The Unartful Dodger

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  1. Stephanie

    Stephanie Diamond Member

    Jul 11, 2004
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    September 27, 2006 9:34 AM
    Bill Clinton's Sunday-show rant.

    By Ed Morrow

    So, was it a political ploy crafted to raise doubts about George Bush’s terrorism policies just before midterm elections? Or, was Bill Clinton playing the Spiro Agnew role for his wife, scoring the political points that please the wilder elements in their party and that Hillary/Nixon can’t make while triangulating her way into the White House? Could it be, as Hillary and other Democrats proclaimed afterwards, that Clinton was righteously standing up to politically motivated critics unfairly blaming him for 9/11? Well, no, no, and no. As those who have worked with Clinton have written, he often throws nasty tantrums, especially when he is embarrassed. The rant he launched into when Chris Wallace interviewed him for Fox News Sunday wasn’t a tactic or role playing or insulted dignity; it was a narcissistic meltdown with fiery bursts of Clintonian bluster, insults, truths shaved down to fit, and fervid insistence of his own exceptionalism.
    The spark to Clinton’s rant was a question Wallace said many of his viewers had e-mailed him to ask the ex-president. After the airing of the ABC docudrama The Path to 9/11, it was the obvious question of the moment and Clinton should have expected it. “Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?” In response, Clinton went nova, spinning a strange conspiracy theory. It’s hard to follow his logic but it appears to go like this: Wallace was giving him a hard time because Fox boss Rupert Murdoch was about to support Clinton’s global-warming campaign and Fox’s viewers would be annoyed. To placate these fanatical right-wingers, who, we must suppose, are all pro-global warming, an ambush of Clinton was plotted by Wallace and Fox big wigs. This plotting presumably excluded Murdoch, the biggest wig at Fox, because he could have avoided offending Fox viewers by not supporting Clinton’s cause in the first place. As with a lot of paranoid reasoning, the gaps in logic don’t have to be closed for the paranoid thinker to reach his conclusion. In this case, that conclusion was that Wallace was part of a “serious disinformation campaign” meant to blame Clinton for 9/11.

    Clinton could have simply said I did X, Y, and Z to get bin Laden and al Qaeda, then the questioning would have moved on to other matters, but the former president is accustomed to the most gentle media treatment. As Wallace noted in the Washington Post after the incident, he was surprised that no other television interviewer had already asked Clinton the question during Clinton’s recent round of interviews conducted as part of his publicity campaign for the Clinton Global Initiative. No one at CNN, CBS, MSNBC, or anywhere else asked him anything so rude. They were more apt to ask, “Do you get angry when your critics unfairly attack you?” Or “Why do you think your critics want to destroy America and kill all the puppies and kittens?”

    Instead of a calm, presidential answer, Clinton lashed out at Wallace. Among other things, he said, “You’ve got that little smirk on your face. It looks like you’re so clever.” This criticism was undercut by Clinton’s own smirking and I’m-so-smart insinuation that he had Wallace’s plan all figured out. “So you did Fox’s bidding on this show,” he said. “You did your nice little conservative hit job on me.” He leaned into Wallace’s face and wagged the same finger he wagged back when — well, you remember when. He then employed it to angrily poke the notes Wallace had on his knee. He even contemptuously accused Wallace of intending “to move your bones.” I suspect he meant to employ the gangland euphemism, “making your bones,” for a mobster committing a murder in order to be initiated into the mafia. The Sopranos may be a hit show but being compared to a hitman is still pretty insulting.

    Clinton asserted, “There is not a living soul in the world who … was paying any attention to it or even knew terrorists associated with al Qaeda was a growing concern in October of ’93.” Clinton seems to have forgotten that al Qaeda was identified as the group behind the February 1993 attack on the World Trade Center that killed six while injuring over a thousand. Later, Clinton’s national-security adviser Anthony Lake was quoted as saying that it was after this attack that he first heard the name Osama bin Laden. He said he then briefed Clinton about bin Laden. Rep. Bill McCollum (R., Fla), chairman of the House Taskforce on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare wrote several letters to Clinton, beginning in 1993, warning him about bin Laden. Apparently, both these gentlemen are zombies, bereft of living souls.

