Would things be any different had Gore been President? Wouldn’t 9-11 have still happened?

Perhaps not, according to mainstream media source Time Magazine. In their article, They Had A Plan [requires paid subscription], they explain why: After the bombing of the USS Cole the Clinton Administration had drawn up a comprehensive plan for fighting Al-Qaeda. But they didn’t want to execute it with a new President taking office in a few months, so they briefed Bush’s team at the highest levels and told them how important it was that they carry it out. And then Bush did nothing.

Here are the relevant quotes:

[Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy] Berger says he told [his successor, Bush’s Condoleezza Rice], “I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.”
The terrorism briefing was delivered by Richard Clarke, [] who had served in the first Bush Administration and risen [] to become the White House’s point man on terrorism. [He was] chair of the interagency Counter-Terrorism Security Group (CSG)[…]. Since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole […] he had been working on an aggressive plan to take the fight to al-Qaeda. […] Berger and the principals decided to shelve the plan and let the next Administration take it up. With less than a month left in office, they did not think it appropriate to launch a major initiative against Osama bin Laden. “We would be handing [the Bush Administration] a war when they took office on Jan. 20,” says a former senior Clinton aide. “That wasn’t going to happen.” Now it was up to Rice’s team to consider what Clarke had put together.
Clarke’s proposals called for the “breakup” of al-Qaeda cells and the arrest of their personnel. The financial support for its terrorist activities would be systematically attacked, its assets frozen, its funding from fake charities stopped. Nations where al-Qaeda was causing trouble — Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Yemen — would be given aid to fight the terrorists. Most important, Clarke wanted to see a dramatic increase in covert action in Afghanistan to “eliminate the sanctuary” where al-Qaeda had its terrorist training camps and bin Laden was being protected by the radical Islamic Taliban regime. […] In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.”


An aggressive campaign to degrade the terrorist network worldwide — to shut down the conveyor belt of recruits coming out of the Afghan camps, to attack the financial and logistical support on which the hijackers depended — just might have rendered it incapable of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. Perhaps some of those who had to approve the operation might have been killed, or the money trail to Florida disrupted. We will never know, because we never tried. This is the secret history of that failure.

This isn’t some low-level employee talking after-the-fact. This is a comprehensive plan at the highest levels of government, with the greatest stress, simply not carried out.

So what was Bush doing instead of cracking down on terrorism? Well, we now know he was busy planning to invade Iraq.

(Thanks to Al Franken’s book for drawing this to my attention.)

posted January 16, 2004 12:18 PM (Politics) (19 comments) #


Shorter Paul O’Neill
Jefferson: Nature Wants Information to Be Free
C-SPAN Crossfire
Shorter George Lakoff: The Framing of Politics
Bush Fear
The Clinton-Gore Plan to Stop Al-Qaeda: Would 9-11 have happened?
Suspected Terrorist
TV Update: Monk back, 24 bad, American Beauty great, Zim good
Unintelligent Design
Shorter State of the Union
Liberate Libertarianism


Please. Let’s not talk about Clinton have Osama in his sights and letting him walk away.

Every Democrat I have heard talk on the subject is GLAD that Al Gore was not president when 9/11 happened.

Amazingly, the Clinton administration didn’t even designate Afghanistan a state sponsor of terror. That would have been too bellicose. By 2000, various government reports had recommended what were consensus measures to address the terror threat, from squeezing state sponsors of terror, to cutting off funding, to tightening visa policy, to loosening restrictions on the CIA and FBI. Clinton did none of it.

He was, fundamentally, the do-nothing president about terrorism, although he knew — as he tells us now — the grave nature of the threat. It was Bush who could have told Clinton a few things about how to respond to terror in their exit interview, since his instincts were so much sounder. After the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, Bush as a candidate said that “there must be a consequence.” Common sense, right? Not for Clinton. He let the attack go unanswered.

posted by at January 16, 2004 12:42 PM #

Well if you’re going to say that the Clinton admin missed the boat on terrorism, it’s worth noting the Bush admin gave the Taliban $43 million in May of 2001, because they attempted to curtail opium production:

“That’s the message sent with the recent gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent anti-American violators of human rights in the world today. The gift, announced last Thursday by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in addition to other recent aid, makes the U.S. the main sponsor of the Taliban and rewards that “rogue regime” for declaring that opium growing is against the will of God. So, too, by the Taliban’s estimation, are most human activities, but it’s the ban on drugs that catches this administration’s attention.” (— http://www.robertscheer.com/1natcolumn/01columns/052201.htm)

I would expect small government conservatives should be shocked to know that the Bush admin’s focus on expanding their governmental war on drugs was so great they literally gave millions to the enemy of the state. Wonder if any of that $43 million wound up in Osama’s hands? I know I wonder it sometimes.

posted by Matt at January 16, 2004 01:59 PM #

I think you’re wrong, Matt. Read these to see why (from a site that attacks spin coming from both sides of the political spectrum):

http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20011008.html http://www.spinsanity.org/posts/200106-3.html#12a

posted by Guy at January 16, 2004 02:26 PM #

The only reason for democrats to be glad Gore wasn’t president on 9/11, assuming for the sake of argument that it couldn’t have been prevented, is that the media would have blamed it on Gore. They were much harder on him than on Bush.

