Selective Coverage

A reader e-mails,

Why you haven’t commented on the upcoming testimony before the 9/11 committee or the 60 minutes spot with Richard Clarke.

After the posts wondering out loud why liberals can’t admit that Saddam being gone is a good thing, it would seem “fair and balanced” to wonder out loud why the right wing can’t admit that Bush seemingly dropped the terrorism ball that they were handed by the Clinton administration. Seems extremely hard to avoid what Richard Clarke has to say. . .

The short answer is that I blog about what interests me. Those stories, so far at least, don’t. I haven’t written anything about them for the same reason I didn’t blog about the ballyhooed Lisa Meyers piece last week about the “secret video” proving the Clinton Administration should have gotten Osama before 9/11: They don’t tell us anything we didn’t know; they’re just old stories dressed up as new ones.

The Clarke story: Did Bush Press For Iraq-9/11 Link?

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush ordered his then top anti-terrorism adviser to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told there didn’t seem to be one.

The charge comes from the advisor, Richard Clarke, in an interview airing Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT on 60 Minutes.

The administration maintains that it cannot find any evidence that the conversation about an Iraq-9/11 tie-in ever took place.

Clarke also tells CBS News Correspondent Lesley Stahl that White House officials were tepid in their response when he urged them months before Sept. 11 to meet to discuss what he saw as a severe threat from al Qaeda.

“Frankly,” he said, “I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We’ll never know.”


Clarke says that as early as the day after the attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, even though al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.


His allegations are also made in a book being published Monday, “Against All Enemies.”

So, what do we learn from this story?

1. The Bush team considered Saddam Public Enemy#1.

2. Clark claims he knew all along that al Qaeda was the great threat but no one listened to him. (Of course, he held the same post under the Clinton Administration, and no one there listened to him, either.)

3. Clark is trying to sell a book about this.

Of the three, the third is the only one that’s news to me. The Bush team was talking about Saddam as a menace during the 2000 campaign. It’s not surprising that he was a suspect, given that the U.S. had been in a state of war with him for a decade by that point.

And, let’s say that Clark was a super-duper genius who figured out just how dangerous al Qaeda was before everyone else did. I mean, there were certainly clues: the U.S.S. Cole, Khobar Towers, the bombings of American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Even the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. So what? Even if he’d predicted that al Qaeda operatives were planning to hijack airliners and blow up high value domestic targets, what is it that we were supposed to do about it? Just imagine the public reaction to Bush saying we had to go to war to topple the Taliban regime and that–oh, by the way–we’re now going to radically ramp up security procedures for getting onto airplanes. How well would that have gone over on September 10th? Clinton was looking for any excuse he could to divert attention from his impeachment trial and couldn’t muster anything more than a pathetic missile strike after the embassy bombings. Does anyone honestly think Bush could have done any more than that taking office months after the Cole bombing?

Update: A former graduate school colleague notes that,

[T]he missile strikes in response to the embassy bombings came in August 1998. Clinton wasn’t impeached until December 1998 and his Senate trial wasn’t until February 1999. The Starr report, on which the impeachment charges were based, didn’t come out until September 1998. You could, if you wanted, make the argument that the embassy bombings constituted a “wag the dog” scenario to divert attention from Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony in which he admitted to the affair with Monica Lewinsky.

I stand corrected. In fact, it was the build-up to the Kosovo campaign that came during the impeachment trial. It’s hard to keep the chronology of all the Clinton scandals and military campaigns straight!

Update: Wizbang guest blogger Paul is amused that I’ve been criticized for not responding to an interview that hasn’t yet aired. Steven Taylor agrees that there’s not much new here and even provides quotes from a couple years ago to back it up.

Meanwhile Brad DeLong wants to impeach both President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    Interesting interpretation. We’ll see how well it holds up after tonight’s interview and the subsequent testimony before the 9/11 commission this week.

  2. Hal says:

    It’s interesting that the piece actually answers some of your points. Clearly, there is a lot that could have been done, and he shows how the Clinton reaction prevented one bombing. . . I think the line “what more could we have done” is one that will ring quite hollow over the following months.

    “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaida. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.

    “There’s a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently — underlined urgently — a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al-Qaida attack. And that urgent memo– wasn’t acted on.

    “I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back; they wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years.”

