12/7/2001 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen
His beaming smile made it to the front page for the first time in months. Alas for him it was only the front page of the Style section in The Washington Post. There he was, shovel in hand, laying the groundwork for his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.
But the groundwork for his place in history has already been laid -- and no gleaming edifice of stone and glass will obscure it.
We have witnessed, in the days since Sept. 11, new but unsurprising evidence of what a sociopath we had as our leader for eight years. And we have learned that his immaturity, shallowness, and thermonuclear self-centeredness had consequences for the nation that were tragic and very nearly catastrophic.
While the sane world grieved at the savagery of the Sept. 11 calamity, Clinton confided to a friend his regret. What? That he hadn't done more to protect the nation? That he underestimated the danger? No. He "regretted" that this tragedy hadn't happened on his watch, and that he had therefore lost an opportunity for "greatness." Even by the vanity standards applicable to movie stars and tenors, that qualifies as pathology.
But far more damning than his solipsistic response to the nation's anguish is the abundant evidence that he did almost nothing to protect us while he had the chance. In 1996, as Monsoor Ijaz relates in the Los Angeles Times, Sudan offered to extradite bin Laden to the United States. The Clinton administration declined the offer.
Demonstrating the lawyerly folly of the administration's approach to international terror, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger explained that the United States feared it did not have the evidence to convict him in our courts. Even as late as 2000 -- after the two African embassy bombings and well after it was known that bin Laden was behind the Khobar towers attack -- an Arab nation approached the Clinton White House through Ijaz, offering to collar Bin Laden and eventually deliver him to the United States. The Arab nation, which Ijaz declined to name, also offered to give key information to the United States about Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah -- the groups that taught bin Laden the terror ropes. Again the Clinton administration failed to act.
Even after the USS Cole was struck and nearly sunk in 2000, Clinton was too busy chasing the chimera of a grand Middle East peace to deal with those he knew had attacked us. Hoping for a secure place in history for William J. Clinton, he declined to do anything that might annoy or unsettle the Islamic world.
In fact, in each and every case in which U.S. targets came under terrorist attack during his tenure, Clinton did his best to respond feebly or not at all. After the first World Trade Center attack, reports Byron York in National Review, Clinton assigned the case to law enforcement. His own director of the CIA, James Woolsey, made repeated attempts to see Clinton to discuss (inter alia) intelligence reports linking the attack to Al Qaeda, but the president declined to see him.
After the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, Clinton had Dick Morris take a poll. "We tested 'peacemaker' or 'toughness,'" York quotes Morris as recalling. The public preferred toughness. "So Clinton talked tough." But the FBI director, Louis Freeh, became so exasperated by Clinton's failure to raise the matter with Saudi officials that he actually asked former President George Bush to do so instead.
On the day he lobbed cruise missiles at Afghanistan and Sudan -- three days after Monica Lewinsky testified before the grand jury -- Clinton told the nation that "our battle against terrorism did not begin with the bombing of our embassies in Africa, nor will it end with today's strike." But it did. And the "strike" was a bust: Clinton hit a bunch of abandoned huts in Afghanistan and a possibly blameless pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum.
His aides complained that the press and even some Republicans labeled the action a "wag the dog" scenario, and this deterred Clinton from taking further action. But if Clinton had had one ounce of sincerity in his "battle" against terrorism, he would have been undeterred by mere public relations troubles. The disgraceful truth is that he was incapable of pursuing anything other than his own narrow self-interest -- not even the welfare of the nation he swore to preserve, protect and defend.