Post editorial repeated Rice's statements denying existence of "a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

The Denver Post uncritically repeated Condoleezza Rice's assertion that the Clinton administration did not give the Bush administration "a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda." But the paper did not note substantial evidence from the 9/11 Commission undermining her assertion.

In a September 27 editorial titled "Terror bickering rings hollow," about the recent exchange between former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over their respective records on anti-terrorism, The Denver Post uncritically repeated Rice's assertion that the Clinton administration did not give the Bush administration "a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda." Without noting the substantial evidence in the 9/11 Commission Report undermining Rice's assertion, the Post editorial stated, "Whatever the truth in such remarks, neither administration did enough to bring bin Laden to justice."

As Media Matters for America has noted, the New York Post uncritically reported Rice's rebuttal on September 26. Rice was responding to Clinton's remarks made during a September 24 airing of a taped interview on Fox News Sunday with host Chris Wallace, in which Clinton said the Bush administration did little to fight Al-Qaeda before 9-11. During the interview, Clinton conceded that he "tried and failed" to stop Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but said that the Bush administration "had eight months to try; they did not try." Clinton further stated, "When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted" by the Bush administration. The Denver Post's editorial repeated Rice's response that "[w]e [the Bush administration] were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda," but it made no effort to assess the veracity of Rice's claim. Rather, the Post simply dismissed the "bickering" between Clinton and Rice by stating, "Whatever the truth in such remarks, neither administration did enough to bring bin Laden to justice."

As Media Matters for America noted, substantial evidence against Rice's claim that the Bush administration never received "a comprehensive strategy to fight Al-Qaeda" is found in a document Rice suggested the New York Post "go back and read": the 9/11 Commission Report. According to the commission's report, a memo known as the "Blue Sky memo" was written in late 2000 as "the counterterrorism policy agenda" the CIA and the National Security Council "would present to the new administration." It was drafted under the assumption that the succeeding administration could enact it barring any clouds of policy or fiscal constraints, hence the name "Blue Sky." Although the Blue Sky memo was not "discussed during the transition [of administrations] with incoming top Bush administration officials," the CIA nonetheless presented its ideas as options to the Bush administration.

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, "[a]s the Clinton administration drew to a close, [counterterrorism czar Richard] Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own, the first such comprehensive effort since the Delenda plan" -- a paper written by Clarke in 1998 laying out a strategy to "immediately eliminate any significant threat to Americans" from the "Bin Ladin network." The commission wrote that the policy paper produced by Clarke in 2000 -- titled "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qida [sic]: Status and Prospects" -- "reviewed the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA's new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options." Clarke, the report noted, submitted his 2000 policy paper to Rice and other senior national security staffers upon making a request for a cabinet-level Principals Committee meeting on Al Qaeda:

Within the first few days after Bush's inauguration, Clarke approached Rice in an effort to get her -- and the new President -- to give terrorism very high priority and to act on the agenda that he had pushed during the last few months of the previous administration. After Rice requested that all senior staff identify desirable major policy reviews or initiatives, Clarke submitted an elaborate memorandum on January 25, 2001. He attached to it his 1998 Delenda Plan and the December 2000 strategy paper. "We urgently need ... a Principals level review on the al Qida network," Clarke wrote. [emphasis in original]

From the September 27 Denver Post editorial:

The finger-pointing over counter-terrorism began Sunday night on Fox News, where Clinton defended his administration's efforts against bin Laden. "We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since," he said. According to the Sept. 11 commission, the Clinton administration devised covert operations to use CIA-paid foreign agents to capture or kill the al-Qaeda leader.

"I tried and I failed to get bin Laden," Clinton said. "I regret it, but I did try, and I did everything I thought I responsibly could."

Clinton also said he "left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy" for Bush's team in 2001, which they ignored. But Rice countered: "We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaeda.

"The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false," she told the New York Post. "What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years."

Whatever the truth in such remarks, neither administration did enough to bring bin Laden to justice. Those efforts, and security in Afghanistan, are unfinished business.

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