The Clinton Mind-set

Brilliant piece in todays WashPost about, well, the Clinton-Mindset, as it related to his handling of the terrorist threat.

All this coming out now, I think, is a good thing. For too long, some Dems have tried to paint Bush with this “BUSH KNEW!” brush with regards to 9-11. Clinton has gotten way too much of a free pass on what he did or didn’t do to try to catch Al Qaeda/Bin Laden. So Richard Clarke actually did us a favor by forcing this issue to the table.

Anywho, here are some clips from the WashPost op/ed from Peter Feaver:

The commissioners on the Sept. 11 panel asked the same question over and over: Why didn’t the Clinton administration take stronger military action against al Qaeda’s Taliban refuge in the 1990s, when the Sept. 11 plot was being hatched?

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s consistent response was simple: “You have to go back to the pre-9/11 mindset.” By this she meant that before Sept. 11, stronger military action was politically impossible; thus the blame for the Clinton administration’s failures to act preemptively against al Qaeda rests on everyone, not specifically on the commander in chief.

Defenders of the Clinton administration have twinned this claim — “We can’t be blamed, because no one wanted us to take stronger military action” — with its post-9/11 obverse assertion: President Bush doesn’t deserve any credit for toppling the Taliban and ending al Qaeda’s sanctuary, because after Sept. 11 anyone would have done this. In the words of Bush’s most recent and surprising critic, former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke: “Any leader whom one can imagine as president on September 11 would have declared a ‘war on terrorism’ and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary by invading.”

But the first claim is only partly true, and because it is, the second claim is almost certainly false.

Albright is partly correct; there was a pre-9/11 mindset that shaped Clinton-era responses. The mind-set was “counterterrorism as law-enforcement.” The role of the military was at best a supporting one. Moreover, because the uniformed military themselves opposed a military role, the law enforcement mind-set was reinforced by Clinton’s pathological civil-military relations. Even if President Clinton wanted to conduct military operations against al Qaeda, he was simply too weak a commander in chief to prevail over a military that wanted nothing to do with a war in Afghanistan.

The Clinton record on military operations was clear: frequent resort to low-risk cruise-missile strikes and high-level bombings, but shunning any form of decisive operations involving ground troops in areas of high risk. The Clinton White House was the most casualty phobic administration in modern times, and this fear of body bags was not lost on Osama bin Laden. Indeed, al Qaeda rhetoric regularly “proved” that the Americans were vulnerable to terrorism by invoking the hasty cut-and-run after 18 Army soldiers died in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” events in Somalia — a strategy developed and implemented, ironically enough, by the same Richard Clarke who torments the Bush team today. *snip article*

Slam DUNK!