Skip to main content /POLITICS

AIRS: Weeknights 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT
In the Crossfire

Examining Clinton, Bush records on al Qaeda

(CNN) -- A Time magazine report this week revealed that the Clinton administration left the Bush team detailed proposals to roll back al Qaeda.

However, the Bush administration disputes the newsmagazine's account that a lengthy review process delayed implementation of a plan to dismantle the terrorist network before September 11.

Do both administrations share blame for not taking the terrorist threat more seriously? Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst with the Brookings Institution, steps into the "Crossfire" with host Paul Begala and guest host Ann Coulter.

Bush team defends handling of al Qaeda plan 

BEGALA: It seems to me, reading Time magazine this week, that if there were no 22nd Amendment, that cursed blot on our Constitution, and President Clinton had been re-elected, America would have attacked Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan long before September 11, right? [Read Time's coverage]

O'HANLON: I'm not so sure. I give him credit for coming up with a serious plan. But if you look back, the Clinton administration had a lot of the evidence, starting with 1998, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. We knew al Qaeda was behind that; we chose a cruise missile response.

Gen. [Henry] Shelton, who, as you know, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at that time, thought that was the most we could do. He opposed Special Operation forces.

So you had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying, "This is all you could really do." And Bill Clinton was happy to say, "OK, that's all I want to try. I don't want to risk American lives; I don't want to put American forces into Afghanistan."

He had the chance and chose not to go with this more aggressive strategy back then. Two years later he changed his mind, but at that point it was too late for him to do anything about it.

BEGALA: But he also asked them to develop a Predator drone; it would be armed with Hellfire missiles. It was not operational until President Bush came in. Bush never used it. He had submarines on quick standby attack. President Bush asked them to stand down when he came into power.

He had, in published accounts, at least death squads frankly from Pakistan, Afghanistan, from the United States' CIA and Northern Alliance all trying go after [Osama] bin Laden.

I mean, I do think that the record, at least in Time magazine, is pretty compelling.

O'HANLON: I think Bill Clinton was changing his mind over time. And I think he proved in the Kosovo war he's willing to change his mind and get serious about a conflict and do what it took to win. He did that in Kosovo. He began, as you know, ruling out ground forces and ultimately was prepared to invade, if necessary.

And I think you're probably right. If Clinton had won a third term, he might have started to implement this plan.

Of course, it wouldn't have stopped 9/11 because the terrorists were already here at the time. But I think he was moving in that direction.

But he had his chance, and he sort of blew it when he did I still think.

COULTER: Well, it's good that Clinton administration officials are stepping up to say that he would have done it, just as he would have fought in Vietnam now, if he had the chance. He had eight years, and he didn't do anything.

And according to this article in Vanity Fair, the official publication of the Democratic National Committee, for eight years the entire Clinton administration was rebuffing evidence of where Osama was, invitations to come get him.

... According to this article from the January 2002 Vanity Fair: Sudan "cabled the FBI in Washington, offering to extradite them" -- this was the two terrorists who blew up the embassy. "Without consulting the FBI, the U.S. Departments of State and Defense responded by bombing the al-Shifa factory in Khartoum."

That's how he responds: He bombs an aspirin factory.

O'HANLON: Well, as you know Ann, it was a little bit of a tough call back then. You did have Gen. Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former Special Operations commander, saying, "Don't put American Special Forces into Afghanistan."

That might be the one thing that would work, if it works. But it might also be ...

COULTER: ... something other than bombing the people who were inviting us in to come get Osama. I mean Sudan, for eight years ...

BEGALA: ... Ann, that you would...

COULTER: ... Come in. We've got Osama, we've got Osama.

BEGALA: Do you buy the al Qaeda spin that that was an aspirin factory, because I think it's a chemical weapons plant that we struck. And I think we were -- I'm damn glad we struck it. Do you believe bin Laden?

COULTER: ... We now know it's not bin Laden, it's Sudan. They kept saying, come get Osama, come get these guys. We've got ...

BEGALA: For the record, you think that that was an aspirin factory, when bin Laden says you don't believe ...

COULTER: That's according to the official publication of the Democratic National [Committee], Vanity Fair.

BEGALA: I couldn't find anything in Vogue either, but I frankly believe Time magazine over Vanity Fair.

COULTER: It takes him a while to come up with his excuse.




Back to the top