Final Report of the 9/11 Commission

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

I’ve only read (quickly) the Executive Summary (available here in PDF format). The media is saying that the report is critical of the Clinton and Bush administrations, but I don’t quite get that from the Executive Summary.

Certainly, the summary has pretty harsh criticism for certain instututions (the CIA, FBI, etc.) across both administrations, but as for the administrations themselves, it seems to beat up on Bush more.

I am focusing on the section of the Executive Summary entitled "1998 to September 11, 2001" because, according to the summary, "The August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies . . . established al Qaeda as a potent adversary of the United States". Below is every quote from that section/time period referencing Clinton or the Clinton administration (in blue), as well as Bush or the Bush administration (in pink). Let’s compare and contrast what each did, according to the report. The emphases are mine:

After launching cruise missile strikes against al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings, the Clinton administration applied diplomatic pressure to try to persuade the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to expel Bin Laden. The administration also devised covert operations to use CIA-paid foreign agents to capture or kill Bin Ladin and his chief lieutenants.

During 2000, President Bill Clinton and his advisors renewed diplomatic efforts to get Bin Laden expelled from Afghanistan. They also renewed secret efforts with some of the Taliban’s opponents — the Northern Alliance — to get enough intelligence to attack Bin Laden directly.

After the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, evidence accumulated that it had been launched by al Qaeda operatives, but without confirmation . . . The CIA described its findings as a "preliminary judgment". President Clinton and his chief advisors told us they were waiting for a conclusion before deciding whether to take military action.

The transition to the new Bush administration in late 2000 and early 2001 took place with the Cole issue still pending. President George W. Bush and his chief advisors accepted that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack on the Cole, but did not like the options available for a response.

The Bush administration began developing a new strategy with the stated goal of eliminating the al Qaeda threat within three to five years.

During the spring and summer of 2001, U.S intelligence agencies received a stream of warnings that al Qaeda planned, as one report put it, "Something very, very, very big.: . . . . While the United States continued disruption efforts around the world, its emerging strategy to eliminate the al Qaeda was to include an enlarged covert action program in Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic strategies

Let me stop right there. Throughout both administrations, the FBI and CIA were actively doing their part to get at al Qaeda. But beyond that, doesn’t it read to you like the Clinton administration was actively doing more?? And the Bush adminsitration was merely planning to do more?

The Clinton administration was launching cruise missiles. Applying diplomatic pressure. Getting intelligence so that an attack could be launched. And other active things that, you know, men do when they want to get things done.

While the Bush administration, on the other hand, was beginning to develop an "emerging strategy" (whatever the fuck THAT means), and taking their time about it, too.

And then there’s this:

The process culminated during the summer of 2001 in a draft presidential directive and arguments about the Predator aircraft [which could be used to kill bin Laden or his chief lieutenants]. At a September 4 [2001] meeting, President Bush’s chief advisers approved the draft directive of the strategy and endorsed the concept of arming the Predator. This directive on the al Qaeda strategy was awaiting President Bush’s signature on September 11, 2001.

So again, Clinton bombed, etc. And the Bush people argued about new strategy, drafted directives, and (my personal favorite), "endorsed" a "concept".

Look, my point isn’t to say that Bush could have prevented 9/11, nor to say that Clinton did everything humanly possible. As the executive summary of the report says, it is easy with hindsight to see the failures.

But the right-wing meme that Clinton ignored al Qaeda, while Bush was on top of al Qaeda even before 9/11, is simply bogus. And the 9/11 Commission report supports that.