After the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, Bush as a candidate said that “there must be a consequence.” Common sense, right? Not for Clinton. He let the attack go unanswered

And Bush got into office and the consequence was “Operation Ignore”. Ms. Anonymous Poster, do you really believe that launching a war in October of an election year against an unclear target is a good idea anyway? It seems that Aaron is trying to say that the Clinton administration had a plan laid out for the incoming administration to follow.

Saying “there must be a response” and then not saying what that response ought to be is dishonest. Not responding once you have the power to do so (when Bush took office) is hypocritical. Responding primarily against the wrong guy (Saddam) is dangerously stupid.

posted by bryguy at January 16, 2004 02:28 PM #

An anonymous commenter wrote:

Every Democrat I have heard talk on the subject is GLAD that Al Gore was not president when 9/11 happened.

Actually, I am even more glad that Lieberman was far far away from office at that time. If he was in office, every anti-semitic group would come out of the woodwork to announce that 9/11 was “caused” by having a Jew in office.

However, the fact is that even if Gore was in office and 9/11 did occur, it would be a very differnt event than what we had. Chances are that we would already be in a full-scale assult on terrorism before September (a multilaterial “police action” naturally done with real allies and through the UN, not a war). There is no way of knowning if our forces would have been in the right place at the right time and stopped the specific persons responcible for 9/11, but it is clear that 9/11 would have been a “wake-up call” but instead a terrible attack that highlights the importance of continuing efforts to disband terrorist groups worldwide.

posted by at January 16, 2004 11:41 PM #

If Gore was elected, right now the United States would be Al-Queda’s bitch…

posted by Matt at January 17, 2004 10:37 AM #

If Gore was elected, right now the United States would be Al-Queda’s bitch…

How so? The Clinton adminstration was slated as focusing to tightly on combatting Al’Queda, and then when the Bush admin entered office they ignored specific terror threat warnings.

Even if 9/11 had happened under Gore, he would have fought the Afghanistan war. The Clinton/Gore White House hit back at Al’Queda previously, so what makes you think they wouldn’t have done the same again.

posted by Dave at January 18, 2004 09:03 AM #

Can everyone please drop the notion that Clinton could have had Bin Laden? It is an assertion by Mansoor Ijaz, a Fox News commentator, which has been denied by both Sandy Berger and Yemen’s government. Berger is on the record that there were low-level talks that were pursued and led nowhere. It is NOT TRUE. But hey, the right wing is happy to repeat many lies so why not this one too.

posted by noam chimpsky at January 18, 2004 07:42 PM #

great entry!

posted by john a at January 19, 2004 09:04 AM #

Clinton treated terrorist acts as crimes to be prosecuted by the Attorney General. He did not want to respond to them as acts of war because that would have put a damper on his feel-good decade.

The 1993 WTC bombing was likely state sponsored by Iraq or Iran but the Clinton administration did not pursue the issue. He put a few low-level operatives in jail and called it a day.

Clinton had a terrible relationship with his military commanders and also with the CIA. He was focused on domestic policy to the extend he was not focused on sexual gratification for himself.

posted by Green Garden at January 21, 2004 12:16 PM #

No, if President Gore hadn’t had the election ripped away by the Floria fiasco, I have little doubt 9/11 would not be in the history books. He wouldn’t have been clearing brush when reports streamed in all summer long that hijackings were imminent. Remember Asscrack not flying commercial all summer? The Pentagon generals who cancelled their commercial flights the morning of 9/11? Gore would’ve told the airlines about it and just as Clinton prevented Operation Bojinka, Gore would’ve foiled the 9/11 attacks. No doubt. Bush is the one that ALLOWED this crime to happen. This happened on BUSH’s watch, not Gore. And Bush used it to launch an unrelated illegal war, cut our freedoms, and exploit it for slimy political gain. Bush is the worst president ever!

posted by Realistically Speaking at January 26, 2004 08:33 PM #

Have those people that keep claiming that Clinton was ineffective against al-Qaeda and that Gore would have been also even read the facts? What on earth does it take to get them to question their preconceived notions? The Bush administration ignored the terrorist threat after the Clinton/Gore administration handed them a plan on a platter that they had developed: the Bush administration can not deny this fact. The Bush administration was NOT focused on terrorism as the biggest national threat, and did practically nothing until 9/11 when they suddenly saw that the previous administration was right. What did Bush do for the first 9 months? And if you are going to quote him as saying ?there must be a consequence.? after the USS Cole attack don’t you kind of have to think about the fact that he didn’t do anything? He had far more time than Clinton didn’t he?

