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Bill Clinton Stopping the Killing of bin Laden Was Just a Small Part of the Damage He Did

President Clinton addresses attendees at Recommit To Kids: The Summit for America's Future hosted by America's Promise Alliance on April 18, 2017, in New York. (Amy Sussman/AP Images for America's Promise Alliance)

Several former CIA agents have just revealed that President Bill Clinton prevented them from killing Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s and thereby preventing the 9/11 terror attacks.

“It’s hard to believe now,” said Greg Barker, director of a new documentary, The Longest War, “but back in the late ’90s, most of the Washington national security establishment — including President Clinton, the State Department, the Department of Defense — simply did not view Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as a serious threat.”

It’s not hard to believe at all. In fact, it is still the case. And that, too, is in part the handiwork of Bill Clinton. Islamic jihad terrorists began striking in the United States during the Clinton administration, and Clinton did little to nothing in response. On February 26, 1993, jihadis bombed the World Trade Center in New York, hoping to bring the complex’s two towers down, murdering thousands. Their attack didn’t go as planned, but it was a harbinger of things to come: the financier of the attack was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would become a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Other jihad plotters planned to detonate bombs, all on the same day, at five key New York City locations, including the UN headquarters, the George Washington Bridge, and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. In response, Clinton did little to stymie their ongoing plotting.

In October 1993, Somali forces downed a pair of U.S. Black Hawk military helicopters; several Americans were killed, and their corpses were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu as crowds cheered the defeat of the Americans. Clinton thereupon decided to end the U.S. operation in Somalia. That operation was wrongheaded from the start, but bin Laden himself was struck by the implications of the U.S. withdrawal under those circumstances and decided the time was right to strike America hard. In his 1996 “Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites” (that is, Saudi Arabia), he wrote: “When dozens of your troops were killed in minor battles, and one American pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, you left the area defeated, carrying your dead in disappointment and humiliation. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge. But these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. God has dishonored you when you withdrew, and it clearly showed your weaknesses and powerlessness.”

Clinton made a further misstep after the bombing at an Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995, using it as a pretext to redirect the focus of the FBI and other intelligence agencies away from foreign terror threats and toward domestic ones. Yet the foreign threats were much larger, as became clear on September 11, 2001.

On June 25, 1996, jihadis bombed the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where many U.S. troops who were enforcing the no-fly zone in southern Iraq that resulted from the Gulf War were being housed. Twenty were killed. The Clinton administration had received warnings before the attack, but downplayed them, and did little after the attack. Then on October 12, 2000, jihadis bombed the USS Cole, a destroyer, while it was being refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen sailors were killed. The international jihad terrorist organization al-Qaeda claimed credit for the attack. Once again, Clinton offered only a token response.

Meanwhile, in 1999, Clinton spearheaded a campaign of airstrikes against Serbia in defense of the breakaway province of Kosovo. More unintended consequences resulted from Clinton’s actions in Southern Europe. There was violence and ethnic cleansing, but it was not all on one side; Orthodox Christian Serbs were also expelled or massacred and numerous churches were destroyed as Muslim Kosovars endeavored to efface all traces of Kosovo’s lengthy Christian history. Bill Clinton enabled the creation of a Muslim state in southern Europe that was host to numerous jihad terrorists.

Much more jihad terrorism would come as well. On September 10, 2001, just hours before the jihad attacks of September 11 that murdered nearly three thousand people, Clinton, just eight months out of office, told a group of Australian businessmen that Osama bin Laden, the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks and head of al-Qaeda, was a “very smart guy,” further saying, “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him—and I nearly got him once…. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

Clinton’s concern for those three hundred Afghan civilians was laudable, but it was bitterly ironic that the next day, the man whose life he spared out of concern for those civilians brought about the murder of ten times that number of American civilians. The revelations in The Longest War add to what is already known of Clinton’s bad record in this regard: the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, which investigated the 9/11 attacks, found that Clinton had other chances to kill bin Laden but passed up all of them. In 1999, bin Laden was spotted in a hunting camp in Afghanistan, but several officials from the United Arab Emirates were there as well, and so Clinton declined to strike, and the terror mastermind cheated death once again.

A great deal of the problems that twenty-first-century presidents have had to confront—jihad terrorism, tensions with China and Russia, a sluggish economy, trade deficits, and more—have their seeds in the Clinton administration, and are the most enduring aspects of his legacy.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.