On September 11, political partisanship died. Or so I’ve been told.
In reality, it has merely become unfashionable to criticize the current president. Prior to the attacks, Bush’s approval ratings hovered below fifty percent, and his policies were generally viewed as out of step with the wishes of most voters.
But following that fateful Tuesday, Americans in a jingoistic fervor have discovered different priorities, and the president is the main beneficiary. It’s not altogether undeserved; our military response has been appropriately strong yet carefully measured, due in no small part to Colin Powell’s calming influence upon an otherwise hawkish cabinet.
The downside is our innate human desire to pin blame for this tragedy upon someone, somehow. The most convenient target is former President Clinton. Anyone with an email address has surely received a widely circulated chain letter that details Clinton’s alleged failings in capturing the perpetrators of major terrorist acts, with the post hoc conclusion that the 5000 recent deaths in NYC and Arlington were a direct consequence of his continued negligence. Since so few are willing to spend time independently verifying such assertions, allow me to assist.
The first such incident is the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Clinton promised that those responsible would be hunted down and punished. And they were. Ramzi Yousef and his five accomplices are currently rotting in a federal prison.
The second incident is the bombing of the U.S. Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard in 1995, killing five U.S. soldiers in Riyadh. Four men were arrested, tried and beheaded by the Saudi government for this crime. I suppose Clinton could have extradited them post-mortem, but the thought of headless corpses on trial in a U.S. courtroom is a bit creepy.
In June of 1996, the Khobar Towers in Dhahran were bombed. Fourteen indictments were handed down against those responsible, but even the current administration has been unable to secure their extradition. These individuals are members of a Saudi organization called “Hezbollah,” and have no connection to Osama Bin Laden. Furthermore, we are currently taking no action against Hezbollah in our War On Some Terrorism for fear of upsetting our coalition allies.
In August of 1998, our embassies were bombed in Tanzania and Kenya. We retaliated by sending cruise missiles to blow up the terrorist camps where Bin Laden was reported to be hiding. The Republicans immediately condemned the strike, accusing Clinton of provoking a war to distract attention from the Lewinsky fiasco. Trent Lott made the infamous quote, “I can support our troops without supporting the president.” In October of 1999, four men were arrested for their part in the bombings and later sentenced to life in prison.
As a footnote, Bill Clinton followed up on this attack by sponsoring a CIA plan to have Pakistani commandos hunt down Bin Laden in 1999. But that plan fell apart when the military coup occurred in Pakistan, which obviously was beyond Clinton’s control (unless there’s a theory to blame that on him as well).
Finally, the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in Yemen in October of 2000. Six people were arrested in Yemen shortly before Clinton left office. In the first eight months of the Bush administration, absolutely no progress was made in efforts to bring these men to justice in the U.S. But that didn’t stop Bush from taking a month off to relax at his Crawford ranch.
Here are some points this email failed to mention:
Bill Clinton proposed sweeping anti-terrorism legislation in 1996 that was subsequently shredded by Republicans in both houses, who called it “paranoid.”
Al Gore put together a series of recommendations for airport security in 1996. At the behest of the airline lobby, Congress concluded that the steps were too expensive and impractical.
In 1998, Clinton commissioned the Hart-Rudman report on the potential dangers of terrorism in the homeland. The report was completed in January 2001 and presented to President Bush, who completely ignored it for eight months.
Finally, under the eight years of the Clinton adminstration, the Federal budget for counterterrorism tripled to about $9 billion, and FBI manpower assigned specifically to investigate and stop terrorism increased by a factor of five—all during a time when cutting deficits and balancing the budget were huge priorities. Now, I ask you… are these the acts of an administration that didn’t care about the problem?
The intent here is not to stoke the partisan flames, but instead to prove that there is plenty of accomplishment as well as failure to be shared by all our government leaders. But this staunch refusal to acknowledge the efforts of the previous administration is not only harmful to our country’s interests, it’s also completely dishonest. Yes, the nation will find strength in unity. But if such unity is achieved at the expense of one political party or of the truth, we will soon find ourselves to be more vulnerable than ever.
Geoff Trowbridge, 10/25/2001