attitude toward the al Qaeda threat.

    And of course there was Sandy Berger’s parting warning to Condi as Bush took office. Here is Time Magazine on this:

    “I’m coming to this briefing,” he says he told Rice, “to underscore how important I think this subject is.” Later, alone in his office with Rice, Berger says he told her, “I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.”


    What was being pushed? Massive Strategic Missle defense. Which is not bad in and of itself, but it shows where their priorites where, and what was being ignored.

    Then Clarke pushed for a rollback strategy against Al Queda. Time Mag quotes that ‘in the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to ‘everything we’ve done since 9/11.‘”

    But again these calls for action were ignored:

    Time Magazine again:

    “The proposals Clarke developed in the winter of 2000-01 were not given another hearing by top decision makers until late April, and then spent another four months making their laborious way through the bureaucracy before they were readied for approval by President Bush.”

    Bush also ignored the January 31st 2001 Hart-Rudman commision report that warned:

    “Mass-casualty terrorism directed against the U.S. homeland was of serious and growing concern” and that “The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistance of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homelaned to catastrophic attack. A direct attack against American citizens on
    American soil is likley over the next quarter century.”

    The commission recommended the formation of a Cabinet-level position to combat terrorism. The proposed National Homeland Security Agency director would have “responsibility for planning, coordinating, and integrating various U.S. government activities involved in homeland security.

    “This commission believes that the security of the American homeland from the threats of the new century should be the primary national security mission of the U.S. government.”

    Ignored. As Clarke said, “not urgent.” No cabinet level anti terrorism post. Counter terrorism, domestic investigation of terror cells and Homeland defense was far from “primary national security mission.”

    8 months later, 9-11.

  5. Count Grecula permalink*
    September 2, 2006 10:00 pm

    Timmy- Haven’t you heard? “Fake but accurate” is the new standard!

    It’s only a TV show “inspired by real events”. Like Dan Rather’s piece on Bush’s National Guard service. Of course the real events are more nuanced.

    Which is really my point. Despite my deliberately provocative title- which is really just so much comment bait – I tried to indicate that I don’t hold a lot of anger towards the Clinton administration – but rather can see where they were coming from at the time made sense, but was a bad call in retrospect. I am not now nor have I ever been a reflexive Clinton hater. I just think he was kind of lame. Likeable, but lame. Call me a relativist, but I think much of what Clinton stood for made some sense at the time, and now what Bush stands for makes sense for the times.

    To split hairs with Mr. Smith, I would say that Clinton was a man of high integrity but low character. Or something like that. I think in his own way he was being loyal to some idea that was important to him- liberal internationalism or something like that. And as a fellow western liberal, I have to agree that is the ideal. But our world is even farther from ideal than usual.

    So Timmy, you can throw up all these great quotes – and they are very impressive (sincerely) – and I want to make clear that I do not personally hold Clinton in such low regard as do some other conservative types. But I probably hold him lower now than I did previously.

    Let’s face it: the Clinton era was a very strong growth period for al Queda and Islamic terror in general, despite their best attempts to deal with it. If anyone could have forseen the events to transpire so soon after their time out of office, I’m sure they would have responded differently… or at least hopeful. When people like yourself say you’ll only take out the big guns AFTER an attack, I start to get nervous. But you are not the Clinton administration. At least the former- maybe there’s hope for you in ’08!

    Your quotes show concern from the Clintonistas regarding terrorism; they also show how much was basicall foisted upon the following administration. I submit to you that 9/11 would still have happened just the same had Al Gore been president. Forming the Dept. of Homeland Security was difficult enough after 9/11; without that I doubt the impetus could have been there for anyone. Too much politics in all the competing beauracracies. Too little real political will. The missle defence focus was probably more a response to the failure of N.Ko policy; a focus that has been changed by events and is roundly criticized by the Dems. “Whatever your for, I’m against it!”

    These are trying times. I urge some grace to whomever is in office, particularly if they are vigorously trying to defend the American people. I feel like I have some credibility on this issue. Perhaps I will be able to demonstrate it more vividly in the next couple years as the inevitable shift in the balance of power is likely to transpire.

    I worry about that shift in ’08 for many reasons; but one it the vulnerability that seems very prominent when a two-term administration is replaced by it’s opposing party. It’s a time for re-assessing goals, tatics, programs and personnel before launching into action. If I were a terrorist, that’s when I’d hit.

