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At the time, Republicans warned that if the aid was cut the regime would fall and a “bloodbath” would ensue. This fear was solidly based on reports that had begun accumulating three years earlier concerning “the extraordinary brutality with which the Khmer Rouge were governing the civilian population in areas they controlled.” But Anthony Lake and the Democrat-controlled Congress dismissed these warnings as so much “anti-Communist hysteria,” and voted to deny the aid.
In his Post article, Lake advised fellow Democrats to view the Khmer Rouge not as a totalitarian force—which it was—but as a coalition embracing “many Khmer nationalists, Communist and non-Communist,” who only desired independence. It would be a mistake, he wrote, to alienate Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge lest we “push them further into the arms of their Communist supporters.” Lake’s myopic left-wing views prevailed among the Democrats, and the following year the new president, Jimmy Carter, rewarded Lake with an appointment as Policy Planning Director of the State Department.
In Cambodia, the termination of U.S. aid led immediately to the collapse of the government allowing the Khmer Rouge to seize power within months of the congressional vote. The victorious revolutionaries proceeded to implement their plans for a new Communist utopia by systematically eliminating their opposition. In the next three years they killed nearly 2 million Cambodians, a campaign universally recognized as one of the worst genocides ever recorded.
The Warnings Ignored
For nearly a decade before the World Trade Center disaster, the Clinton Administration was aware that Americans were increasingly vulnerable to attacks which might involve biological or chemical weapons, or even nuclear devices bought or stolen from broken pieces of the former Soviet Union. This was the insistent message of Republican speeches on the floors of Congress and was reflected in the warnings of several government commissions, and Clinton’s own Secretary of Defense, William Cohen.
In July 1999, for example, Cohen wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, predicting a terrorist attack on the American mainland. “In the past year, dozens of threats to use chemical or biological weapons in the United States have turned out to be hoaxes. Someday, one will be real.” But the warnings did not produce the requisite action by the commander-in-chief. Meanwhile, the nation’s media looked the other way. For example, as the president of the Council on Foreign Relations told the New Yorker’s Joe Klein, he “watched carefully to see if anyone followed up on [Cohen’s speech]. But none of the television networks and none of the elite press even mentioned it. I was astonished.”
The following year, “the National Commission on Terrorism—chaired by former Reagan counter-terrorism head Paul Bremer—issued a report with the eerily foreboding image of the Twin Towers on its cover. A bi-partisan effort led by Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein—was made to attach the recommendations of the panel to an intelligence authorization bill.” But Senator Patrick Leahy, who had distinguished himself in the 1980s by opposing the government’s efforts to halt the Communist offensive in Central America “said he feared a threat to ‘civil liberties’ in a campaign against terrorism and torpedoed the effort. After the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, Kyl and Feinstein tried yet again. This time, Leahy was content with emaciating the proposals instead of defeating them outright. The weakened proposals died as the House realized ‘it wasn’t worth taking up.’”
After the abortive plot to blow up commercial airliners in the Philippines, Vice President Gore was tasked with improving airline security. A commission was formed, but under his leadership it also “focused on civil liberties” and “profiling,” liberal obsessions that diluted any effort to strengthen security measures in the face of a threat in which all of the proven terrorists were Muslims from the Middle East and Asia. The commission concluded that, “no profile [of passengers] should contain or be based on … race, religion, or national origin.” According to journalist Kevin Cherry, the FAA also decided in 1999 to seal its passenger screening system from law-enforcement databases thus preventing the FBI from notifying airlines that suspected terrorists were on board.”
In 1993, the FBI identified three charities connected to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas that were being used to finance terrorist activities, sending as much as $20 million a year to America’s enemies. According to presidential adviser Dick Morris, “At a White House strategy meeting on April 27, 1995—two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing—the President was urged to create a ‘President’s List’ of extremist/terrorist groups, their members and donors ‘to warn the public against well-intentioned donations which might foster terrorism.’ On April 1, 1996, he was again advised to ‘prohibit fund-raising by terrorists and identify terrorist organizations.’” Hamas was specifically mentioned.
Inexplicably Clinton ignored these recommendations. Why? FBI agents have stated that they were prevented from opening either criminal or national-security cases because of a fear that it would be seen as ‘profiling’ Islamic charities. While Clinton was ‘politically correct,’ Hamas flourished.
