Why didn’t Bush retaliate for the bombing of the USS Cole?

By MARTIN SCHRAM

Ever since 9/11, the Bush-Cheney mantra, uttered most frequently in campaign seasons, was that Osama bin Laden was emboldened to attack America due to the failure of President Bill Clinton’s administration to forcefully and fully respond to earlier terror strikes — especially the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.


Indeed, Vice President Cheney was the self-appointed chanter-in-chief of this mantra, uttering it at virtually every stop.

But this week, we were dished new evidence that the blame for the failure to retaliate forcefully after the CIA pinned the USS Cole bombing on al Qaeda falls to Clinton’s successors — President Bush and Cheney.

Since this is another election season, this new policy evidence was surfaced in a way that hinted at more than a whiff of political payback. But in the great Washington tradition of politics, shmolitics, we focus on the real substantive story — whether past Bush-Cheney assertions were fact or demagogic deception.

On Monday night, a Democratic member of the 9/11 Commission, Richard Ben-Veniste, revealed to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and the world details we had never heard before about the commission’s Oval Office interview with Bush and Cheney. Details the 9/11 Commission had voted in a split decision to withhold from its report.

First, the policy background: The USS Cole was bombed at port in Yemen in October 2000. It was not until December 2000, in the last weeks of the Clinton presidency, that the CIA was finally able to tell Clinton that al Qaeda perpetrated the bombing. The 9/11 Commission report disclosed that Clinton’s administration warned Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on at least three occasions that if al Qaeda struck the United States, America would retaliate against the Taliban. (Months later, Bush’s PR machine would label the notion of no sanctuaries for terrorists the "Bush doctrine.") With just weeks before inauguration, Clinton passed the retaliation responsibility to his successor. In January 2001, then-CIA Director George Tenet told Bush that al Qaeda bombed the USS Cole.

And the political background: Clinton chafed for years at those assertions that he failed to forcefully respond against al Qaeda’s past attacks. ABC’s recent semi-fiction cloaked as documentary news made the same case. Then, on "Fox News Sunday," anchor Chris Wallace, normally one of the most evenhanded stars in the Fox constellation, asked Clinton a series of accusative, assumption-loaded questions, including: "Why didn’t you do more to put bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were president?"

Clinton popped his famous cork, saying firmly that he authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden but the CIA failed to get it done. (Former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin supported Clinton’s version, telling CNN: "President Clinton did aggressively pursue Osama bin Laden. I give the Clinton administration a lot of credit for the aggressiveness with which they went after al Qaeda and bin Laden.") Clinton also told Wallace: "After the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full-scale-attack search for bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan" _ and the United States did not get that until after the attacks of 9/11.

Now the news: One day after Clinton’s Fox fusillade, Ben-Veniste revealed that Bush’s decisions and lack of response were a major topic of the 9/11 Commission’s interview with Bush and Cheney. "One of the questions we had _ and I specifically had _ was why President Bush did not respond to the Cole attack," said Ben-Veniste. "And what he told me was that he did not want to launch a cruise-missile attack against bin Laden for fear of missing him and bombing the rubble. And then I asked him … ‘Well, why wouldn’t you go after the Taliban in order to get them to kick bin Laden out of Afghanistan?’ " Bush’s response? "He said that no one had told him that we had made that threat (to the Taliban)," said Ben-Veniste. "And I found that very discouraging and surprising."

This we know: Bush ordered no retaliation for the USS Cole, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, says she saw no such plans.

Can it be that no one told the new president of the old president’s threat that America would attack a sovereign nation for giving sanctuary to the terrorists who attacked America? Or showed him the alleged battle plan to do the job? If true, it is the most grievous failing by an outgoing administration in the history of presidential transitions of power. If false, it is the most grievous example of deceit and buck-passing by an incoming administration.

There can be no middle-ground truth.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)

15 Responses to "Why didn’t Bush retaliate for the bombing of the USS Cole?"

  1. Rice Farmer  September 28, 2006 at 1:39 am

    Like the arguments over UBL’s videos and whether he is still alive, or who screwed up his capture, this is nothing but a distraction — a big show put on for the gullible world public. Start a “war on poverty” and then pursue policies which widen the rich-poor gap; start a “war on drugs” while the CIA and elites run drugs with abandon; similarly, start a “war on terror” while terrorizing the population. The joke is on the American people, and the jokers are the Republicrats.

  2. David Rosenberg  September 28, 2006 at 1:58 am

    There has to be some truth to Clinton’s blow-up on Fox. No one would get that angry, close to mad, for no reason.
    Condi Rice probably under orders from Bush, stepped into the frey, throwing the Gaunlet down on Clinton.
    I find it very difficult to believe Condi, that no plans were passed to her from the Clinton outgoing admin. Why is that very importatnt time, filled with fuzziness and lack of memory? It seems almost everything the Dems say they did, R. Clarke’s saying Iraq was not the problem, not one Repub. can recall any of that happening.
    Someone is keeping the truth supressed. One has to wonder, which of the two parties has the better expertise at doing so.