And you don’t actually have to take some liberal’s word for it, just look at the facts - instead of the spin you would prefer to hear - and think it out for yourself. This isn’t a football game where you cheer your team no matter how incompetent they are, this is the life or death of thousands of people.

Would Gore have done better to prevent 9/11? We can’t know either way. There is a pretty good argument that he would have because the Clinton administration was focused on the threat; still, trying to read a hypothetical future is pointless because it will probably be wrong. But facts show that now we are less safe against terrorists than before Bush got into office. Bush’s plan has increased the number of terrorists (read the paper!), has increased the number of terrorist attacks (read the paper!), and set you and me and every other US Citizen up as a targets by pursuing the war on Iraq which he was planning while he should have been worrying about Osama.

The facts are available, you don’t have to read the spin from either side to come to a conclusion. And if any of you think the war in Iraq had anything to do with preventing terrorism I would really like to know what information you have because I fear that the reason so many people connect Iraq with terrorism is because the citizens of Iraq are mostly Arab and they think all Arab are terrorists (this used to be called ignorant bigotry not patriotism.)

Just one more point: thank you Guy for pointing out the spinsanity site’s facts on the Afghanistan Aid package. Real facts are always useful. And I’m sorry for ranting so long…

posted by rgill at January 30, 2004 03:13 PM #

How convenient that Clinton-Gore had “a plan”. They spent 8 years doing nothing about Islamist terror, then they came up with “a plan” that they handed off to the next guy to implement.

I can only imagine how you lefties would have screeched had President Bush gone to war against terrorists pre 9/11. If you won’t allow him to use military force in the current situation, then certainly you’d have gone off the deep end had he taken the offensive earlier.

posted by Green Garden at January 31, 2004 11:13 PM #

Oh, I don’t buy this at all. Clinton could have had Bin Laden, but let him go. That is so well documented I needn’t say more.

posted by Bob Kerstetter at February 3, 2004 02:28 PM #

I was not glad Bush was in office when 911 happened. I was wishing Gore was there instead. Deep down I knew Bush would start a war and I was right. I was against the way he went about it from the very start. I think Gore would have had much more backing from other countries before starting a war.

posted by FraZZleD at February 24, 2004 06:58 PM #

Right above is a perfect example of “don’t confuse me with facts, I have my own” type of thinking. Referring to Bob Kerstetter and some others. The facts are at the top of this page, Bob! And then you say it’s all well documented, you don’t need to say more. Well, you sure convinced me with that factless charge! Some people just can’t accept when they or their heroes are wrong.

If 9/11 hadn’t of happened, no one would be hindsighting at the last decade of attacks as sure fire indicators something big was going to happen. The Clinton plan seems reasonable to me, as is letting the next administration taking it up, or modifying it. Unlike the PNAC Puppet in the White House, Clinton presumably did not think open warfare was the correct response, and especially in Iraq.

Looks like he was right.


posted by pzo at February 27, 2004 08:12 PM #

The reason the Bush administration stopped the war on terror in Afghanistan and attacked Iraq was not because of his desire for democracy. “Its the oil stupid!!!”. If it comes to a choice between oil and democracy the Republicans will choose oil any time. Eisenhower overthrew the duly elected prime minister in Iran replacing him with the tyrannical Shah because of oil. Nixon even supported the thug Saddam Hussein to overthrow the government for oil. In all fairness, these actions protect the interest of all Americans in that they have a secure source of oil. Never mind that the cronies of the Republicans make billions of dollars at the sake of others lives.

posted by Dan Hennigan at March 20, 2004 09:13 AM #

It appears as though we have gotten into a ?he woulda - he coulda? battle of words. Fact is Clinton was NOT in the White House on 9/11 and hadn?t been for 8 months. Fact is Bush put out a ?Stand down? order against binLaden, meaning CIA, etc. had to keep their hands off. Fact is, Bush threw the Rudman-Hart 2 years of study during the Clinton years on terrorism into the trash, stating that Dick Cheney would be responsible for taking up that. Fact is, Dick Cheney never had any meeting on the subject. Fact is without a thorough investigation of 9/11, are we certain al Qaeda was responsible? I know we have been told that, but this administration has told the American people many things that have been proven to be false. Fact is, even if al Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 the invasion of Afghanistan was illegal. Bush had no authority to declare war as only Congress can give him that authority and under the US Constitution this situation did not give them the power to do so as al Qaeda is nothing more than a group of hired militia, they are not a nation or government of a nation, but rather financed and supported from a variety of nations, including the United States. Fact is, rather than being considered as a great protector Bush should be tried as a war criminal.

posted by Denek at March 23, 2004 07:58 AM #

Now That The Truth Has Been Told about 9-11-01 now maybe the World Can Get together I still feel bad about it and still pray for Falmaies that lost loved one that day but Now US knows the Truth and Well BUSH Know And Did Nothing To Stop 9-11-01 Now He Has The Blood Of Our People On His Hands and God Have Pitty On Him God Bless Lisa Leed

posted by Lisa Leeds at March 30, 2004 11:58 AM #

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