Worst Part About Not Re-Electing George H.W. Bush Was 9/11 [OPINION]
Would the attacks of 9/11 have been a reality had the American people re-elected George H.W. Bush? I think the trajectory of al Qa'eda would have been vastly different than the actual outcome when Bill Clinton defeated President Bush in 1992. Here is my case for that:
November 3, 1992: William Jefferson Clinton (D-Arkansas) is elected president over incumbent president George H.W. Bush (R-Texas).
January 20, 1993: President Clinton is inaugurated and enters office.
February 26, 1993: The World Trade Center is bombed by Ramzi Yousef, the nephew of a chief Al Qaeda operative and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Yousef was accompanied by Abdul Rahman Yasin. Osama bin Laden is named as an un-indicted co-conspirator by federal investigators. The Brooklyn-based Egyptian Islamic Jihad spiritual leader "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman was arrested as a co-conspirator and sentenced to life in prison.
October 3, 1993: In Mogadishu, Somalia, Al Qaeda allies attack a U.S.-led humanitarian mission, supported by Army Rangers and Delta Force. Nineteen U.S. troops are killed and 73 wounded. Two Blackhawk Helicopters were shot down and images of the body of Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland is still seared in my mind. His lifeless body was dragged away and mutilated by the Somalian mobs and militia.
January 1994: Bin Laden funds three terrorist training camps in Sudan.
January 6,1995: WTC 1993 bomber Ramzi Yousef fled Manila, Philippines, after setting fire to his apartment. That's where he was making bombs for the Bojinka (Big Bang) Plot, a plan to simultaneously detonate 11 bombs on 11 U.S.-bound airliners, an assassination of Pope John Paul II and a plane loaded with explosives was planned to crash into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Yousef's laptop computer is left in the apartment and discovered by Filipino authorities.
Yousef's accomplice Abdul Hakim Murad was brutally interrogated by Filipino agents who extracted the plans from him before he was handed over to American authorities.
August 1995: Bin Laden writes a letter to Saudi Arabian King Fahd calling for a military campaign against American forces in Saudi Arabia.
January 1996: American intelligence confirms Al Qaeda's now global reach having operatives, bases and cells in 56 nations.
June 25, 1996: Nineteen American soldiers are killed along with 500 other people when the Khobar Towers in Dharhan, Saudi Arabia were bombed. The Clinton Administration's National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism was Richard Clarke, who pointed away from Al Qaeda and to the Iranian backed Shi'ite Muslim terrrorists, Hezbollah.
"Iranian intelligence officers began to surveil American facilities around the world, and it was clear to us from the intelligence that they planned to attack us. And they did," Clarke said. "Iranian intelligence working with Saudi Hezbollah, blew up the American Air Force facility at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia."
In 2004, the 9/11 Commission noted that Osama bin Laden was seen being congratulated on the day of the Khobar attack, and stated there were reports in the months preceding the attack that bin Laden was seeking to facilitate a shipment of explosives to Saudi Arabia. According to the United States, classified evidence suggests that the government of Iran was the key sponsor of the incident, and several high-ranking members of their military may have been involved. A U.S. federal court speculated that the Khobar Towers bombing was authorized by Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.
William Perry, who was the United States Secretary of Defense at the time that this bombing happened, said in an interview in June 2007 that "he now believes Al Qaeda rather than Iran was behind a 1996 truck bombing at an American military base."
One of the world's premiere experts on Middle Eastern terrorists, Abdel Bari Atwan wrote:
In May 1996 Bin Laden and his entourage moved from Sudan to Afghanistan. As if to make the point that they might have been chased out of Sudan by Saudi Arabia and the US they were not leaving with their tails between their legs, al Qaeda struck again: The June bombing of Khobar Towers. The Saudi authorities were at pains to implicate Shi'i militants backed by Iran in this attack, since the embarrassing truth that they had their very own homegrown militancy problem was inadmissible; they did not want to give the impression that there was domestic opposition to the deployment of US troops on Saudi soil.
Of course there were more attacks, in fact tireless attacks between 1997 and 2000 by Al Qaeda on Americans and American interests right up to September 11, 2001.
I will stop at the activity between 1993 and 1996, the years when Bill Clinton was the president in his first term instead of George H.W. Bush continuing with a second.
I want to entertain the possible outcomes of Al Qaeda. Based on factors such as Richard Clarke's erroneous theories pointing away from Al Qaeda, and the indifferent Clinton responses to obvious psychopathic plots against Americans in each of his first four years by Al Qaeda, it is very likely the Bush response is quite different.
Can you imagine (even if you don't like them) Secretary of State Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, Gates and Snowcroft ignoring some of those attacks and advising President Bush to respond in a measured way? Can you imagine that administration treating Al Qaeda like a police or legal matter, and not a military one?
I propose to you that no Al Qaeda leadership even sees 1996, let alone Osama bin Laden somehow surviving to 2011. They would have been disappeared. Eradicated. Dead.
