Think they’ll ever give up, ever stop trying to rewrite history, to pretend that the guy who ignored the Clintonistas’ early warnings, ignored the Hart-Rudman Commission, and ignored a PDB entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” — think they’ll ever stop trying to pretend that the responsibility for 9/11 lies entirely with his predecessor?
Of course not.
Wallace: When we announced that you were going to be on Fox News Sunday, I got a lot of e-mail from viewers. And I have to say I was surprised, most of them wanted me to ask you this question. Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and al-Qaeda out of business when you were president? There’s a new book out, I suspect you may have already read, called The Looming Tower. And it talks about the fact that when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, bin Laden said “I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of U.S. troops.” Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the Cole.
Clinton: OK let’s just —
Wallace: May I just finish the question sir? And after the attack, the book says, that bin Laden separated his leaders, spread them around because he expected an attack and there was no response. I understand that hindsight is always 20/20 —
Clinton: No, let’s talk about it.
Wallace: But the question is, why didn’t you connect the dots and put him out of business?
Clinton: Let’s talk about it. I will answer all those things on the merits, but first I want to talk about the context in which this arises. I’m being asked this on the FOX network. ABC just had a right-wing conservative running their little pathway to 9/11, falsely claiming it was based on the 9/11 commission report with three things asserted against me directly contradictory to the 9/11 commission report. And I think it’s very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who
now say I didn’t do enough claim that I was too obsessed with bin Laden.
All of President Bush’s neo-cons that I was too obsessed with bin Laden, they had no meetings on bin Laden for nine months after I left office. All the right wingers who now say I didn’t do enough, said
I did too much, the same people. They were all trying to get me to withdraw from Somalia in 1993 the next day after we were involved in Black Hawk Down and I refused to do it and stayed six months and had an orderly transfer to the United Nations.
OK, now let’s look at all the criticisms, Black Hawk Down, Somalia, there is not a living soul in the
world who thought Osama bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk Down or was paying any attention to it, or even knew al-Qaeda was a going concern in October 93.
Wallace: I understand.
Clinton: No, no, wait. Don’t tell me that — you asked me why didn’t I do more to bin Laden, there was not a living soul, all the people who now criticize me wanted to leave the next day. You brought this up, so you get an answer. But you — secondly …
Wallace: .. bin Laden says, but it showed the weakness of the United States.
Clinton: Bin Laden may have said it — but it would have shown the weakness if we left right away. But he wasn’t involved in that, that’s just a bunch of bull. That was about Muhammad Aidid, a Muslim warlord, murdering 22 Pakistani Muslim troops. We were all there on a humanitarian mission; we had no mission, none, to establish a certain kind of Somali government or keep anybody out. He was not a religious fanatic …
Wallace: Mr. President …
Clinton: … there was no al-Qaeda …
Wallace: With respect, if I may, instead of going through ’93 and …
Clinton: No, no — you asked it. You brought it up.
Wallace: May I ask you (INAUDIBLE) question, and then you can answer?
Wallace: The 9/11 commission, which you talk about — and this is what they did say, not what ABC pretended they said …
Clinton: What did they say?
Wallace: They said, about you and President Bush, and I quote, “The U.S. government took the threat seriously, but not in the sense of mustering anything like the kind of effort that would be gathered to confront an enemy of the first, second or even third rank.”
Clinton: First of all, that’s not true with us and bin Laden.
Wallace: Well, I’m telling … (CROSS TALK)
Clinton: Let’s see what Richard Clarke said. Do you think Richard Clarke has a vigorous attitude about bin Laden?
Wallace: Yes, I do.
Clinton: You do, don’t you?
Wallace: He has a variety of opinions and loyalties, but yes. (CROSS TALK)
Clinton: He has a variety of opinions and loyalties now, but let’s look at the facts: he worked for Ronald Reagan, he was loyal with him; he worked for George H.W. Bush, he was loyal to him; he worked for me, and he was loyal to me; he worked for President Bush, he was loyal to him. They downgraded him and the terrorist operation.
Now, look what he said — read his book and read his factual assertions — not opinions, assertions. He said we took vigorous action after the African embassies, we probably nearly got bin Laden …
Wallace: But what …
Clinton: Now, wait a minute — wait, wait, wait. (CROSS TALK)
No, no — I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill him. The CIA was run by George Tenet that President (Bush) gave the medal of freedom to, and he said he did a good job setting up all these counter terrorism things. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came there.
Now if you want to criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan — which we got after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible. While I was there, they refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred special forces in in helicopters, refuel at night. Even the 9/11 commission didn’t do that.