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September 27, 2006
The Washington Post Fact-Checks A Useless Debate

Last week I wrote about the futility of the debate about who did what regarding terrorism before 9/11. All sides have once again dragged out their shibboleths all over again, and once again the debate has done nothing to make the nation safer -- but it has at least prompted a fact-checking exercise at the Washington Post. Granted, it comes at the end of the article, but at least someone bothered to do it in a rational manner:

And Jay Carson, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, rejected Rice's contention: "Every single fact that President Clinton stated in his interview is backed up by the historical record -- including the 9/11 commission report. Everything President Clinton said was flatly correct."

Some of Clinton's statements on Fox have drawn scrutiny. He said that after the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, "I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan." The Sept. 11 commission, though, found no plans for an invasion of Afghanistan or for an operation to topple the Taliban, just more limited options such as plans for attacks with cruise missiles or Special Forces. And nothing in the panel's report indicated that a lack of basing rights in Uzbekistan prevented a military response.

Clinton also asserted that the Bush administration "didn't have a single meeting about bin Laden for the nine months after I left office." In fact, the Bush team held several meetings on terrorism through the interagency group known as the deputies committee and one on Sept. 4, 2001, through the principals committee composed of Cabinet officers. What Clinton may have been referring to was counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke's frustration that the principals disregarded his urgent calls to meet sooner because of a months-long policy review.

Rice came under fire for her assertion that "we were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda" by Clinton's team. In fact, Clarke sent Rice an al-Qaeda memo on Jan. 25, 2001, along with a strategy to "roll back" the terrorist network, but the Bush team decided to conduct the policy review.

Like I said on Friday: George Bush and Bill Clinton can join a club of five administrations that failed to adequately address the rise of radical Islamism and its root causes in the Middle East and North Africa prior to 9/11. While Clinton ignored a series of attacks on American interests, so did Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. George H. W. Bush helped to provoke the Islamists by basing troops in Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War and then failing to end it quickly by toppling Saddam, forcing the US to keep its troops in the "holy land" of Islam for over a dozen years.

Nothing we have debated has changed any of these facts. Nor, I want to re-emphasize, does it change the fact that the American public would never have agreed to a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan to oust Osama bin Laden before 9/11. Most Americans didn't realize the threat, and while one can perhaps blame the Clinton administration for that, we have since seen the lack of support an invasion attracts minus an outright attack on the United States -- and Saddam Hussein had been firing at our pilots for years prior to March 2003.

Clinton overreacted, and badly, against Chris Wallace, and he told a few whoppers to get the heat off. The Post catches him today in a couple of those. Michael Scheuer, no great fan of the Bush administration, caught him in a few more. For the life of me, I don't see why Clinton -- along with everyone else -- just doesn't admit the obvious. None of them did enough to stop Osama bin Laden before 9/11, and all of them wish now that they had really understood the threat. Placing one another on some sort of hierarchy of futility to prove themselves slightly a lesser failure by comparison would be hilarious if it didn't involves thousands of dead Americans.

We have now had a week of this debate. Does anyone feel any safer because of it?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 27, 2006 5:05 AM

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