03/28/04 — Blame: Put perspective on finger-pointing

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Blame: Put perspective on finger-pointing

Richard Clarke, former U.S. counterterrorism director, has caused a lot of doubt and confusion with his accusations that the Bush administration was soft on terrorism before 9/11. It helps to look at what actually happened during the years that our greatest terrorism threat, the al-Qaida organization, was amassing its strength and opening its deadly campaign against the United States.

Bill Clinton was president. In those eight years al-Qaida made several attacks on the United States which went unpunished.

One of these was the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, in which six people were killed and 1,000 injured.

Two were attacks against U.S. military installations in Saudi Arabia which killed a total of 26 people.

Two were coordinated bombings of American embassies in African countries, which killed more than 200 people.

One was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, which killed 18 U.S. sailors.

When Clinton left office in 2001, al-Qaida was as menacing as ever.

The Bush administration had eight months to settle in and deal with al-Qaida before the 9/11 attacks.

Yet, al-Qaida’s continued existence in September of 2001 is being blamed on the Bush administration by some politicians.

The most vocal accuser is Clarke, who worked for Clinton and, for two years, for Bush.

In a background briefing in 2002, he testified that the Clinton administration left Bush with no plan for dealing with al-Qaida.

Now, with an election approaching, Clarke has published a book stating otherwise. Last week he told an independent investigating committee that in his testimony in 2002, he was just trying to hit a positive chord rather than to truthfully describe the real situation.

It is impossible to tell when Clarke is telling the truth. Of the other witnesses before the committee, those who worked in the Clinton administration tended to support Clarke, with the exception of CIA Director George Tenet. Tenet, who also worked for Clinton, disputed Clark’s contention that the Bush White House did not take the terrorism threat seriously enough.

We cannot learn with certainty all that goes on in the White House, so there may be some blame for all, but two things seem obvious:

First, blaming the strength of al-Qaida on Bush, after the organization attacked us with impunity a half-dozen times during the previous administration, is ludicrous.

And finally, the situation has been politicized disgracefully.


Published in Editorials on March 28, 2004 12:28 AM