home > archive > 2003 > this article
Losing Bin Laden
Bill Clinton's sins of omission
By Carol Devine-Molin
"Early in the Clinton administration, it would have been comparatively easy to smash bin Laden's emerging network. Instead the arch-terrorist's strength, reach, and lethality were allowed to relentlessly build over the course of the eight Clinton years" – Richard Miniter
It's impossible to adequately comprehend the whys and wherefores of this current "war on terror" until one grapples with the blatant mistakes of the Clinton years. And that is precisely what investigative journalist Richard Miniter has accomplished in his bestseller entitled, Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror. Miniter is well equipped to examine the subject at hand, having been "a member of the award-winning Sunday Times (of London) team whose four-part series traced the secret war between Clinton and bin Laden". He's also written for a variety of topnotch publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and National Review.
The author's "on the record" interviews were from an impressive array of former Clinton administration officials including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Advisors Tony Lake and Sandy Berger, Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke, CIA Director James Woolsey, current CIA Director George Tenet, and Clinton pollster and political advisor Dick Morris. Miniter also spoke with myriad bureaucrats, terrorism experts and politicos such as Senator Richard Shelby, Congressman Bill McCollum, Ambassador Tim Carney, Ambassador Joe Wilson, CIA Station Chiefs Milt Bearden and Bill Piekney, scholars Michael Ledeen and Laurie Mylroie, international businessman Mansoor Ijaz, and others too numerous to cite here. All-in-all, Miniter produced an exceptionally well documented tome.
Miniter's treatise is nothing less than stunning as he methodically exposes Osama bin Laden's dirty little fingerprints on a host of terror assaults that specifically targeted American citizens and assets, both here and abroad, throughout the 1990s. Clinton's inability to effectively tackle bin Laden time and time again is bound to leave many readers emotionally exhausted. The key question is this -- could Clinton have averted September 11th? The answer is probably, if he had the wherewithal to respond to terror attacks as a national security threat. Mind you, that would have required Clinton to conceptualize al-Qaida strikes as "warfare" rather than criminal acts that constitute a "law enforcement" matter. However, Clinton was not up to the challenge. He was not a president who successfully embraced the role of "commander-in-chief", and that made all the difference. Miniter indicates that Clinton "was addicted to cautious half-measures and perhaps a lingering distrust of the US military".
As Edmund Burke averred, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." I don't doubt for a second that Bill Clinton wanted only to bring his personal best to the presidency. But given Clinton's limitations, he was bound to experience difficulties in a wartime milieu. Author Richard Miniter found that because of Clinton's personal foibles and character flaws, he was reluctant to take political risks and often exhibited paralysis in decision making. Therefore, "Clinton responded [to terrorism] only with brave words, empty gestures, meaningless cruise-missile strikes, and halfhearted covert operations". Certainly, this is in direct contrast to the ways of President Bush, who is well capable of decisive action.
During the Clinton presidency, Osama bin Laden publicly declared war on America and western civilization on several occasions. In the decade leading-up to 9/11/01, al-Qaida and its affiliates made good on their threats against America as illustrated by the following episodes of terrorism examined in Miniter's book: The assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in NYC (1990), The Goldmore and Aden Hotels in Yemen (1992), the Twin Towers, NYC (1993), the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia (1993), the Saudi National Guard office in Riyadh, which employed about 100 Americans (1994), Project Bojinka, which plotted to bring down American commercial aircraft, and severely damaged a Philippine Airlines aircraft, killing one, in a "practice run" (1995), the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998), and the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen (2000).
Chapter Six of Miniter's book entitled, "The Friend of Bill", was rather interesting if you're a fan of cable's Fox News Channel and appreciate the commentary of terrorism expert Mansoor Ijaz, which I certainly do. He's an international financier, a brilliant and extremely likeable fellow who engages in "private diplomacy" in his travels. Ijaz frequently shuttles to the Islamic world making pivotal contacts not only for business purposes, but to implement a larger goal inspired by his father. Apparently, Ijaz has the heartfelt desire to save Pakistan from radical Islam – he seeks to establish schools that develop careers for Pakistani youth and break the stronghold of madrassas that promote terrorism.
According to Miniter, Ijaz "developed the CARAT computer system that enabled his clients, institutional and private investors, to make hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, within four years of leaving a Harvard-MIT graduate program, he was worth millions". As a major contributor to the Democratic Party, and someone who had raised over $900,000 in party donations, Ijaz naturally had the ear of Bill Clinton during the 1990s. As an unofficial conduit, "Citizen Ijaz" utilized his high-level contacts in Sudan to open a channel with the Clinton administration, thereby funneling word that Sudan was willing to provide intelligence on Osama bin Laden and fully cooperate with US counterterrorism efforts. The Sudanese leaders were reportedly distressed that their repeated attempts to have their voices heard by Clinton officials went nowhere, and they had hoped that Ijaz could intervene on their behalf.
Of course the Sudanese had a larger agenda. They were intent on distancing themselves from terrorism in order to facilitate the lifting of US and UN sanctions, which would then make foreign investments in Sudan possible. Ijaz was well aware that Sudan extended olive branches to the US on several occasions, but Ijaz was shocked by the magnitude of the offers. In a "bombshell" revelation, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir told Ijaz the following: "Are you aware that I sent General Fatih Erwa to Washington to discuss bin Laden's extradition to Saudi Arabia? Then al-Bashir explained, Sudan made an offer to send bin Laden to the United States. Neither offer was accepted". In other words, the Sudanese government was ready to serve up Osama bin Laden on a platter to the Clinton administration, if they wanted him. Amazingly, there wasn't an affirmative response from the US.
Mansoor Ijaz continued to advise the administration of Sudan's offer of "unconditional assistance on terrorism", and even spoke directly to President Clinton about this, yet all was ignored on an official level. Author Richard Miniter asks, "What if President Clinton had accepted any one of these variant offers and America's intelligence services had received the Sudanese intelligence files [on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida associates in Sudan] in 1997?"
It could have changed the course of history.
Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.
Buy Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed
Global Terror at
only $19.57 (30% off)
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996-2018, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.