In failing to heed the signs that America was at war with a deadly adversary, overcome the ideological obstacles created by the liberal biases of his administration and arouse an uninformed public to concern, it was the Commander-in-Chief who bore primary responsibility. As one former administration official told reporter Joe Klein, “Clinton spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any another President in recent memory.” Clinton’s political advisor Dick Morris flatly charged, “Clinton’s failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack [on the World Trade Center] led directly to the 9/11 disaster.” According to Morris, “Clinton was removed, uninvolved, and distant where the war on terror was concerned.”
By Clinton’s own account, Monica Lewinsky was able to visit him privately more than a dozen times in the Oval Office. But according to a USA Today investigative report, the head of the CIA could not get a single private meeting with the President, despite the Trade Center bombing of February 26, 1993 or the killing of 18 American soldiers in Mogadishu on October 3 of the same year. “James Woolsey, Clinton’s first CIA director, says he never met privately with Clinton after their initial interview. When a small plane crashed on the White House grounds in 1994, the joke inside the White House was, ‘that must be Woolsey, still trying to get an appointment.’”
In 1996, an American Muslim businessman and Clinton supporter named Mansoor Ijaz opened up an unofficial channel between the government of the Sudan and the Clinton Administration. At the same time, “the State Department was describing bin Laden as ‘the greatest single financier of terrorist projects in the world’ and was accusing the Sudan of harboring terrorists.” According to Mansoor, who met with Clinton and Sandy Berger, “President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted, offered the arrest and extradition of bin Laden and detailed intelligence data about the global networks constructed by Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, Iran’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. Among the members of these networks were the two hijackers who piloted commercial airliners into the World Trade Center. The silence of the Clinton administration in responding to these offers was deafening.”
President Bashir sent key intelligence officials to Washington in February 1996. Again, according to Mansoor, “the Sudanese offered to arrest bin Laden and extradite him to Saudi Arabia or, barring that, to ‘baby-sit’ him—monitoring all his activities and associates.” But the Saudis didn’t want him. Instead, in May 1996 “the Sudanese capitulated to US pressure and asked Bin Laden to leave, despite their feeling that he could be monitored better in Sudan than elsewhere. Bin Laden left for Afghanistan, taking with him Ayman Awahiri, considered by the U.S. to be the chief planner of the September 11 attacks….”
One month later, the US military housing complex in Saudi Arabia was blown apart by a 5,000 lb truck bomb. Clinton’s failure to grasp the opportunity, concludes Mansoor, “represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures in American history.”
According to a London Sunday Times account, based on a Clinton Administration source, responsibility for this decision “went to the very top of the White House. Shortly after the September 11 disaster, “Clinton told a dinner companion that the decision to let bin Laden go was probably ‘the biggest mistake of my presidency.’” But according to the Times report, which was based on interviews with intelligence officials, this was only one of three occasions on which the Clinton Administration had the opportunity to seize Bin Laden and failed to do so.
When the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky became public in January 1998, and his adamant denials made it a consuming public preoccupation, Clinton’s normal inattention to national security matters became subsumed in a general executive paralysis. In Dick Morris’s judgment, the United States was effectively “without a president between January 1998 until April 1999,” when the impeachment proceedings concluded with the failure of the Senate to convict. It was in August 1998 that the al-Qaeda truck bombs blew up the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Failure to Take Security Seriously
Yet this was only half the story. During its eight years, the Clinton Administration was able to focus enough attention on defense matters to hamstring the intelligence services in the name of civil liberties, shrink the U.S. military in the name of economy, and prevent the Pentagon from adopting (and funding) a “two-war” strategy, because “the Cold War was over” and in the White House’s judgment there was no requisite military threat in the post-Communist world that might make it necessary for the United States to be able to fight wars on two fronts. Inattention to defense also did not prevent the Clinton Administration from pursuing massive social experiments in the military in the name of gender and diversity reform, which included requiring “consciousness raising” classes for military personnel, rigging physical standards women were unable to meet, and in general undermining the meritocratic benchmarks that are a crucial component of military morale.
While budget cuts forced some military families to go on food stamps, the Pentagon spent enormous sums to re-equip ships and barracks to accommodate co-ed living. All these efforts further reduced the Pentagon’s ability to put a fighting force in the field—a glaring national vulnerability dramatized by the war in Kosovo. This diminished the crucial elements of fear and respect for American power in the eyes of adversaries waiting in the wings.
