Former President Bill Clinton appears in a new Obama campaign ad suggesting that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would not have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, even though Clinton himself repeatedly spurned opportunities to capture or kill the 9/11 mastermind.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Washington Free Beacon that Clinton’s appearance in the ad was "just astonishing."
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"It’s pretty preposterous to suggest that he ran an aggressive counter-terrorism shop," Gerecht said of Clinton. "Far, far from it. The notion that President Clinton was focused on the issue, was aggressive on the issue and was willing to really put his presidency on the line to go after bin Laden is absurd."
In a 2006 interview on Fox News Sunday, Clinton animatedly claimed he "worked hard to try to kill [bin Laden]."
The facts suggest otherwise.
Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in 2002 that Clinton "spurned Sudan's offer [in 1996] to hand over bin Laden because the United States lacked enough evidence to indict him."
This, Polman noted, would prompt Mansoor Ijez, a Clinton friend who had sought to negotiate the deal with Sudan, to lament, "Clinton's failure to grasp the opportunity … represents one of the most serious policy failures in American history."
Clinton, however, defended his actions in a 2004 Vanity Fair interview. "At the time, in 1996, [bin Laden] had committed no crimes against America," Clinton said, "so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he wanted to commit crimes against America."
According to the official 9/11 Commission Report, the CIA received intelligence in May 1996 suggesting bin Laden was leaving Sudan. Despite "high concern" about bin Laden’s status at the time, no effort was taken to locate or capture him because "there was no indictment against him."
In 1998, following a series of bombing at U.S. embassies in Africa, which bin Laden helped plan, Clinton launched series of failed missile strikes that may have narrowly missed bin Laden in Afghanistan, even though the terrorist leader was not "specifically targeted." The former president "looked weak," Polman wrote, for "failing to follow up."
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson, author of Dereliction of Duty, recounted an instance in the fall of 1998 when Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger scrambled to notify the president that bin Laden and had been located and the military had "a two-hour window to strike."
[Berger] picked up the phone at one of the busy controller consoles and called the president. Amazingly, President Clinton was not available. Berger tried again and again. Bin Laden was within striking distance. The window of opportunity was closing fast. The plan of attack was set and the Tomahawk [missile] crews were ready. For about an hour Berger couldn’t get the commander in chief on the line…
Finally, the president accepted Berger’s call. There was discussion, there were pauses – and no decision. The president wanted to talk with his secretaries of Defense and State. He wanted to study the issue further. Berger was forced to wait. The clock was ticking. The president eventually called back. He was still indecisive. He wanted more discussion…
In 2005, Berger was fined $50,000 and sentenced to community service for illegally removing and destroying highly classified documents from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The documents contained information about terror threats during the 2000 millennium celebration that were linked to bin Laden.
Berger initially claimed it was an "honest mistake."
Bin Laden is evidently a sensitive topic for the former president, as evidenced by a testy interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace in 2006, in which a visibly irritated Clinton rejected the contention that he didn’t do enough to catch the terrorist and accused the George W. Bush administration of not even trying to get bin Laden.
"I didn’t get [bin Laden], but at least I tried," Clinton said. "That’s the difference between me and some, including all of 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."
The campaign ad created a controversy, given President Obama’s previous pledge not to "spike the football" by politicizing bin Laden’s death.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) blasted the ad as a "pathetic political act of self-congratulation."
"Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad," McCain said in a statement. "This is the same president who said, after bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn't ‘spike the ball' after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get reelected."