John’s absolutely right. “The Path to 9/11″ is something people should watch and judge for themselves.
It is a dramatized version of history. Consequently, it’s going to rankle occasionally because some events are compressed, and some characters are either composite, or – like the FBI’s John O’Neill and the journalist John Miller — over-emphasized for dramatic purposes. It is also very heavily influenced by former White House counterterrorism coordinator Dick Clarke and the 9/11 Commission. As someone who lived a lot of this history, there is, for my taste, a little too much Clarke and O’Neill as Cassandra while all the blithering idiots around them fail to appreciate the jihadist threat.
But those are quibbles. It is generally good history and accurately conveys the excruciating missed opportunities. It is not partisan. The Bush administration is portrayed as just as asleep-at-the-switch as the Clinton administration — particularly in the person of then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (the Clarke influence really comes through here).
The fact, though, is that Clinton had eight times as long as Bush to deal with this crisis, and his administration’s performance was wanting. They did some good things – the terror prosecutions were successful if ineffectual, and the 1996 anti-terror legislation was excellent — it is still more important than the Patriot Act in terms of counterterrorism enforcement. But they also dropped the ball very badly in several places. The Wall was an unmitigated disaster, and the Clinton administration simply had other priorities — concerns over hypothetical civil liberties problems, the quest to solve the Israeli/Palestinian issue, worries over what the “international community” would say if America took decisive action against bin Laden in Sudan or Afghanistan – that caused them to subordinate the al Qaeda threat.
It doesn’t mean President Clinton didn’t care about the bin Laden threat. I think he cared deeply about it. I think President Bush cares deeply about the Iranian threat. But history is not about our hearts; it’s about our actions.
And the people trying to smear this film are the same ones who insist the Bush administration had bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora and incompetently let him get away. If we have to listen to that riff, is it not at least equally appropriate to point out that: bin Laden was a big problem from at least 1996 on; that he was placed under indictment in Spring 1998 to facilitate his capture; that he thereafter bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the U.S.S. Cole, and probably had a hand in the Millennium plot against LA Int’l Airport (to say nothing of the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing); and that the Clinton administration did not take the actions necessary to stop him despite knowing where bin Laden was and having several opportunities to capture or kill him?
That’s how it happened, like it or not.