The most amusing part of the confrontation between former President Bill Clinton and Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace came in the immediate aftermath, when the bullies of cable and their wingnut gang shrieked about the mean, crazy man picking on them.
Waah! Waah! Waah! they wailed. Clinton planned it! Clinton tricked Fox! Clinton melted down! Clinton is responsible for 9/11!
If Mr. Wallace didn’t want to provoke a tough answer, he shouldn’t have impersonated a tough interviewer. By insinuating that Mr. Clinton was somehow derelict in failing to eliminate Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, he reopened a can of worms that he should have left shut.
That incident wasn’t the first time that the Republican Party’s media servants, at Fox and elsewhere, have tried to falsify the history of American conflict with Al Qaeda for partisan purposes. The smearing began within months after 9/11 and has continued for almost five years.
Yet for some strange reason, as Mr. Clinton sarcastically pointed out, his conservative critics show little concern about the Bush administration’s failure to act against the jihadist enemy for eight months after taking office. Not only did they refuse to do anything, but they and their top aides refused to even talk about doing anything.
The Bush White House may still seek to shift responsibility to its predecessors. But such bamboozlements are no longer as easily accomplished as a few years ago, when Condoleezza Rice warned that the “smoking gun” in Iraq’s forbidden arsenal could turn out to be a “mushroom cloud.”
What the Wallace interview and its aftermath proved is that the Republicans can be relied upon to take the path of political convenience—and to blame someone else for it later. In full confidence that nobody will look up the facts, they love to claim that they were courageous, steadfast and farsighted, when they actually displayed the opposite qualities.
Consider Mr. Wallace’s claim that “when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, [Osama] bin Laden said, ‘I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of U.S. troops,’” which suggests that Mr. Clinton pulled a “cut-and-run.” Actually, he resisted Republican demands for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia—where President George Herbert Walker Bush had sent them—precisely because he wanted to preserve American credibility.
The Senate Republican leadership openly sought to weaken him by cutting off funding for the mission, which Mr. Clinton managed to sustain for another six months after the disastrous Black Hawk Down firefight in Mogadishu. (Among those who counseled retreat was Senator John McCain.) But now the Republicans want to blame him for doing what they forced him to do in 1993.
Or consider Mr. Clinton’s missile strikes against Al Qaeda installations in Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998, which the Republican politicians and the press ridiculed as “wag the dog” maneuvering in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Now those same frauds complain that he didn’t try to hit Osama bin Laden often enough, when all they cared about back then was the blue dress. Mr. Clinton’s recollection that he was mocked for his “obsession” with terrorism is accurate. Whenever he took resolute action, whether in Haiti or Kosovo or Sudan, the brave Republicans could be relied upon to behave unreliably.
Finally, consider Ms. Rice’s retort to Mr. Clinton on the subject of which administration did more to thwart Al Qaeda. “What we did in the eight months,” she assured her pliant hosts at Fox News, “was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years.” That sentence must rank as one of the most brazen lies ever uttered by any Bush administration official, which is quite an achievement. She knows that the frequent actions and mobilizations of the Clinton years stand in sharp contrast to the mental vacation of the Bush era.
The hard truth is that Ms. Rice, the President and the Vice President were warned repeatedly about the threat posed by Al Qaeda for months before 9/11. The departing Clinton officials warned them. So did former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke and C.I.A. director George Tenet. But they dismissed the Clinton warnings, demoted Mr. Clarke, ignored Mr. Tenet and threw the Hart-Rudman report in the garbage. When the President asked Vice President Cheney to convene a task force on terrorism, he literally did nothing until days before the attacks—and the President never bothered to find out why.
If Mr. Wallace and his Fox News colleagues ever stop crying about being spanked by Mr. Clinton and want to prove that their network is indeed fair and balanced, here is a timely question they can pose to the President, the Vice President or their old friend Tony Snow, the White House spokesman: When will the government release the secret joint testimony of Messrs. Bush and Cheney before the 9/11 Commission?