Not So Tough on Terror?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, September 26, 2006; 1:36 PM

President Bush's all-important terror-fighting credentials are taking a bruising this week.

Former President Clinton has revived charges that Bush didn't take the threat of terrorism seriously enough before Sept. 11.

And an intelligence report indicates that Bush's signature response to terror since the attacks -- invading Iraq -- has actually backfired.

The result: A potential erosion of Bush's strongest political suit -- at the worst possible moment for a White House already fearful of losing Republican majorities in Congress in November.

Pre-9/11 Thinking

The subject of Bush's inaction on terror before 9/11 roared back into public consciousness over the weekend, when Clinton responded to conservative attempts to blame him for not having prevented the al Qaeda attack.

Here's the transcript and video of Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News.

Clinton said he came "closer to killing" Osama bin Laden in a 1998 missile strike on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan than anybody has since.

"I didn't get him," Clinton said. "But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried.

"So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted."

White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend, appearing on CNN yesterday afternoon with Wolf Blitzer, issued a classic non-denial denial.

"BLITZER: Let me go back to the first eight months of the Bush administration. We heard over the weekend former President Clinton suggests the CIA and the FBI had certified at the end of his administration that al Qaeda was, in fact, responsible for the attack on the USS Cole. That when President Bush came into office, he was told this, yet, he didn't do anything between the time he took office and 9/11 to go after al Qaeda, even though he knew that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack of the USS Cole. Do you want to respond to that?

"TOWNSEND: I do, Wolf. You know, the notion that anybody is not doing all they could do to combat the war on terrorism, to defeat al Qaeda and prevent the next attack is just offensive."

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