As CIA Director from 1976-77, George H.W. Bush had no small role bringing the CIA from being a demoralized intelligence agency, still reeling from the embarrassments of Vietnam and the butt of a lot of KGB jokes, to the ultra capable spy agency of a super-power that helped to peacefully topple the Soviet Union just 14 years later.
Bush managed one of the greatest coalitions of international military cooperation ever witnessed in history when he was forced to end diplomacy and used force to remove Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. His hand-picked team of military, diplomatic and intelligence experts exceeded all expectations.
This combat veteran of World War II would not have responded to Al Qaeda in the same way the draft dodging, serial sexual predator Bill Clinton did.
A vastly improving economy was promised by Bush who knew exactly what was coming, but was credited to Clinton because it was his 1992 win that put him in the White House, as the 1980s experimental and research-heavy companies in Silicon Valley finally emerged to give the world the computer age and the internet.
America once again had a commodity that the world wanted and bought. Microsoft and Apple led the economic boom that carried the 1990s. Bill deserves a lot of credit, no doubt, but I'm referring to Bill Gates, not Clinton.
Clinton's legacy, for me, is that he never elevated the levels of security or committed to a major military operation to get Al Qaeda, despite the writing on the wall. You don't have to like it but the record shows, he allowed bin Laden to live another day and then some. As a result, 3,000 were denied another day starting September 12, 2001.
Did he ever lose a night's sleep wondering when bin Laden might strike next? The promise of carnage by Osama bin Laden, who delivered on many of those promises until he changed the world forever, fell mostly on deaf ears in Washington under No. 42.
To his credit, Richard Clarke finally came around and became a hawk in the Clinton White House with regards to his concerns for Al Qaeda. Better late than never, but history shows he was mostly ignored right up to the attack on the USS Cole in October of 2000.
It's not like there were no opportunities. In fact, at least one golden one presented itself, and the CIA was prepared to carry out the raid that would have altered world history. But fate would not allow it.
From the 9/11 Commission report:
A compound of about 80 concrete or mud-brick buildings surrounded by a 10-foot wall, Tarnak Farms was located in an isolated desert area on the outskirts of the Kandahar airport. CIA officers were able to map the entire site, identifying the houses that belonged to Bin Laden’s wives and the one where Bin Laden himself was most likely to sleep. Working with the tribals, they drew up plans for the raid. They ran two complete rehearsals in the United States during the fall of 1997. By early 1998, planners at the Counterterrorist Center were ready to come back to the White House to seek formal approval…
One group of tribals would subdue the guards, enter Tarnak Farms stealthily, grab Bin Laden, take him to a desert site outside Kandahar, and turn him over to a second group. This second group of tribals would take him to a desert landing zone …From there, a CIA plane would take him to New York, an Arab capital, or wherever he was to be arraigned. Briefing papers prepared by the Counterterrorist Center acknowledged that hitches might develop. People might be killed, and Bin Laden’s supporters might retaliate, perhaps taking U.S. citizens in Kandahar hostage.
But the briefing papers also noted that there was risk in not acting. “Sooner or later,” they said, “Bin Laden will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [weapons of mass destruction].” The CIA planners conducted their third complete rehearsal in March…The plan had now been modified so that the tribals would keep Bin Laden in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him over to the United States-thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.S. hand out of sight. …On May 18, CIA’s managers reviewed a draft Memorandum of Notification (MON), a legal document authorizing the capture operation.
A 1986 presidential finding had authorized worldwide covert action against terrorism and probably provided adequate authority. But mindful of the old “rogue elephant” charge, senior CIA managers may have wanted something on paper to show that they were not acting on their own….
Discussion of this memorandum brought to the surface an unease about paramilitary covert action that had become ingrained, at least among some CIA senior managers. Despite misgivings, the CIA leadership cleared the draft memorandum and sent it on to the National Security Council.
From May 20 to 24, the CIA ran a final, graded rehearsal of the operation, spread over three time zones, even bringing in personnel from the region. The FBI also participated. The rehearsal went well. The Counterterrorist Center planned to brief cabinet-level principals and their deputies the following week, giving June 23 as the date for the raid, with Bin Laden to be brought out of Afghanistan no later than July 23.
On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin Laden. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Laden out of Afghanistan. A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead. But the principals did not meet…The plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.
Working-level CIA officers were disappointed….No capture plan before 9/11 ever again attained the same level of detail and preparation. The tribals’ reported readiness to act diminished. And Bin Laden’s security precautions and defenses became more elaborate and formidable.
In closing, I will remind you that, in 2003, President Clinton's national security advisor Sandy Berger risked spending a lot of time in jail when he went in to the National Archives and stole an undetermined amount of classified documents that robbed the 9/11 Commission of a lot of records detailing what Clinton did and failed to do to thwart Al Qaeda. Video shows he stuffed his socks, pockets, jacket and pants with many files before leaving.
Don't worry Bill, I know it had to have been bad. Really bad. Bad enough to do something as desperate as Berger did for you.
But I also know what you are responsible for, Bill Clinton.
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RadioKenPittman. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.