CLINTON AND 9/11….Yesterday Madeleine Albright made the obvious point that we didn’t take military action against the Taliban during the Clinton administration because there wasn’t any public support for it. All that changed after 9/11, of course, but Peter Feaver writing in the Washington Post isn’t convinced:
Even if President Clinton wanted to conduct military operations against al Qaeda, he was simply too weak a commander in chief to prevail over a military that wanted nothing to do with a war in Afghanistan.
….Albright is correct that Operation Enduring Freedom, the campaign to topple the Taliban, was not possible with a commander in chief who was afraid to lead the public to accept the human costs of war.
This suggests, however, that the critical event was not simply Sept. 11, 2001, which changed the public’s perceptions, but also the 2000 election, which changed the commander in chief. President Bush came into office convinced that the casualty phobia of his predecessor had made America a tempting target, a paper tiger. When terrorists struck the twin towers and the Pentagon, Bush interpreted it as proof that America looked weak.
It’s hard to overstate just how bitter, blinkered, and insulting this is. The military would have refused to invade Afganistan because they hated Clinton so much? Clinton would have been too cowardly to lead the public to war after a massive attack on American soil? Bush came into office determined to project American force abroad and not worry so much about casualties?
There is zero evidence for any of this. Of course the military would have gone into Afghanistan with all guns blazing if that’s what Clinton had ordered. Hell, they probably would have mutinied if he hadn’t. Of course Clinton would have ordered an invasion after 9/11, especially given that every one of our allies actively supported the idea along with 90% of the American public, who, pace Feaver, were mostly critical only of the fact that it was taking all of four weeks to launch the bombing runs. And there is no reason at all to think that Bush came into office determined to worry less about military casualties. Just the opposite, in fact. Prior to 9/11 he had been generally critical of Clinton’s interventions abroad.
Clinton supported both the Afghanistan invasion and the Iraq war. Why? Because of 9/11.
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who insist that 9/11 changed everything but then turn right around and insist that, really, 9/11 didn’t change anything: Clinton probably would have just lobbed a few cruise missiles into Tora Bora and gone about rebuilding Ground Zero.
Which is it?