  3. JoyfulC  September 28, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    Can any of the Bush supporters here, who accuse liberals of so much spin doctoring, please explain why the US State Dept, under the Bush Administration with Colin Powell as Secretary of State, awarded a $43 million grant to Afghanistan in May 2001 — mere months before 9/11 and also with full knowledge that the Taliban regime ruled Afghanistan at that time, that they were hosting al Qaeda, and that they were egregious human rights violators?

    No one ever talks about this. At the time, they responded to criticism by saying that they were rewarding a reduction in opium production, which at that time (under the Taliban) was at an all-time low. Now that Taliban has been unseated, and a supposedly democratic government installed, opium production is back to an all-time high. So it can’t be about the opium.

    It doesn’t seem to me that handing over cold hard cash to enemies of America and their friends is any way to protect us from terrorists.

  4. lance manion  September 28, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    why do people still treat this administration as if it had ANY credibility left.
    kindasleezy rice said in her 9/11 testimony that clinton left no plan only a set of “actionable items”. i.e. a plan. what a bunch of lying sleezebags!

  5. Glenn  September 29, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    I Believe Richard Clarke said that he tried to stress upon the Bush administration the threat from al Qaeda and aggressive plans against them but they were not interested. They gave al Qaeda a low priority and cut money for anti terrorism efforts. They concentrated instead on Iraq.

    Bush also stopped probes into Saudi money and former FBI agent Colleen Rowley testified to congress that officials in Washington blocked them from getting into Moussaoui’s computer.

    Also William Rivers Pitt wrote a good piece people can find on the web laying out Clinton’s efforts and legislation Clinton tried to pass that was blocked by republicans.

    I also think that an important point Clinton made was when he asked when has the media questioned Bush officials what they did about bin Laden. Not only did Bush do nothing the corporate media has never held him accountable for his non action.

  6. Robin  October 2, 2006 at 7:47 pm

    That $43 million dollar tribute we paid to the Talbian showed the world that paying tribute no longer works in the Muslim world. The terrorist factions want nothing less than the total destruction of all who do not worship as they do.

  7. Mark-NC  September 27, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    You wrote “There can be no middle-ground truth.”

    You are right – Condi lied!

    Here are the facts.

    http://www.rawstory.com/news/2006/2001_memo_to_Rice_contradicts_statements_0926.html

  8. Wendy  September 27, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    My guess is the new Administration discounted any information from the old administration as unreliable, because it was from a Dem administration, did not need to be followed (that would imply that Republicans agreed with Democrat conclusions). So, rather than act, they simply ignored what they’d been told as unworthy of acknowledgement. Too many people agree that Bush’s team was told about the source of the attacks – the blame lies solidly on the current criminals in charge.

  9. sandman  September 27, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    I guess the “grown ups ” didn’t believe the “children”.
    This just falls into line with everything else , and I do mean everything that this administration has done nothing but stupid arrogence, incompentence, lies,thieving and deception.

  10. jeffers  September 27, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Recall also that Clinton refused to begin the transition process until after the election lawsuits were settled. This created a lot of bad feelings between the two groups.

    This cost them at least a month of transition time, and major good will.

  11. Mark-NC  September 27, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    jeffers:

    I get your point, but what a poor excuse.

    Clinton refused because the election had not been settled. Even today we know that the election could have gone the other way without the Supreme Court deciding for Bush.

    If there was bitterness from the Bush team, it was just childish behavior – and a bad excuse for not doing their job!

  12. Robin  September 27, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    On November 3, 2002, the CIA fired a AGM-114 Hellfire missile from a Predator UAV at a vehicle carrying Abu Ali al-Harithi, a suspected planner of the bombing plot. Also in the vehicle was Ahmed Hijazi, a U.S. citizen. Both were killed. This operation was carried out on Yemeni soil.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cole_bombing

    Bush did do something. It’s funny how liberals love to change history to suit their arguments, but you can’t.

  13. Dan  September 27, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Yah, Bush et al did something. They made up a story that the White House was trashed and looted by the out going president and laughed as the media had a field day.
    In fact, the current press secretary helped promote the story. Bush et al just let it run.

    And that’s how the Bush administration started it’s term. So what makes anyone think that such people as these would have given consideration to any work on any subject by the outgoing administration? They would not because they could not. It’s not within their character to do so. But they can lie, even if by default as shown in this story.

  14. Don  September 27, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Robin, you miss the larger issue–see the Web site given by Mark-NC, above, for what was passed on to the Bushies. Take a look at the actual documents they had in their hands.

    Instead of focusing on eliminating the tremendous threat we faced, the Bushies focused on invading Iraq and dramatically increasing the number of jihadists, a decision that is so monumentally misguided that it is criminal. Even after 9/11, when we had a prime opportunity and world support to take out bin Laden and the Taliban, the Bushies blew it completely. What kind of screwball thinking goes on in the Bush White House?

  15. Judith Anderson  September 27, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    Within a day or two of the first George Bush inaugural, I heard news reports of his people smugly refusing to meet with or be briefed by Clinton’s advisors, in specific on foreign policy, with a dismissive, we are in charge now.

    How childishness, arrogant, and foolishness. This petty behavior has cost us and the world dearly.

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