Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2001 / 2 Teves, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- IT wasn't just that NBC's Tim Russert was throwing softballs last Sunday to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, on "Meet the Press." Indeed, as The New York Times noted, Russert's questions "were not all softballs." This is true. Some of his questions were big, shiny beach balls that Clinton could lob back and never see followed-up on again.
Russert began by quoting a statement by Mrs. Clinton regarding the Clinton administration's efforts against terrorism: "We did what needed to be done and could be done," Mrs. Clinton said recently, adding Clintonesquely, "but it was not near enough of what should have been done." Logically enough, Russert asked, "What more should have been done?"
Two hundred and three words later, Clinton may have stopped talking but she still hadn't answered the question. She was too busy elaborating on having done "what needed to be done and could be done" to entertain notions of "what should have been done." The bottom line: "I know that fighting terrorism and going after bin Laden was a top priority of the Clinton administration," she said.
Here was a whopper. Even the most die-hard Clintonista won't say that in the dark. As Russert did point out, USA Today, hardly a vast right-wing conspirator, recently noted the Clinton administration's reluctance to focus on the terrorist threat in an article titled "Why Clinton Failed to Stop Bin Laden," reporting: "Even Clinton's defenders acknowledge that, for much of his tenure, fighting terrorism wasn't his highest priority." Certainly, fighting terrorism wasn't the all-out war that fighting Kenneth Starr was -- or even Linda Tripp.
Which was no secret. From as far away as Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin noticed American disinterest. Bill Clinton "was in a very difficult position," he told ABC's Barbara Walters last month, alluding to the Lewinsky affair. "But even at that time, we certainly were counting on a more active cooperation in combating international terrorism." Former administration insiders say much the same thing. "Clearly, not enough was done," former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick told the Boston Globe in late September. "We should have caught this." Even former Clinton National Security Council aide Nancy Soderberg, still insisting that the Lewinsky matter never distracted her former boss, admitted, "In hindsight, it [the effort against terrorism] wasn't enough, and anyone involved in the policy would have to admit that."
Come to think of it, anyone not involved in the policy would have to admit it. Mrs. Clinton happens to fit both categories. One moment the junior senator from New York was expounding on "secret presidential directives," the next minute she was feigning ignorance of the particulars. "Well," she began (as is her custom) in response to whether recent critiques of the Clinton anti-terrorism record were fair, "I don't think it's fair. I don't think that's an accurate rendering of what did happen. But, you know, I don't know all the details." Please.
Russert passed on to one final terrorism question. After the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, he wondered, should the United States have declared war on terrorism? "A lot was done," Mrs. Clinton replied, grasping at straws -- rather, citing a trip she said her husband made to the United Nations and "several" international summits on the subject. "But, you know, if you go back and look at the context, there was not the support in this country for the steps that were needed."
Eureka. Mrs. Clinton, despite herself, finally said a mouthful. She's absolutely right that public opinion was not behind a war on terrorism in the middle to late 1990s. But that doesn't mean a war on terrorism shouldn't have been envisioned, planned and fought. But such an effort -- even on a smaller scale than the current war -- would have required the kind of leadership that molds public opinion, not follows it. Unhappily for the nation, that's not the kind of leadership we
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.