Showstoppers

So a new book has revealed that the Secret Service narrowly avoided an assassination attempt of Bill Clinton by Osama bin Laden. Over at True/Slant, Jamie Malanowski wonders why America was never told:
Surely the incident, in combination with the embassy bombings and other attacks, could have helped create the basis for a vigorous response. In particular, why was this plot still a secret as late as 1998, when Clinton’s presidency was in jeopardy, and especially in August 1998, when the missile attacks he ordered on al Qaeda training bases were suspected of being a `Wag the Dog’-type ploy designed to deflect attention from his legal problems?

First, I would like to reassure readers that the Clinton-haters would never have believed it. Talk radio hosts would have spread suspicion. Clinton, after all, was The Source of All Evil in those days, as Richard Shultz reminded readers in an unintentionally revealing Weekly Standard article from January 2004. Attempting to blame Clinton, Shultz quotes heavily from Richard Clarke, the man who would later tell us about Bush and Rumsfeld’s perfidy in response to 9/11.

Here is the part of that article I find most interesting:

The original concept for SOF counterterrorism units was that they would be unconventional, small, flexible, adaptive, and stealthy, suited to discreet and discriminate use, say those “present at the creation” following the Desert One disaster. Force packages were to be streamlined for surgical operations. The “footprint” of any operation was to be small, even invisible.

By the 1990s, this had dropped by the wayside. One former official recalled that when strikes against al Qaeda cells were proposed, “the Joint Staff and the chairman would come back and say, ‘We highly recommend against doing it. But if ordered to do it, this is how we would do it.’ And usually it involved the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The footprint was ridiculous.” In each instance the civilian policymakers backed off.

Get that? The United States military had an entirely defensive, hands-off posture towards terrorism in those days. When Clinton asked them for an action plan, the Pentagon “priced itself out of the market;” when troops were deployed overseas, they practiced “force protection” to prevent another Beirut experience. In short, the military wanted no part in the matter; we were too busy training for the last war. Despite what you might think from regarding fantasist popular culture of the late 80s and early 90s, until 9/11 the US military had NEVER. ENGAGED. TERRORISTS. Not once!

Malanowski’s inclined to think it’s proof that Bush should have taken terrorism more seriously. While I agree, we also have to recognize that America’s military culture failed us long before the planes hit.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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