This week there has been a story out in the New York Times that Republicans have jumped all over quoting House Intelligence Committee chairman Curt Weldon about the failures of the Clinton era Justice Department in preventing 9/11. According to Weldon, changes made by former Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick prevented intelligence agencies from sharing information about terrorists, including Mohammad Atta and other 9/11 hijackers, who were known to the CIA in 1999 but which that agency was barred from sharing with the FBI and other agencies during late 2000, a year before 9/11.
Aside from the obvious bias in the report (consider the source: Weldon is a Republican congressman who, just like anyone in his position, plays partisan politics), even if we accept every accusation that Mr. Weldon makes at face value, the conclusion that 9/11 can be laid at the foot of the Clinton administration is gravely flawed.
To begin with, even if the decision not to share the names was in fact made a full year before 9/11, for eight months of that time (in other words, most of it) the President was George W. Bush, not Bill Clinton. And John Ashcroft and his Justice Department could easily enough have reversed the policy at any time merely by the stroke of a pen, but apparently they did not consider that there was a need to do this. Secondly, the information was filtered upward, where the connections still could have been made. In fact, President Bush was handed a memo on August 6, 2001 at his ranch specifically stating that bin Laden was planning attacks in the United States. The memo was prepared for him by the CIA, the agency which did know the names of Atta and other hijackers, so if there was a problem with connecting the dots, it was within the CIA, not between the CIA and other agencies.
Of course, whatever may have been known before 9/11, the White House itself in the days following has said that an attack of this magnitude and by this mode of attack was beyond imagining. I'm not so sure of that, but if we let their claim stand, then what is far more troubling is how they have pursued bin Laden in the days since 9/11 (when the deed had been done and there should be no excuse for not pursuing him to the ends of the earth, if need be).
For starters, how hard did the Bush administration pursue bin Laden? Well, not very well. After less than a year, the focus was shifted squarely to Iraq, leaving what amounts to a stalemate in the fight with al-Qaeda and their supporters in and around Afghanistan. Even when U.S. forces had bin Laden surrounded, we 'outsourced' the job to local warlords (who we well knew, from decades of experience, had fickle loyalties) and who let bin Laden escape. Not to be outdone in Iraq, the Bush administration followed up this 'coup-de-gaffe' with letting Zarqawi get away too, for good measure.
Of course, those on the right have never taken bin Laden seriously as a threat. Certainly not on August 18, 1998, when Bill Clinton launched missiles at a meeting of al-Qaeda officials eleven days after the African embassy bombings that targetted two U.S. embassies and killed hundreds of people. I never forget to take the opportunity to remind the right wing that their response was one of outrage, not directed at the murderers of people on what is legally U.S. territory, but at Bill Clinton, for launching missiles, which took Monica Lewinsky off the front pages for a day. Of course, Monica was on the front page for most of 1998, so apparently they wanted Bill Clinton to do nothing against our enemies, in order to not divert any headlines from the all-important Monica scandal.
As we can see, fighting a guy like Osama bin Laden has never been a priority for the right. And it isn't right now, either. Right now we have 10,000 troops searching for bin Laden and 135,000 in Iraq. Draw your own conclusions.
What may be the real reason that Bush has done as little as possible to catch bin Laden? Consider the by now pretty well documented contacts between neocon icon Grover Norquist and radical Islamicists. Also consider that in fact these Islamicists have much the same social agenda as conservatism: A theological outlook in which morality is the foundation for society, in which schools and other social institution are based on a religious underpinning, and in which such perceived immorality as abortion and homosexuality is elevated to the level of a crime. Islamicists also espouse a society in which government is fundamentally weak and real decisions are made by a council of Clerics, and religious institutions also oversee and decide on the distribution of social welfare. True, the name of God is different, but the basic structure is very much the same.
Honestly, do you TRUST neocons to run the war against terror? To paraphrase an old saying, it is hard to get a man to fight very hard against his brother, and conservatism and Islamicism are brothers in spirit if not in fact.
The Islamicists are fighting against having a secular government, so why would Americans who are against having a secular government put much of their heart into the fight?
At best, conservatives have proven themselves incompetent in the fight against terrorists. At worst, they are just too close ideologically to trust not to be harboring a certain level of sympathy for the Islamicists.