Bill Kristol writes that Bill Clinton “inherited a hard-won peace, failed to lead, and part of his legacy is 9/11.” 9/11 is, of course, shorthand for the events of September 11, 2001 at which point Clinton hadn’t been in office for months. Condoleezza Rice, writing for the Bush campaign in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs said a lack of prioritization was a problem with the Clinton administration’s foreign policy and that “a Republican administration should refocus the country on key priorities: building a military ready to ensure American power, coping with rogue regimes, and managing Beijing and Moscow.”
In other words, Bush came into office determined to reduce the level of attention given to al-Qaeda. And boy did they! Richard Clarke’s strategy for stepped-up efforts against al-Qaeda, developed in the waning days of the Clinton administration, was put on the back burner in favor of this approach:
The book’s opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush’s Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president’s attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.”
Clearly inattention to the problem is Clinton’s fault. Or, you might want to look in the direction of neoconservatism. Robert Kagan published an edited volume called Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy in November 2000. It contains fifteen chapters, none of which are about al-Qaeda. Indeed, the term “al-Qaeda” doesn’t appear in the book on the list of threats. One chapter does refer to “Usama bin Laden” in order to suggest that the Clinton administration was over-hyping bin Laden in order to downplay the threat from Iran. Terrorism is discussed in the book as a tool of Iranian or Chinese (?) policy, but not at all as a non-state phenomenon or in relationship to Afghanistan. Needless to say, there’s lots about Iraq, a whole chapter on “Will and Power,” and several invocations of the evils of appeasement.