Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Australian on Clinton: "there's no limit to how much credit a man can get, if he doesn't care what he's actually done".

A good editorial,
IN a passionate and emotional television interview, former US president Bill Clinton has launched an extraordinary attack on the analysis that he failed to properly respond to the rising terror threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'ida. In doing so, Mr Clinton has highlighted his acute sensitivity to an issue that haunts his legacy in the wake of al-Qa'ida's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington DC. For some commentators, Mr Clinton's outburst has been an exercise in narcissistic revisionism. For others, by confronting the issue head-on Mr Clinton is expressing frustration at perceived double standards that leave him feeling misrepresented and attempting to clear some obstacles for his wife, Hillary Clinton, in her anticipated run for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

The timing of Mr Clinton's outburst coincides with jockeying for the mid-term congressional elections, in which President George W. Bush is seeking to rally flagging public support for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the interview on the US Fox network, Mr Clinton made an obvious admission of failure, that he did not get bin Laden, which may have headed off the 9/11 attacks. But he asserted that his fiercest critics now were also his fiercest critics then. Republicans who now say he did not do enough at the time claimed he was too obsessed with bin Laden. They had advised an immediate withdrawal from Somalia in 1993 after the Black Hawk incident in Mogadishu in which 17 troops were killed. Mr Clinton refused and maintained troops for six months to enable an orderly transfer to the UN. It was fair, Mr Clinton said, to criticise him for not being able to push ahead with battle plans to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and launch a full-scale search for bin Laden following the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000. But this was at the end of his presidency, after years of provocation by bin Laden - that started one month after he was sworn into office, with the first bombing attempt on the World Trade Centre in New York in 1993. After Somalia later that year, there was a plot to down 11American planes over the Pacific in 1994, and then a car bomb in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1995 that killed five Americans. The following year, American pilots were bombed in Iraq. In 1997, bin Laden made a declaration of war against the US, leading to the bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In 1999, a plot was foiled for a series of bombings, including in Los Angeles, and in 2000 there was the bomb attack against the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors. Throughout the provocation, Mr Clinton rejected a full-frontal engagement as launched by Mr Bush in the wake of the September 11 attack. In hindsight, justification was there from the first World Trade Centre bombing. When he did act, towards the end of his presidency, Mr Clinton's efforts were thwarted by a lack of cabinet support or by bureaucratic inertia. Despite this, he claims he got closer to killing bin Laden than anybody since.

Mr Clinton's outburst has prompted unfavourable comparisons not just with George W. Bush but also former Republican president Ronald Reagan, who is credited with the political and financial brinkmanship that ended the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The argument goes that whereas Reagan would say "there's no limit to what a man can do if he doesn't care who gets the credit", Mr Clinton's motto is a revised "there's no limit to how much credit a man can get, if he doesn't care what he's actually done".

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