    Please, God, somebody comment on my post about Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Adress! That’s what I’m really interested in!!!!

  6. Tim C. permalink
    September 3, 2006 4:02 pm

    You wrote:

    My point in these quotes was to move toward primary sources on the Afgahn raid, and to show that:

    a. Not Clinton’s call, was made by Tenant, Clarke and Team

    b. To show that this statement was not true:

    “They phone Clinton, but he and his senior staff refuse to give authorization for the capture of Bin Laden, for fear of political fall-out if the mission should go wrong and civilians are harmed. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in essence tells the team in Afghanistan that if they want to capture Bin Laden, they’ll have to go ahead and do it on their own without any official authorization. That way, their necks will be on the line – and not his.”

    Nor is this statement true that you made Grec:

    “The Clinton Administration let him go on purpose when they would have almost undoubtedly had him, a decsion made in “cold reason.”

    Both Clarke’s direct word and the 911 commission show that they never had enough force to “get him,” and that the choice was made by the CIA not to go in not due to “fear of political fall out” but rather due to concern over sending the few CIA assets they had into a suicide mission.

    And btw, you should update your blog post to retract those untrue statements.

    and lastly c. To answer your question: “I just don’t understand why people give Clinton and Berger a pass on this stuff and not Bush.”

    Hopefully I’ve answered that. Clinton himself didn’t make that call, Tenent and Clarke did, and did so for good — not political — reasons. I’ve yet to hear any good reason for not putting EVERYTHING we had into Tora Bora (rather than outsourcing it to local guys) when we ALREADY knew what was up, and KNEW that he was there. As the Washington Post wrote:

    “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.”

    The former had tactical reasons behind it, the later has never, ever made any sense to me.

    You also wrote:

    “Your quotes show concern from the Clintonistas regarding terrorism; they also show how much was basicall foisted upon the following administration” and “I submit to you that 9/11 would still have happened just the same had Al Gore been president.”

    I’m glad you see the focus and priority Clinton put on al Qaeda in specific. But what they did was direct, and specific and was action much more than just “concern.”

    And would Gore have been just as unresponsive to similiar warnings as Bush was? Maybe, but that is not certain by any stretch.

    Would a President Gore have responded differently to direct warnings of Sandy Berger, whom he worked so closely with in the last administration? Or to the warnings of the Clinton appointed and Gary Hart Co-chaired Hart Rudman report?

    Would a President Gore reacted to the PDB that “Bin Laden Determined to Attack the US” — cutting short his vacation and return to Washington to act like Clinton did in 2000 where he escalated the terroism issue to the highest branches of governement, forced co-operation pushed secuirty at airports to highest levels and forced inter-intelligence communication… and that effort along with luck twarted an “millenium” New years Al-Qaeda plot against LAX and other targets.

    Remember Gore was very knowledgeable about airline security, in 1996 after the TWA 800 disaster Gore chaired the commission on airline safety where he wrote:

    “The federal government should consider aviation security as a national security issue, and provide substantial funding for capital improvements. The Commission believes that terrorist attacks on civil aviation are directed at the United States, and that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to reducing the threats that they pose.”

    He proposed better explosive screening, better terroist screening and profiling and better bag screening. All these proposoals were blocked by the Republicans on the committee, 8 out of 9 of which got PAC money from the airlines. On the Dem side, only 1 out of 8 had.

    So Gore new a lot about airline security and terrorist threats.

    So on April 9th when as the 911 report says
    “the System was blinking Red” and President Gore reieved the same PDB, would he have done more than play golf and push for domestic economic goals after all those warnings? Who knows, one hopes.

    But what do you think about he comparitive to Clinton’s adminstraion focus, the pre-911 Bush lack of priority on Terrorism? Ignoring Berger’s warning, ignoring the bipartisan Hart-Rudman dire warnings that about terrorism and the need for it to be a “primary national secuirty focus”? Much less not interupting his vaction after getting the infamous Bin Laden PDB.

    It seems you are incredulous that folks give Clinton a “pass” and not Bush, but you yourself seem to give Bush an AMAZINGLY gracious pass on all the warnings he ignored directly from the Clinton camp, and from Clarke himself among others within their own administration prior to 911.

    OK. After this I promise to check out the Harvard Address…

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