Monday, April 12, 2004

The millennium Comparison 

Many, including Goldberg and myself - have compared Bush's pre-9/11 actions with Clinton's actions pre-1/1/00. Specifically, it is beyond dispute that the Clinton administration prevented a terrorist attack that was to take place on New Year's Eve, 1999. The argument goes, had Bush taken similar steps perhaps 9/11 could have been prevented.

But is this fair? The millennium presented a natural opportunity for terrorists to attack, and it appears that law enforcement knew in advance that this was the target date. There is, obviously, no evidence that 9/11 was ever suggested as a potential attack date. How could all law enforcement agencies be put on high alert for an unknown period of time?

In fact, see this from Clarke's Meet the Press appearance:
MR. CLARKE: Now, in retrospect, we now know that there was information in the FBI that hadn't bubbled to the top, that two of the hijackers were in the United States. If we had had that kind of process in the summer of 2001 that we had in December '99, where the national security adviser was every day in the White House asking the FBI director and the attorney general and the secretary of defense, "Go back to your building, find out all that you can"--if we had done that in the summer of 2001, maybe the information that was in the FBI would have shaken loose.

MR. RUSSERT: But you kept your guard up for six weeks, through the end of August. Why didn't you stay on high alert through September 11th? And you regret this day that you didn't because you may have stopped that attack.

MR. CLARKE: We kept up the high alert for some facilities that could keep up the high alert. The Defense Department, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others, said that they were physically not capable of keeping the troops overseas, for example, on high alert any further, that they were exhausting the troops. And, therefore, they unilaterally came down off of alert. We kept all of our counterterrorism forces in the United States on alert. We continued to send out threat advisories to the airports and the airlines. We continued to send out information to 18,000 state and local police departments and to Immigration and Customs and Secret Service and Coast Guard.

This cuts both ways - on one hand, we weren't doing all we could have done. On the other, you can't keep forces on high alert at all times - it's just not possible. My point is - is this a fair comparison - Clinton preventing an attack known to be planned for a specific date and Bush, possibly, failing to prevent attack at an unknown future time? I don't really think that it is.

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