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The Clinton example


September 29, 2006

Bill Clinton was far guiltier as president of a lax, timid response to the al Qaeda threat than he let on in his interview on Fox TV, but his fiery, wipe-that-smirk-off-your-face answer to a question from the show's surprised host provides a lesson the Bush administration should heed.

Clinton hit back with everything he had, misstating the truth some, as usual, while also conveying that here was an honest man who had been done a major wrong and wasn't going to take it anymore. Contrast that with the way the Bush administration so often hides out from direct confrontation, defending itself more with a little mumbling here and there than slam-bam rebuttal of the kind it ought now to be making to the critics saying an official report proves once and for all that the war in Iraq was a huge mistake.

jpg Clinton Fox interview

Clinton Fox interview
Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

The report - officially called the National Intelligence Estimate - comes from the U.S. intelligence community, which said in a leaked portion that the war had increased the number of Islamic terrorists. The administration has now released more of the report, which finds other reasons for the spread of jihadist anger, including anti-American hatred that existed prior to the war and a sense of grievance that also stretches far, far back. The report additionally says the U.S. war on terrorism has inflicted big-time hurt on al Qaeda.

"You know, to suggest that if we weren't in Iraq we would see a rosier scenario, with fewer extremists joining the radical movement, requires us to ignore 20 years of experience," President Bush said in a press conference, showing a touch of the Clinton spirit, as he also did when saying the leaks were political, which they clearly were. The White House notes it has previously said the Islamic fascists were using Iraq as a rallying cry, that the war on terrorism is getting tougher, not easier, and that Islamic fascists were more widely dispersed than ever.

I'd like to see something even harder-hitting than that, an in-your-face insistence on the undeniable - that terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens grew in boldness and ferocity in the face of a ho-hum reaction until, finally, we slammed the enemy in Afghanistan and shut down Saddam Hussein in Iraq, after the attack of 9/11. Since then, terrorists have accomplished nothing on our soil, and while they still may, the fact is they now know a big stick awaits them if they do.

From the best available evidence, Iraq did not collaborate with al Qaeda in the 9/11 hit, but Saddam was a genocidal, egomaniacal, anti-U.S., reckless, grandiosely ambitious world player with ties to all sorts of terrorists - he was a terrorist himself - and a man who ignored a dozen and more U.N. resolutions and was trying to bribe his way out of sanctions.

The United Nations passed another resolution, said this time we mean it, and for that reason Saddam said U.N. weapons inspectors could enter his country. Then, once again, he kept them from going where they needed to go. The United States could have said, well, we will let this pass the way the United Nations has let your other transgressions pass. And guess what would have happened? The containment effort would have melted into meaninglessness, and Saddam would have been off and running, killing tens of thousands more on top of the 300,000 he had already killed, finding success in his bribes to French and other officials, proceeding down the WMD path again and serving as a force against hope in the Middle East.

Yes, the war has resulted in some very, very tough problems, and so did World War II, which helped set up the Soviet Union for a half century of enslaving millions and posing the possibility of nuclear annihilation of U.S. cities, but when you look at the alternative possibilities of the war in Iraq - or our involvement in World War II - it is not so easy a call to say we should have stayed home.

Clinton did not leave Bush with a full-scale plan to deal with Afghanistan, as he said in his Fox TV tirade, and there's some very interesting testimony about his hesitancy in the face of the terrorist challenge. Bush was no whirlwind of anti-terrorist activity himself until after 9/11, but then he got going, and he and others on his team ought also to get going in more pointed, powerful and critic-challenging explications of the war on terrorism.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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