In recent weeks, a long-brewing conspiratorial question managed to make its way off of loony web sites and onto the front page of the paper of record, the New York Times: What did Bush know, and when did he know it, before 9/11?
Seemingly lost in the ?discussion? is any similar treatment of the former president with such what-and-when-did-he-know questions. Not about 9/11, but about Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, or simply the general threat posed by radical Islam.
These are crucial questions, and they cannot be ignored.
Two days after Condoleezza Rice testified before the 9/11 Commission, the New York Times announced in the lead of a front-page, above-the-fold story that Bush was warned in an August 6 briefing ?that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the United States with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes.? The article then went so far as to suggest that Condi lied in her testimony when referring to the document as ?historical.?
Never mind that the document was ?historical??a fact revealed when the White House released the formerly top-secret briefing hours after the Times story ran?or that even the most rabid Democrat couldn?t have contorted the contents of it in any manner more damning to Bush than the paper itself did.
Some have argued that the treatment is justified because the Times was simply reporting news as it breaks, leading one to believe that Clinton could be fair game under like circumstances.
But when that theory came up for a real-life test, the Times flunked. Badly.
Roughly a week after the flap over the August 6, 2001 briefing dominated the national discussion, we learned that the CIA had warned in a classified memo, according to the Associated Press, ?that Islamic extremists likely would strike on U.S. soil at landmarks in Washington or New York, or through the airline industry.?
The same AP story also reveals, ?And in 1997, the CIA updated its intelligence estimate to ensure bin Laden appeared on its very first page as an emerging threat, cautioning that his growing movement might translate into attacks on U.S. soil.?
The man who was running the show when the CIA made these assessments? Clinton, of course?though you wouldn?t know it from the Times or the AP, which didn?t even mention the former president in its story.
Not that news outlets have an obligation to pin blame for 9/11 on Clinton, to be sure. Even most conservative commentators and politicians, for that matter, have not tried to directly scapegoat the former president.
The Clinton legacy, however, cannot be dismissed in any analysis of 9/11. The United States was struck repeatedly under his watch?and our inaction did not go unnoticed.
Despite the apparent involvement of both Iraq and al Qaeda, the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was treated as a police matter, not as the international terrorist attack it was. The Khobar Towers U.S. military housing complex was bombed by Islamic extremists three years later, and the United States did nothing.
When al Qaeda killed more than 200 people in 1998 by blowing up two U.S. Embassies in East Africa, Clinton?s ?response? was bombing empty training camps in Afghanistan and somebody else?s pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.
And when 17 servicemen were killed and 39 injured in what could only be construed as an act of war on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, the response was an FBI investigation.
The historical record should make it clear to anyone not blinded by partisanship that Bush is not to blame for 9/11. Neither is Clinton, though. The terrorists are.
Could more have been done before 9/11? Absolutely.
The United States could have used more force to punish those who attack us?and in the process, possibly deter future attacks. Or we could have aggressively pursued the threat posed by radical Islam, particularly inside our borders. But considering the hue and cry over ?racial profiling? even after 9/11, almost any such efforts would have been squashed by the P.C. police.
The job of the 9/11 Commission should not be to delve into high-profile finger-pointing. What matters is what lessons we need to learn?and what mistakes we must not repeat.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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