And I’m just saying, you know, if I were Osama bin Laden–he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him–and I nearly got him once. I nearly got him. 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.–Bill Clinton, September 10, 2001
Twenty years ago today, Bill Clinton spoke before an audience of businessmen in Melbourne, Australia. The recorded audio was not released until many years later, and then, one day, suddenly it was. Here it is. And while I note that the conclusion of the sycophantic flaks’ reportage was that Clinton’s “judgment was vindicated” because (it was later suggested) bin Laden might have left the building a few minutes before the proposed strike, I don’t see that consideration playing into Clinton’s decision, based on his own accounting of it.
From the article with the details (emphasis my own):
According to the 9/11 Commission Report [which details several other credible opportunities for the West to “get” bin Laden], national security officials decided to forgo a missile strike on the region in December of 1998 out of concerns about collateral damage, including 200 to 300 civilian casualties. Some lower-level officials in the government thought that number was exaggerated and were angry when the Joint Chiefs of Staff advised the president against a strike.
This tension between “lower-level officials” and those “in charge” is highlighted several times throughout the 9/11 Commission Report, quite starkly here (page 121):
*Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe; Richard Clarke, Special Assistant to the President; Allen Holmes, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict; and Jan Lodal, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The note attached to this passage indicates that the “forgotten” DOD memo, “Towards a More Aggressive Counterterrorism Posture,” was authored by Thomas Kuster, a civil servant and former special forces officer.
Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose. (“For those of you in Rio Linda,” as Rush might have said, that means “stupid is as stupid does.” Or, more literally, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”)
Joint Chiefs of Staff and Career Diplomats: Giving US Presidents dubious advice, year in and year out, for at least the past two decades.
Moral of the story: With military strategy, as with nutrition, sometimes better results are achieved by paying attention to what’s at the lower end of the food chain, rather than to the effete, elite, expensive, and highly-processed product near the top.
Had things been different, had U.S. strategy towards the rising terrorist threat evolved, had Clinton acted successfully on any of his opportunities to take out the Al Qaeda leader, would the events of September 11 have unfolded as they did? Perhaps. Perhaps not. All we’ll ever really know is that, just hours after Clinton’s remarks on September 10, 2001, the “very smart guy” he didn’t kill in 1998, or at any other time, changed–and not in a good way–world history forever.