…with his finger pointed at the interviewer no less (Fox News’ Chris Wallace). It’s a fascinating clip to watch, especially for those of us who were paying attention in the 1990s when the United States sustained attack after attack from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda while the former president seemed to want to act against bin Laden’s network of terrorists, but either displayed indecisiveness, put forth ineffectual tactics or spoke of trying to reason with the type of persons who demonstrably did not believe in reason.
If the clip is any indication of the flavor of the entire interview, Former President Clinton twists events around admirably. He claims that “rightwingers” did nothing about terrorism during his tenure in the White House and blasted him for his own efforts. True, without the context of said events: “Rightwingers” did nothing about terrorism in the nineties because they were not sitting in the Executive Office—it wasn’t their place to “do something” about terrorism. It was his. And he was ridiculed for his efforts not because of his failure--as he terms it--but because of his fecklessness which could have lead to no other outcome but failure: some slipshod missile strikes and failing to act when partisans offer to hand bin Laden over to America. These "actions" did indeed incite ridicule. He also claims that his Republican successor did nothing about terrorism in the eight months preceding 9/11. True. But what about the 92 months of the Clinton administration—the time span between the February 1993 World Trade Center attack and the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, a span which contained several more al-Qaeda attacks on Americans, including the bombings of two US Embassies--where either nothing was done, ineffectual measures were taken or opportunities were bypassed?
During his administration, the former president wasn’t alone in one area of magnitudinal proportions: he did not understand the cultural mindset of the enemy we now have turned to face. Like many of us back then, he thought that we could live in the manner in which we chose and not interfere (too much) when others chose to live in another way. Addtionally, he (and we) thought that we could carry on with inserting the typical American interventions which had been our staple since World War Two. Germans and Japanese didn’t attack American interests abroad; nor did even Koreans or Vietnamese, so why would some group of Arab/Muslims do it? If one thinks about the shocking visciousness of 9/11 and remembers the plaintive inquiry from numerous quarters who wondered “why they hate us,” the mindset of the attacked victim comes flooding back. We couldn’t comprehend the notion of a group of people hating America (and the West) so much that such a group could inflict such a horrible, large-scale death on so many people.
I couldn’t (though I had a hunch). And I suspect that, before 9/11, most other Americans couldn’t either, in spite of the attacks which heralded 9/11. Could Bill Clinton conceive of such hatred during his presidency? His actions during that time point to a ‘no’ answer. And if one thinks about it and is honest, there is no shame in that. But we understand now—well, at least some of us.
Where there is indeed shame is in President Clinton’s behavior right now. If the video clip is any indication, the former president isn’t about to concede that his acts against terrorists were ineffectual or non-existent. It isn’t that he can’t admit that he was wrong (though that’s part of it). It’s that he can’t admit that he is no longer the perfectly loved and trusted president by a good part of this nation—even by people like me who voted for him twice. His behavior for most of the Bush Administration had even begun to garner more respect for him—especially in contrast to that of his vice-president. But he’s beginning to throw it all away. And the most pathetic part about that is this: most people who were disillusioned by his brands of politics, policy, strategy and tactics with regard to fighting terrorism could even have a modicum of respect for him were he to admit that he had been wrong in that area. But, unless the video clip distorts the nature of the interview, I don’t think that a Bill Clinton mea culpa for his anti-terror measures is in the offing. It was an act that last longer than might have been expected, but it's over now.
Here’s the thing about decisions: sometimes they are wrong and if one is fortunate and canny, only about half of them are. The worst types of decision-makers are these: 1) the one who makes a decision and does nothing or makes only token efforts to see that decision through, and 2) the one who, in the face of the dire need to decide, dithers. (A lesser type of bad decision-maker is the type who makes a decision and does everything possible to see that decision through even in the face of evidence that the original decision was a bad one. Some say that President Bush’s decision to intervene in Iraq was an example of such. Perhaps, but my personal opinion is that the jury’s decision isn’t final on that particular “long, hard slog.”)
Former President Clinton’s decision-making skills, at least as far as the War on Terrorists goes—the war which started long before his presidency and for which it should be acknowledged that his immediate few predecessors, Bush the Elder, Reagan, Carter, and Ford, also didn’t comprehend--fall under those first two categories. And what does that say about him? Nothing, expect that, like most of the rest of us, he didn’t understand the nature of Islamists and that he had bad advisers and/or he didn’t listen to the good ones. But, am I surprised that former president isn’t able to acknowledge his horrid errors in this vital area of the presidency? No, given his demonstrable nature and given the fact that his wife is probably looking to become president in 2008. However, I’m still angered and saddened by it, nonetheless.
I will be watching when the full interview is broadcast on Fox News Sunday two days from now. Perhaps, the clip isn't what it seems to be.