    In 1993, Clinton downplayed the WTC bombing, treating it as a law-enforcement issue and not an act of war. He was so intent on minimizing what might be seen as a failure that, when he visited New York City shortly after the attack, he didn’t even bother to stop by the blast site. If no one was “paying any attention” to al Qaeda, Clinton was doing the opposite of alerting them.

    In the interview, Clinton used rhetorical devices he has often employed. These included:

    The declaration that he had tried to do something while others hadn’t and that he’d been ridiculed for trying;

    The claim that he had a “plan,” here to destroy bin Laden and al Qaeda that would have worked perfectly if others had only been wise enough to do what he told them to do;

    The invocation of how hard he had worked on the problem and how this was more than anyone else did or is now doing;

    The announcement that he wasn’t going to criticize Bush followed by a savage criticism;

    Shifting the blame to others, here the “entire military,” the CIA, and the FBI, for not giving him the go ahead to get bin Laden;

    Playing fast with numbers, such as claiming Bush had “three times as much time to deal with it [bin Laden and al Qaeda]”;

    And the flat statement that if he were still president (serving his fourth term?), he would be doing so much better than Bush.

    These are all rather tiresome, simple-minded devices that, if employed by any other politician not so favored by the media, would provoke parodies. Are we to feel sorry for him because he worked hard but ineffectually and with horrific consequences? Wasn’t he the boss of the entire military, the CIA, and the FBI? Weren’t they supposed to jump when he yelled “Frog?” How does eight months become three times greater than eight years? And what was that “comprehensive anti-terror strategy” he left behind in the White House? Can we see a copy? Probably not. Clinton’s own national-security adviser Sandy Berger told the 9/11 Commission “there was no war plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. And the reports of that are just incorrect.” Lest, this be thought the product of a mistaken Berger, Richard Clarke, the man Clinton invoked over and over as an authority, said the same thing to reporters in 2002: “There was no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration.”

    When all the drek angrily spewed by Clinton is reviewed, one question remains. It’s the question that set Clinton off. “Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?” Since, Clinton didn’t answer, let’s speculate. The kindest explanation and the one I suspect most Americans, even conservatives who detest Clinton, might accept is that very few anticipated that terrorists could mount an attack as sanguinary as 9/11 and the warnings were believed to be warnings of lesser dangers. Clinton didn’t take terrorism as seriously as he should have but Bush didn’t reverse Clinton’s policy soon enough. Unfortunately, there is another explanation that Clinton’s defensive fury suggests. From 1993 on, he was warned over and over that bad things were going to happen. He could have done something proactive but was afraid to spoil his presidency by going to war. Taking action, such as an invasion of Afghanistan to dislodge al Qaeda, would be difficult and filled with political danger. There would be flag-draped coffins of young soldiers and grieving family members blaming Clinton for their losses. There’d be civilian casualties that would also be denounced as his fault. There’d be reverses in the struggle and mistakes made. The fight might expand to other nations, like Iraq. His popularity polls would plunge. The media would question the struggle. They would stop giving him positive coverage and start exposing his faults. There would be peace demonstrations, such as those Clinton had participated in during the Vietnam War, which would mock him and compare him to Hitler. Movie stars would roll their eyes and comics would tell jokes about how stupid he was. Foreigners would tut-tut at his simple-minded, “cowboy” foreign policy that used war instead of diplomacy to defend America. Clinton wouldn’t have enjoyed any of that at all. He would remember that Lyndon Johnson was a liberal hero till he went to war. Better to kick the can down the road, hope nothing too bad would happen, and let some other president take the heat.

    I prefer the first explanation because I don’t want to think an American president would be so self-indulgent. I’d like to think Clinton is just dodging responsibility as he has in other matters but the defensive anger Clinton displayed and his twisting of the truth when questioned about his actions makes me wonder.
    — Edward Morrow is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including The Halloween Handbook.

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