During the Clinton years, the Democrats insistence that American power was somehow the disturber—rather than the enforcer—of international tranquility, prompted the White House to turn to multilateral agencies for leadership, particularly the discredited United Nations. While useful in limited peacekeeping operations, the UN was in large part a collection of theocratic tyrannies and brutal dictatorships which regularly indicted and condemned the world’s most tolerant democracies, specifically the United States, England and Israel, while supporting the very states providing safe harbors for America’s al-Qaeda enemy. Just prior to the World Trade Center attacks, the UN’s “Conference on Racism” engaged in a ritual of America bashing over “reparations” for slavery and support for Israel. The agendas had been set by an Islamic coalition led by Iran.
During the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s most frequent foreign guest was Yasser Arafat, whose allegiance to Iraq and betrayal of America during the Gulf War could not have been more brazen. Following the defeat of Iraq, a “peace process” was launched in the Arab-Israeli conflict that predictably failed through Arafat’s failure to renounce the terrorist option. But why renounce terror if there is no price exacted for practicing it?
Clinton and the Military
It is true that the Clinton White House was able, during its eight-year tenure, to shed some of the Democrats’ normal aversion to the use of American military might. (As recently as 1990 only 6 Democratic Senators had voted to authorize the Gulf War against Iraq). But the Clinton deployments of American forces were often non-military in nature: a “democracy building” effort in Haiti that failed; flood relief and “peace keeping” operations that were more appropriately the province of international institutions. Even the conflict Clinton belatedly engaged in the Balkans was officially characterized as a new kind of “humanitarian war,” as though the old kinds of war for national interest and self-defense were somehow tainted. While the Serbian dictator Milosevic was toppled, “ethnic cleansing,” the casus belli of the Western intervention, continues, except that the Christian Serbs in Kosovo have now become victims of the previously persecuted Albanian Muslims.
Among Clinton’s deployments were also half-hearted strikes using cruise missiles against essentially defenseless countries like the Sudan, or the sporadic bombing of Iraq when Saddam violated the terms of the Gulf peace. Clinton’s strikes failed in their primary objective—to maintain the UN inspections. On the other hand, a negative result of this “Whack-A-Mole” strategy was the continual antagonizing of Muslim populations throughout the world.
The most notorious of these episodes was undoubtedly Clinton’s ill-conceived and ineffectual response to the attacks on the African embassies. At the time, Clinton was preoccupied with preparing his defense before a grand jury convened because of his public lies about the Lewinsky affair. Three days after Lewinsky’s grand jury appearance, without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff or his national security advisors, Clinton launched cruise missiles into two Islamic countries, which he identified as being allied to the terrorists and their leader Osama bin Laden. One of these missiles hit and destroyed a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan, killing one individual. Since the factory was the sole plant producing medicines for an impoverished African nation, there were almost certainly a number of collateral deaths.
The incident, which inflamed anti-American passions all over the Islamic world, was—in conception and execution—a perfect reflection of the distorted priorities and reckless attitudes of the Clinton White House. It also reflected the irresponsibility of congressional Democrats who subordinated the safety concerns of their constituents to provide unified support for the presidential misbehavior at home and abroad.
The Partisan Nature of the Security Problem
More than 100 Arabic operatives participated in the attack on the World Trade Center Towers. They did so over a period of several years. They were able to enter the United States with and without passports seemingly at will. They received training in flying commercial airliners at American facilities despite clear indications that some of them might be part of a terrorist campaign. At the same time, Democrats pressed for greater relaxation of immigration policies and resisted scrutiny of foreign nationals on the grounds that to do so constituted “racial profiling.” To coordinate their terrorist efforts, the al-Qaeda operatives had to communicate with each other electronically on channels that America’s high-tech intelligence agencies normally intercept. One reason they were not detected was that the first line of defense against such attacks was effectively crippled by powerful figures in the Democratic Party who considered the CIA the problem and not America’s enemies.
