From behind the benign façade and the tranquilizing smile, the real Bill Clinton emerged Sunday during Chris Wallace’s interview on Fox News Channel. There he was on live television, the man those who have worked for him have come to know – the angry, sarcastic, snarling, self-righteous, bombastic bully, roused to a fever pitch. The truer the accusation, the greater the feigned indignation. Clinton jabbed his finger in Wallace’s face, poking his knee, and invading the commentator’s space.
But beyond noting the ex-president’s non-presidential style, it is important to answer his distortions and misrepresentations. His self-justifications constitute a mangling of the truth which only someone who once quibbled about what the “definition of ‘is’ is” could perform.
Clinton told Wallace, “There is not a living soul in the world who thought that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk Down.” Nobody said there was. The point of citing Somalia in the run up to 9-11 is that bin Laden told Fortune Magazine in a 1999 interview that the precipitous American pullout after Black Hawk Down convinced him that Americans would not stand up to armed resistance.
Clinton said conservatives “were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 the next day” after the attack which killed American soldiers. But the real question was whether Clinton would honor the military’s request to be allowed to stay and avenge the attack, a request he denied. The debate was not between immediate withdrawal and a six-month delay. (Then-first lady, now-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) favored the first option, by the way). The fight was over whether to attack or pull out eventually without any major offensive operations.
The president told Wallace, “I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill bin Laden.” But actually, the 9-11 Commission was clear that the plan to kidnap Osama was derailed by Sandy Berger and George Tenet because Clinton had not yet made a finding authorizing his assassination. They were fearful that Osama would die in the kidnapping and the U.S. would be blamed for using assassination as an instrument of policy.
Clinton claims “the CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible [for the Cole bombing] while I was there.” But he could replace or direct his employees as he felt. His helplessness was, as usual, self-imposed.