October 29, 2003,
What warning? That's what head-scratching Bush-administration officials were wondering after Bill Clinton said a week or so ago that he had warned incoming President George W. Bush about the threat from Osama bin Laden.
According to Clinton's account, he tried to convince Bush to abandon his other national-security priorities to focus on al Qaeda during an "exit interview" with the newly elected president. "In his campaign, Bush had said he thought the biggest security issue was Iraq and national missile defense," Clinton remarked. "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden." Clinton maintained that his inability to budge Bush was "one of the two or three of the biggest disappointments that I had."
This is almost certainly a lie. A Bush official familiar with the meeting and its content says it focused on other foreign and domestic matters. According to the official, if al Qaeda came up at all, it was in passing as President Clinton lobbied Bush on other matters, most importantly North Korea.
Clinton thought it was crucial that Bush maintain his administration's soft-touch approach to North Korea even though as we would learn soon enough Pyongyang had already made a mockery of Clinton's 1994 Agreed Framework by starting a secret nuclear program. Clinton also made pleas for his pet domestic programs.
The Clinton misstatement of his posture in that "exit interview" is part of the attempted revisionism by the Clinton team of its terrorism record (which I dissect in my new book Legacy). This effort reached its previous height in a Time magazine cover story in August 2002 that reported that there was a Clinton "plan" to fight al Qaeda that was passed along to the Bush team.
This too proved false. A former Clinton official told NR's Byron York after the Time report: "It was certainly not a formal war plan. We wouldn't have characterized it as a formal war plan." In testimony before Congress, former Clinton national-security adviser Sandy Berger said the same thing: "There was no war plan that we turned over to the Bush administration during the transition. And the reports of that are just incorrect."
In any case, Clinton's "plan" now is to find every opportunity to try to divert attention from his failures in the war on terror. Consider yourself warned . . .