Security controls that would have prevented adversarial agents from even acquiring encryption devices that thwarted American intelligence efforts were casually lifted on orders from the highest levels of government. Alleged abuses by American intelligence operatives became a higher priority than the abuses of the hostile forces they were attempting to contain. Reporter Joe Klein’s inquiries led him to conclude, “there seems to be near unanimous agreement among experts: in the ten years since the collapse of the Soviet Union [and the eight years of the Clinton presidency, and the seven since the first Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center] almost every aspect of American national-security—from military operations to intelligence gathering, from border control to political leadership—has been marked by … institutional lassitude and bureaucratic arrogance…”
The Democrats’ Anti-Intelligence Bill
The Democrats’ cavalier attitude towards American security in the years preceding September 11 was dramatized in a bill to cut the intelligence budget sight unseen, which was introduced every year of the Clinton Administration by Independent Bernie Sanders. The fact that Sanders was an extreme leftist proved no problem for the Democrats—still enjoying their long-standing congressional majority—when they appointed him to a seat on the House intelligence committee. Indeed why should it be a problem? Shortly before the World Trade Center attack, Senate Democrats made another leftist, California Senator Barbara Boxer, an opponent of the war against Saddam Hussein and a long-time critic of the American military, the chair of the Senate Sub-committee on Terrorism.
The Sanders initiative was launched in 1993, after the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center. In that year, the Democrat-controlled House Intelligence Committee had voted to reduce President Clinton’s own authorization request for the intelligence agencies by 6.75%. But this was insufficient for Sanders. So he introduced an amendment that required a minimum reduction in financial authorization for each individual intelligence agency of at least 10%.
Sanders refused to even examine the intelligence budget he proposed to cut: “My job is not to go through the intelligence budget. I have not even looked at it.” According to Sanders the reasons for reducing the intelligence budget were that “the Soviet Union no longer exists,” and that “massive unemployment, that low wages, that homelessness, that hungry children, that the collapse of our educational system is perhaps an equally strong danger to this Nation, or may be a stronger danger for our national security.”
Irresponsible? Incomprehensible? Not to nearly half the Democrats in the House who voted in favor of the Sanders amendment. Ninety-seven Democrats in all voted for the Sanders cuts, including House Armed Services Committee chair Ron Dellums and the House Democratic leadership. As the terrorist attacks on America intensified year by year during the 1990s, Sanders steadfastly reintroduced his amendment. Every year thereafter, right until the World Trade Center attack, nearly 100 Democrats voted with him to cut the intelligence budget.
According to a study made by political consultant Terry Cooper, “Dick Gephardt (D-MO), the House Democratic leader, voted to cut on five of the seven amendments on which he was recorded. He appears to have ‘taken a walk’ on two other votes. David Bonior (D-MI), the number-two Democratic leader who as Whip enforces the party position, voted for every single one of the ten cutting amendments. Chief Deputy Whips John Lewis (D-GA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) voted to cut intelligence funding every time they voted. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), just elected to replace Bonior as Whip when Bonior leaves early in 2002, voted to cut intelligence funding three times, even though she was a member of the Intelligence Committee and should have known better. Two funding cut amendments got the votes of every single member of the elected House Democratic leadership. In all, members of the House Democratic leadership supported the Saunders funding cut amendments 56.9 percent of the time.”
Many of the Democrats whose committee positions give them immense say over our national security likewise voted for most or all of the funding cut amendments. Ron Dellums (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee from 1993 through 1997, cast all eight of his votes on funding cut amendments in favor of less intelligence funding. Three persons who chaired or were ranking Democrats on Armed Services subcommittees for part of the 1993-99 period—Pat Schroeder (D-CO), Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) and Marty Meehan (D-MA)—also voted for every fund-cutting amendment that was offered during their tenures. Dave Obey (D-WI), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee that holds the House’s keys to the federal checkbook, voted seven out of eight times to reduce intelligence funding.
In 1994, Republican Porter Goss, a former CIA official and member of the House Intelligence Committee, warned that because of inflation, the cuts now proposed by Sanders-Owens amounted to 16% of the 1992 budget and were 20% below the 1990 budget. Yet this did not dissuade Dellums, Bonior and roughly 100 Democrats from continuing to lay the budgetary ax to America’s first line of anti-terrorist defense. Ranking Committee Republican Larry Combest warned that the cuts endangered “critically important and fragile capabilities, such as in the area of human intelligence.” In 1998, Osama bin Laden and four radical Islamic groups connected to al-Qaeda issued a fatwa condemning every American man, woman and child, civilian and military included. Sanders responded by enlisting Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio to author an amendment cutting the intelligence authorization again.
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