Clinton and Al Qaeda
Buried in my e-mail this morning was a pointer to this Washington Times story: Al Qaeda absent from final Clinton report
The final policy paper on national security that President Clinton submitted to Congress Ã¢€” 45,000 words long Ã¢€” makes no mention of al Qaeda and refers to Osama bin Laden by name just four times.
The scarce references to bin Laden and his terror network undercut claims by former White House terrorism analyst Richard A. Clarke that the Clinton administration considered al Qaeda an “urgent” threat, while President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “ignored” it.
The Clinton document, titled “A National Security Strategy for a Global Age,” is dated December 2000 and is the final official assessment of national security policy and strategy by the Clinton team. The document is publicly available, though no U.S. media outlets have examined it in the context of Mr. Clarke’s testimony and new book.
Many pixels have been spilled on the politics of this by Jon Henke, Steve Antler, Betsy Newmark, Jonah Goldberg, Pejman Yousefzadeh, Wizbang guest-poster Paul, and presumably others, so no need to belabor the point here.
Does this prove that Bill Clinton and company were oblivious to terrorism? No, of course not. It does, however, belie Richard Clarke’s argument that it was somehow THE focus of Clinton foreign policy. Which, of course, we already knew it wasn’t. Also, to be fair, most of us personalized al Qaeda before 9/11. Indeed, my reaction on the morning of 9/11, when it became clear that the attack on the World Trade Center was the work of terrorists was that “Osama bin Ladin”–not “al Qaeda”–was responsible.
The 84-page document is available in HTML and PDF format from the Air War College, among other places. Reading the Fundamentals of the Strategy section–the opener that serves as the executive summary–gives a pretty clear view of what the thinking was. It is over 4200 words and mentions terrorism only in passing–although several times–and Osama bin Ladin/al Qaeda not at all. Clarke’s handiwork is on the document, too, as cyberterrorism gets a token mention.
Clearly, the focus is on more traditional goals, most especially economic globalization. In the context of that time, that was entirely appropriate in my judgment. In hindsight, of course, it seems unwise.