Here's the transcript of Chris Wallace's explosive interview with Bill Clinton on Fox News Sunday. It's worth watching the video to see the famous Clinton temper in action. Interestingly, Clinton relied heavily on the book by Richard Clarke, which was widely interpreted as supporting the claim that Clinton did more to get Osama bin Laden than George W. Bush did in his first years in office. But, as Byron York points out in nationalreview.com, Clarke's book does not support Clinton's claim.
But Clarke's book does not, in fact, support Clinton's claim. Judging by Clarke's sympathetic account as well as by the sympathetic accounts of other former Clinton aides like Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simonit's not quite accurate to say that Clinton tried to kill bin Laden. Rather, he tried to convinceas opposed to, say, orderU.S. military and intelligence agencies to kill bin Laden. And when, on a number of occasions, those agencies refused to act, Clinton, the commander-in-chief, gave up.
Clinton did not give up in the sense of an executive who gives an order and then moves on to other things, thinking the order is being carried out when in fact it is being ignored. Instead, Clinton knew at the time that his top military and intelligence officials were dragging their feet on going after bin Laden and al Qaeda. He gave up rather than use his authority to force them into action.
One other interesting thing about Clarke is that in his book he depicted Clinton as far more engaged and determined to get bin Laden than he did in his interviews a couple of years before with Rich Miniter, on which Miniter relied heavily in his 2003 book Losing Bin Laden: How Clinton's Failures Unleashed the Global War on Terror. Miniter explained this in his review of Clarke's 2004 book in the Wall Street Journal (I can't find it on the Internet). James Taranto of opinionjournal.com had an interesting post on Clarke in September 2004. I think someone got to Clarke between 2002 and 2004 and persuaded him to change his story line to one that would put the Clinton administration and particularly Bill Clinton himself in a more favorable light. Sidney Blumenthal or some other Clintonista determined to burnish the Clinton record? I have no evidence of that. Perhaps it was a book editor who noticed that you can sell a lot of books that take a hard-left or hard-right stance but that it's hard to sell many books that take a more nuanced approach. Clarke's story to Miniter, who ended his narrative abruptly in January 2001, had a more nuanced approach. Clarke's book, which was portrayed as vindicating Clinton (though, as pointed out above, it doesn't entirely do that) and castigating George W. Bush, was a bestseller.
Clinton also charged that Wallace "did Fox's bidding on this show. You did you[r] nice little conservative hit job on me." But the Patterico blog prowls through the transcripts and discovers that Wallace asked similar questions of Donald Rumsfeld in 2004. Clinton's attack on Fox News probably played well among partisan Democrats. But it also shows a weakness of the Democratic Party. Democratic politicians and officeholders are used to "mainstream media," 90 percent of whose personnel are Democrats. They're less likely than Republicans to face tough but fair questions. So when they get one, they're not as well prepared for it as Republicans tend to be.
Let's shift to another subject, one that reflects well, I think, on both Clinton and Bush. There's a book-publishing angle, too. Here's the gist of the story, from the September 22 Washington Post:
In an interview to air Sunday on CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" program, [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf said that after the attacks, Richard Armitage, then deputy secretary of state, told Pakistan's intelligence director that the United States would bomb his country if it didn't help fight terrorists.
He said that Armitage had told him, "Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age."
Armitage has disputed the language attributed to him but did not deny the message was a strong one.
The 60 Minutes appearance was evidently timed to coincide with the release of Musharraf's memoir In the Line of Fire today. His press conference with George W. Bush at the White House last week contained the following exchange, as transcribed by the White House:
Mr. President, after 9/11, would the United States have actually attacked Pakistan if President Musharraf had not agreed to cooperate with the war on terrorism? He says that the United States was threatening to bomb his country back into the stone age.
And, President Musharraf, would Pakistan have given up its backing of the Taliban if this threat had not come from Armitage?
President Bush: First, let me she's asking about the Armitage thing. The first I heard of this was when I read it in the newspaper today. You know, I was I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words.
All I can tell you is, is that shortly after 9/11, Secretary Colin Powell came in and said, President Musharraf understands the stakes and he wants to join and help route out an enemy that has come and killed 3,000 of our citizens. As a matter of fact, my recollection was that one of the first leaders to step up and say that the stakes have changed, that attack on America that killed 3,000 of the citizens needs to be dealt with firmly, was the President. And if I'm not mistaken, Colin told us that, if not the night of September the 11th, shortly thereafter. I need to make sure I get my facts straight, but it was soon.
I don't know of any conversation that was reported in the newspaper like that. I just don't know about it.
President Musharraf: I would like to I am launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon and Schuster not to comment on the book before that day. (Laughter.)
President Bush: In other words, buy the book, is what he's saying. (Laughter.)
Is this the first time a head of state has declined to answer a question on the order of a book publisher's publicity department?
Did Armitage actually threaten to bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age? The always perceptive Mickey Kaus has a persuasive explanation:
According to [Hassan] Abbas, Armitage said the U.S. might bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age, not Pakistan. But [Lt. Gen. Mahmood] Ahmed interpreted it as a veiled threat to bomb Pakistan too, and reported as much to Musharraf.
Why would a Pakistani interpret Armitage's comment as a threat to Pakistan? Well, remember that this exchange took place almost immediately after September 11. Pakistan's ISI and military forces, as high officials in Washington and Islamabad both knew, and knew the other knew, had been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. So Armitage's mission was to get Musharraf to reverse that policyand fast, which he did.
I've long thought that Musharraf's decision was prompted by the implicit threat that if Pakistan didn't cooperate with us, we would get India to do sowith huge adverse consequences for Pakistan. I have floated this theory in conversations with Scooter Libby and, I think, Paul Wolfowitz when they were in government, and they threw cold water on it. Nor does Musharraf's account apparently include a threat to go with India against Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the implicit threat, I think, was there. In the years just before the September 11 attacks, the United States had been growing closer to India. Bill Clinton supervised this diplomacy and made an extensive trip to India, the first such trip by an American president in many years. George W. Bush continued to push for closer relations with India and made a point of "dropping in" on a White House meeting between the Indian foreign minister and Condoleezza Rice and talking with him for 45 minutes in, I believe, June 2001.
I think that meeting was on Musharraf's mind in the hours and days just after September 11. It was plain that the United States was determined to go into Afghanistan. And if Pakistan didn't cooperate, then the United States had a ready alternative ally in the regionIndia. Armitage didn't have to threaten to bomb Pakistan or to mention India, and I think it's very likely that he didn't do either. He didn't have to. The threat was there, in plain sight.
I think that history will see the rapprochement and emerging alliance of the United States with India as one of the major foreign policy developments of the post-Cold War era. And I think the Clinton and Bush administrations should receive great credit for bringing this about. Even if they didn't do enough to stop Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda before September 11.