The buzz in the political pundit arena today is the interview former President Bill Clinton had with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
It was suppose to be about Clinton’s work on his Global Initiative project which includes the support from Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch. Wallace instead tried to ambush Clinton about the current myth spinning in conservative pundit land – that Clinton didn’t do enough to kill Osma Bin Laden during his presidency. Republican pundits – with help from the conservative media like Fox News – have used the myth in an effort to deflect criticism of President Bush and his failure to capture or kill Bin Laden.
Instead Wallace had the tables turned on him and Fox News. It was lovely to watch. The website Media Matters has the full run down of the interview including video but here are some highlights:
CLINTON: Let’s look at 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: I think he has a variety of opinions and loyalties —
CLINTON: That’s right.
WALLACE: — but yes, he has a vigorous opinion.
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 to 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: Well, wait —
CLINTON: I authorized — now, wait a minute —
WALLACE: You launched a few — you threw a few cruise missiles.
CLINTON: No, no. I authorized — 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. He said he did a good job, setting up all these counterterrorism 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 and refuel at night. Even the 9-11 Commission didn’t do that. Now, the 9-11 Commission was a political document, too. All I’m asking is: If anybody wants to say I didn’t do enough, you read Richard Clarke’s book.
WALLACE: Do you think you did enough, sir?
CLINTON: No, because I didn’t get him.
CLINTON: But at least I tried. That’s the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try; they did not try. I tried. So, I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.
So, you did Fox’s bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit-job on me, but what I want to know —
WALLACE: Now, wait a minute, sir, I asked a question. You don’t think that’s a legitimate question?
CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question. But I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you’ve asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked, “Why didn’t you do anything about the Cole?” I want to know how many people you asked, “Why did you fire Dick Clarke?” I want to know how many people you asked about this.
WALLACE: We asked — we asked. Have you ever watched Fox News Sunday, sir?
CLINTON: I don’t believe you asked them that.
WALLACE: We ask plenty of questions of —
CLINTON: You didn’t ask that, did you? Tell the truth, Chris.
WALLACE: About the USS Cole?
CLINTON: Tell the truth, Chris
WALLACE: With Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s plenty of stuff to ask.
CLINTON: Did you ever ask that? You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because Rupert Murdoch is supporting my work on climate change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you’d spend half the time talking about — you said you’d spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion-plus in three days from 215 different commitments. And you don’t care. But,
WALLACE: — and all I can say is, I’m asking you in good faith because it’s on people’s minds, sir. And I wasn’t —
CLINTON: Well, there’s a reason it’s on people’s minds. That’s the point I’m trying to make. There’s a reason it’s on people’s minds because they’ve done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression. This country only has one person who’s worked against terror, from the terrorist incidents under Reagan to the terrorist incidents on 9-11. Only one: Richard Clarke.
And all I can say — anybody is — you want to know what we did wrong or right, or anybody else did? Read his book. The people on my political right, who say I didn’t do enough, spent the whole time I was president saying, “Why is he so obsessed with bin Laden? That was ‘Wag the Dog’ when he tried to kill him.” My Republican Secretary of Defense — and I think I’m the only president since World War II to have a Secretary of Defense from the opposite party — Richard Clarke, and all the intelligence people said that I ordered a vigorous attempt to get bin Laden and came closer apparently than anybody has since.
Clinton is right. The same right winger’s taking him to task for not doing enough to get Bin Laden back in 1998 and 1999 were the same ones who claimed he had launched the cruise missile attacks back then to distract from his sex scandal. President Bush did nothing about Bin Laden for the first 8 months of his administration even after the FBI and CIA reported in early 2001 that the Cole bombing was the work of Bin Laden and his group.
As Media Matters reports, Wallace asked about the lack of focus on Bin Laden to someone from the Bush administration only once – back in 2004 to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. No one in the Bush White House was asked about it before or after that.