President Bush on Tuesday dismissed as "finger-pointing" criticism from his predecessor Bill Clinton of his counter-terrorism efforts in the months leading up to the September 11 attacks.
Clinton, angrily defending his own administration’s attempts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, had accused the Bush administration of doing far less to stop the al Qaeda leader before the 2001 hijack plane attacks.
Bush, who is trying to stave off a Democratic takeover of Congress in November, seemed to bristle when asked about Clinton, only to sidestep his assertions.
"We’ll let history judge all the different finger-pointing and all that business. I don’t have enough time to finger-point," he said at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"I’ve got to do my job," he added, "and that is to protect the American people from further attacks."
Bush spoke two days after "Fox News Sunday" aired a heated interview in which Clinton defended steps he took after al Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole in 2000 and faulted criticism by "right-wingers" of his efforts to capture bin Laden.
"They had eight months to try, they did not try," Clinton said of the Bush administration response. The September 11 attacks occurred almost eight months after Bush succeeded Clinton.
Clinton also said when his term ended he left the new Republican administration "battle plans" for going into Afghanistan, overthrowing the Taliban and launching a full-scale search for bin Laden.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disputed Clinton’s statement. "We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," she told the New York Post.
Asked about Clinton’s comments, Bush said, "I’ve watched all the finger-pointing and namings of names and all that stuff. Our objective is to secure the country. We’ve had investigations. We had the 9/11 commission, we’ve had the look-back this, we had the look-back that."
Bush also said it was "preposterous" for opponents of his Iraq war strategy to call for a swift U.S. troop withdrawal.
He has sought to rally public support for the unpopular Iraq war by framing it as an extension of the "war on terrorism" he declared after the September 11 attacks. Many Democrats say Iraq is a distraction from the broader fight.
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