    … By June 2001, there still hadn’t been a Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, even though U.S. intelligence was picking up an unprecedented level of ominous chatter.

    The CIA director warned the White House, Clarke points out. “George Tenet was saying to the White House, saying to the president — ’cause he briefed him every morning — a major al-Qaida attack is going to happen against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead. He said that in June, July, August.

    Clarke says the last time the CIA had picked up a similar level of chatter was in December, 1999, when Clarke was the terrorism czar in the Clinton White House.

    Clarke says Mr. Clinton ordered his Cabinet to go to battle stations — meaning, they went on high alert, holding meetings nearly every day.

    That, Clarke says, helped thwart a major attack on Los Angeles International Airport, when an al-Qaida operative was stopped at the border with Canada, driving a car full of explosives.

    Clarke harshly criticizes President Bush for not going to battle stations when the CIA warned him of a comparable threat in the months before Sept. 11.”

  3. Paul says:

    A few points:

    The fact a car with explosives in it was stopped at the border has been known for over 4 years now. And as much as Hal would like to paint the picture of Bill Clinton personally stopping the guy, in reality, we can thank the Canadians as they were the ones who caught him.

    Considering the woeful record of the Clinton administration handing bin Laden, it is real hard to believe this guy is not just another in a long line of partisan hacks. (out to sell books)

    Just 11 weeks before the embassy bombings, bin Laden declared war on the United States and said he would be at war until 3 things changed:

    1) The U. S. had to pull all troops out of Saudi Arabia.

    2) Israel had to cease to exist.


    Did ya notice #3? The delusional left keeps telling us there is no link between bin Laden and Saddam.

    The facts say otherwise.

  4. Hal says:

    Boy, you obviously haven’t researched Richard Clarke. Not surprising.

    And it’s quaint to see your defense of Bush, who didn’t even do what Clinton did in response to terrorist threats.

    BTW, got any documentation on point #3 or is that just one of the many urban myths that fill your head?

    And even if true, what the f*ck does it have to do with anything? bin Laden is a blatant opportunist and just because he claims a cause does not establish any link. But I guess that subtlety escapes your powers of cognition.

  5. melvin toast says:

    Why don’t we simplify the discussion. After the WTC bombing in 1993, we had 3 embassies and a missile cruiser hit by Al Queida. Clinton’s response was to send cabinet members to battle stations, whatever that means, and hit some empty buildings with cruise missiles during his impeachment trial… Oh and he talked about regime change in Iraq, didn’t seem to actually do anything to effect that and he turned down an offer by the Sudanese to get Bin Ladin because he didn’t think he could indict him.

    What does Bush do after he gets whacked? He takes out two countries, gets the Libyans to shut down their WMD program, get inspectors back into Iran and reveals how the Pakistanies were selling nuke secrets to every rogue nation they could find. Oh and now we have Pakistanies trying to kill terrorists.

    As Reagan would say, Not bad…Not bad at all.

  6. Boyd says:

    It appears you believe that ad hominem responses will advance your argument, Hal. Personally, neither the urban myth content level in Paul’s head nor his skill at discriminating nuance makes much difference to me in the discussion.

    I tend to agree with James’s point. I have no doubt that the Bush Administration could have done things better, both before and after 9/11; but I have a hard time imagining (and that’s all we can do at this point, imagine) that there were any practical steps that weren’t pursued by the administration that would have made a difference that day.

  7. Hal says:

    No, I just like slapping Paul around a bit.

    The central point is what the f*ck does Iraq have to do with Al Qaeda. If you’re attacked by a stateless organization and you do nothing but go after a toothless tiger that can’t even threaten it’s neighbors, that’s called doing the wrong thing.

    Let’s see:

    Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request. But it wasn’t with the president or cabinet. It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

    For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

    Clarke relates, “I began saying, ‘We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.’ Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, ‘No, no, no. We don’t have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.’

    “And I said, ‘Paul, there hasn’t been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!’ And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, ‘Isn’t that right?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States.”

  8. Hal says:

    Melvin, you’re of course missing the entire decades worth of negotiations with Libya, making the mistake of confusing cause and effect. I’m sure you also believe that Reagan single handedly won the cold war, too.

    And as to Afghanistan, it’s hard to believe that any president – democratic or republican – would have done the same thing. I supported that, and I’m sure you will just claim that only GW would have done that.

