Bill Clinton, September 10, 2001: I could have killed Bin Laden once but called it off because of civilian casualties

posted at 12:41 pm on July 31, 2014 by Allahpundit

A time capsule from Australia via MSNBC, captured for posterity at what would have been around 11 p.m. New York time. The hijackers may have been ritually shaving themselves as he said it. Previewing the audio, the host says Clinton “almost brags” about his decision. Of course he does; at the time, it would have been a no-brainer for a politician to congratulate himself for sparing a terrorist in the name of also sparing dozens (or, if you believe Clinton, hundreds) of civilians, even if that terrorist was responsible for the U.S.S. Cole attack. Twenty-four hours later, I guarantee you he wasn’t bragging anymore. In fact, you can draw a straight line from this audio to America’s drone policy today. These 20 seconds or so are precisely why Obama ended up pulling the trigger on Anwar al-Awlaki and why he continues to pull the trigger on Al Qaeda’s bigger fish even if it means incinerating civilians in Waziristan or Yemen in the process. He’s never going to let a statement like this come back to haunt him. Post-9/11, when you’ve got a big fish on the hook, you reel him in come what may. A presidency can survive anger from doves and civil libertarians that the White House was overly aggressive in targeting jihadis. It can’t survive having skyscrapers knocked over by someone who, you’re sheepishly forced to admit, you had a clear shot at killing years before. By the same token, if the FBI had announced on the morning of 9/11 that they’d busted a spectacular Al Qaeda plot to fly planes into the Twin Towers, plenty of people would have chortled that that’s the most ludicrous, Michael Bay-ish nonsense yet cooked up by a government eager to find pretexts to roll back civil liberties. There’s a reason why the term “September 10th mentality” exists, and Bill Clinton’s not the only one who was guilty of it.

To be fair to the guy, I’m willing to believe he’d like a do-over on this today. Or am I being too fair? A Twitter buddy reminds me that, according to Michael Scheuer, Clinton’s administration had “about 10 chances” to kill Bin Laden in 1998 and 1999 and passed on all of them because the intelligence supposedly wasn’t good enough. I’d also like to know more specifics of what Clinton says here about his best shot at OBL. He says he could have taken him out in a “little town” called Kandahar in Afghanistan but would have killed 300 people in the process. But Kandahar’s not a little town; it’s a city, population 500,000. Is he thinking, perhaps, of … Tarnak Farms? Tarnak Farms was located near Kandahar but it wasn’t a “little town.” It was Bin Laden’s training camp for terrorists. There may have been women and children there, but you could have cut a swath through AQ by bombing it at the time. In fact, the CIA might have had Osama himself onscreen from drone surveillance in 2000; drones weren’t equipped with missiles at the time, but an airstrike could have been called in. Is that what Clinton’s thinking of here? Any enterprising reporters out there want to ask him?

Here’s the clip. Click the image to watch, then skip to 5:30 for the key audio. Exit question: Clinton says at one point that, had he bombed Bin Laden with civilians around him, “I would have been no better than him.” Does he still feel that way? Does he think Obama is no better than Al Qaeda for trying to neutralize threats from terrorists who take civilians as their main targets? Does Hillary think that? It’s 3 a.m. and the phone is ringing.


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Comment pages: 1 2

“But I would have killed 300 people.”

Define “people”. And all the other shots you a) failed to take, and b) blew, spectacularly.

Recon5 on July 31, 2014 at 6:39 PM

“But I would have killed 300 people.”

Define “people”. And all the other shots you a) failed to take, and b) blew, spectacularly.

Recon5 on July 31, 2014 at 6:39 PM

Fitting word for a Bill Clinton late 90’s thread!

Del Dolemonte on July 31, 2014 at 8:24 PM

Well now we know how Bill And Hillary Clinton worked their way out of poverty…

State Department approved 215 Bill Clinton speeches, controversial consulting deal, worth $48m; Hillary Clinton’s COS copied on all decisions

That Hillary is still considered a potential Presidential candidate is astounding.

wren on July 31, 2014 at 9:56 PM

“I would have been no better than him.”

Yet another example of his narcissism. All about him and his precious feelings and image. A real president wouldn’t care if he was “no better than him” if it saved American lives.

Pervygrin on July 31, 2014 at 10:39 PM

The Pussy has spoken.

Another Drew on August 1, 2014 at 2:21 AM

A direct line should be made from this video to the fighting in Gaza today. “Yes, some civilian lives might be lost in our actions, but we are saving countless more civilian lives in the future by taking out these terrorists today.”

Theophile on August 1, 2014 at 4:26 AM

This must have been mentioned already upthread, but….

Can you imagine what would have been the reporting if a republican had said this the day before the target he let get away (10 TIMES!!!) murdered 3000 Americans? Can you imagine it taking 13 YEARS for that tape to surface? More like 13 minutes, and those who let it collect dust that long would have been fired immediately.

runawayyyy on August 1, 2014 at 8:44 AM

“…..but we could never locate him near aspirin or milk factories in the middle of the night, so there was no way I could taken him out”

BobMbx on August 1, 2014 at 11:05 AM

Depending on the date, even if he’d gotten OBL, the plot may have already been far enough along that if wouldn’t have mattered.

Ward Cleaver on August 1, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Comment pages: 1 2