"That has nothing to do with intelligence," said former
President Bill Clinton. "It basically says he's a dangerous guy that might
do a lot of things." Clinton refers to a 1999 CIA report about the
possibility of terrorist attacks against America by Osama bin Laden.
Critics of President George W. Bush now say the president should
have connected this 1999 report -- which the CIA never included in Bush's
briefings -- with other pre-Sept. 11 "dots," the aggregate of which
supposedly provided a clear warning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A
so-called FBI "Phoenix memo" reportedly recommends "the FBI should
accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities/colleges around the
"What did the president know, and when did he know it?" some now
cry, a la Watergate. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., took to the Senate
floor and pointed to a New York Post headline that screamed, "Bush Knew."
"The president knew what? My constituents would like to know the answers to
that and many other questions," said Clinton.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., practically threw the president
into the stockade, trial to follow. Nadler said, "If the White House had
knowledge that there was a danger or an intent to hijack an American
airplane and did not warn the airlines, that would be nonfeasance in office
of the highest order. That would make the president bear a large amount of
responsibility for the tragedy that occurred."
Even before the recent revelations of the pre-Sept. 11 "clues,"
Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., accused the president of prior, specific
knowledge of the terrorist attacks. She hysterically claimed that Bush
wanted an attack, thus sparking a military defense build-up, which in turn
stands to enrich the president's friends in the defense industry.
Predictably, McKinney now says she feels vindicated.
But the "blame Bush" scheme apparently flopped. The New York
Times, not exactly a Bush supporter, saw through the nonsense. "Until
someone produces evidence that the Bush administration received and ignored
information pointing directly to the suicide hijackings," said the Times,
"the country will have to live with the much messier and no less disturbing
fact that the government as a whole dropped the ball and even now is not
doing nearly enough to ensure that it doesn't happen again."
The New York Times also chastised Congress: "As congressional
Democrats and other Bush opponents rev up the recriminations following this
week's disclosures, they should remember that the House and Senate
Intelligence Committees received some of the same intelligence reports as
the White House. These included public and private warnings from George
Tenet, the director of central intelligence, that Al Qaeda could strike at
any time. We don't recall a rising clamor from Congress last summer for
improved intelligence-gathering, better pooling of information between the
FBI and the CIA, and heightened airport security."
Former President Clinton dismissed the Monday morning
quarterbacking -- with good reason. A true inquiry into what happened
figures to place a lot of the blame squarely on his lap. Mansoor Ijaz, who
worked with the Clinton administration, said that Clinton blew several
opportunities to apprehend Osama bin Laden. "President Clinton and his
national security team ignored several opportunities to capture Osama bin
Laden and his terrorist associates," said Ijaz. "In July 2000 -- three
months before the deadly attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen -- I brought
the White House another plausible offer to deal with bin Laden, by then
known to be involved in the embassy bombings. ... The offer ... required
only that Clinton make a state visit there to personally request bin Laden's
extradition. But senior Clinton officials sabotaged the offer, letting it
get caught up in internal politics within the ruling family -- Clintonian
diplomacy at its best."
Clinton's former aide Dick Morris said, "(Clinton) had almost an
allergy to using people in uniform. He was terrified of incurring
casualties; the lessons of Vietnam were ingrained far too deeply in him. He
lacked a faith that it would work, and I think he was constantly fearful of
reprisals. ... On another level, I just don't think it was his thing. You
could talk to him about income redistribution, and he would talk to you for
hours and hours. Talk to him about terrorism, and all you'd get was a series
Perhaps some of Bush's critics forget that the War on Terrorism
continues, and that American lives remain at risk. Indeed, just last week,
an American special ops member was killed in Afghanistan. Nor is it
unpatriotic to find out how and why our intelligence broke down.
But neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to understand that
this "Bush Knew" flap exposes a much, much bigger issue. By inserting itself
in issues like retirement, health care, social programs, farm programs,
welfare, public housing, education -- small wonder that the federal
government shirks its primary responsibility -- self-defense.