    As to Pakistan, it’s impossible to see that as a victory. It was happening under all our noses, they had supported the Taliban and Al Qaeda, selling nuclear secrets, etc, etc. And they’re our friends? Gee, if Saddam was doing all that Pakistan was doing, we’d have bombed them into oblivion by now. But of course, they’re now a “strategic ally”. I’m sure you have a logical explanation for this, but I can’t see one.

    As to Iraq, we have a prosecution based on fraudulent premises, resulting in defeating a country that couldn’t even threaten its neighbors. We have now spent 200 billion, 500+ lives, thousands wounded (some horribly for life), and squandered an enormous amount of diplomatic capital. It’s resulted in the occupation from hell (hey, 31 killed so far this month), a massive influx of terrorists into a country that had none before our occupation, a very dicey situation that could erupt into a full fledged civil war very soon, and a host of other problems too numerous to mention.

    The key point of Iraq is that IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH TERRORISM against the US. It was a massive distraction. If you’re standard is the number of countries overthrown, then I’d agree with you. However, I prefer the standard in which we measure success by getting actual terrorists and breaking up their networks.

    Not by creating more of them.

  9. Paul says:

    Hey goofball… Go use google and come back.

    (or watch the CNN special on bin Laden they are running this weekend that reminded me of the fact.)

    You truly are delusion.

  10. Paul says:

    Here you brainless moron I did the search for you.

    It is listed as the second point I called it #3.

    NO- it is not some right wing conspiracy theory to rearrange the numbers to confuse you. Though I’m sure it will.

    Sorry James, I’m climbing down.

  11. melvin toast says:

    Hal’s right. We create the aggression. The Japanese attacked Perl Harbor because of our hegemony.

    I didn’t know that Al Qaeda was the only terrorist organization in the world. How about the suicide bombers in Israel? Are they terrorists? Nah… They’re just freedom fighters. Everyone knows that when you’re a freedom fighter, killing babies is part of the job description.

    What you don’t get Hal is that the Iraqi invasion is nuanced. You see the Sadaam wasn’t a terrorist but he looks like one. And when you bring down someone who looks like on the other terrorists get scared. I’m sure John Kerry could explain it better than I could.

  12. Delta Dave says:

    9-11 lays at the feet of the Clinton adminstration, not the Bush administration.

    The Clintons were at the end of 8 years of experience dealing with terrorist and OBL. They had direct reason, opportunity, and means on their side yet failed to act. Instead they passed the problem (submerged in a whole cacophony of problems like the economy) along to the next administration.

    In any normal private sector job, rule of thumb is that it takes at least 6 months to learn the ropes and become an effective contributor.

    At 270 days in the life of a new administration, the noise of all the situations that have been inherited are just beginning to sort themselve out. The fact that the Clintons tried to make it as difficult as possible to separate wheat from shaft did not help the Bush administration operative focus on key problems and opportunities—rememeber Bush was not even allowed to begin a transition while the election was heldup by algore’s protests.

    I agree, nothing new here except another person trying to make a profit on 9-11 at the expense of the Bush administration

  13. mike says:

    Hal, what Clinton did in response to terrosist threats? Are you kidding me, or did you only just watch CBS tonight as NBC was showing video the Clinton government had of Bin Laden walking around a known terrorist compound. Why didn’t Clinton just take him out there??? Your arguments ring hollow when you learn about that video and Clinton’s edict not to take Bin Laden out.

    and you’re right, Iraq never had terrorists before we invaded. Why would it? That is such a stupid argument for the left to make. The fact is you ask the Iraqi people if they are better off now than this time last yeat and the majority of them say yes! The fact remains as well that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was in violation of all sorts of UN resolutions and the UN showed itself to be a paper tiger by not backing itself up. GWB showed unprecedented leadership to go in there and clean house and introduce the Middle East to democracy. Just think how that might work out for a minute. Iran is currently going through some uprisings that are leaning towards giving that country back to their people and not just the Mullahs.

    This sort of thing is going to be looked back upon as the turning point of terrorism in the world. As long as we as a country have the gumption to stick it out.

  14. I really liked As to Iraq, we have a prosecution based on fraudulent premises, resulting in defeating a country that couldn’t even threaten its neighbors.

    Tell that to Iran and Kuwait.