Terrorism: A Tale of Two Presidents
October 29, 2019
It was just hours before two hijacked planes cut through the New York sky on that bright September day. Former president Bill Clinton was in Australia, talking to a group of businessmen, when the topic turned to terrorism. “I spend a lot of time thinking about him,” the 42nd president said about Osama bin Laden. “I nearly got him once,” he admitted. “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but… I didn’t do it.” Turns out, the world didn’t need that confirmation. The next day, it had its own: 2,977 people, dead at the hands of the terrorist mastermind.
History is a harsh judge. Long after they leave office, our presidents don’t just answer for the decisions they made—but the ones they didn’t. When Bill Clinton had a chance to rid the world of Osama bin Laden, he worried more about the political fallout of taking the risk than the real-life consequences of ignoring it. “I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan,” he told the room in Melbourne, “and kill 300 innocent [people].” Little did he know that three years later, the shot he didn’t take would lead to the worst attack on U.S. soil in American history.
According to Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 report, Bill Clinton had not one—but nine chances—to eliminate bin Laden. The one he mentioned in Australia happened to correspond with the Clinton impeachment hearings, when he was being investigated for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Still, he was given actionable intelligence that bin Laden was at a meeting in the desert. And instead of acting, he hesitated. In various accounts of that day, people wonder if it was really the collateral damage that worried Clinton or his political vulnerability. Either way, he walked away—and America paid the price.
Years later, in a very similar situation, President Trump made a different choice. With impeachment charges swirling and the media ready to pounce, this White House never blinked. At a very dangerous time in our country, the president stayed focused on the mission at hand—making it clear that his priority wasn’t politics but America’s protection. We may never know how many lives President Trump and the U.S. military spared by hunting down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—and anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 will tell you: we don’t want to know. But by any measure, it was significant.
This is a terrorist, our own Lt. General Jerry Boykin warned, who was more brutal than al-Qaeda ever was. “In fact, one of the reasons that they separated ISIS from al-Qaeda was because [al-Baghdadi] was using tactics that were getting the world’s attention as more than just terrorism.” This was savagery the world hadn’t seen, like “burning a Jordanian pilot in a cage in and publicizing it. I mean, even those that side with or sympathize with the terrorist, [found it] a little bit over the line.” In all honesty, General Boykin explained on “Washington Watch,” ending the reign of al-Baghdadi “is probably more important than the killing of bin Laden.”
Had the nation elected Hillary Clinton, who knows where America would be? In the face of escalating attacks under Barack Obama “with virtually no consequence,” as Marc Theissen wrote during the 2016 election, what would President Hillary do? “Double down on her husband’s failed policies and those of his Democratic successor”—the same ones that led to 9/11 and the growth of terrorism around the world.
Thanks to this president and the courageous men and women of our military, America just completed “the most precise, significant operation since Delta Force pulled Saddam Hussein out of the ground in December of 2003,” General Boykin argued. And let’s not forget, he went on, this commander-in-chief spent the last three years rebuilding our military. “He gave them everything they needed to pull it off…” He should be credited with not only the decision, but also with rejecting Obama’s social engineering in military. Under his leadership our military is being equipped and trained to once again be an elite fighting force. And that’s not all, Jonathan Tobin points out. His “defeat of ISIS [is what] sent Baghdadi scurrying to the hole in which he died. [That] was the fruit of Trump’s decision-making. Obama’s efforts against ISIS were hampered by the White House’s caution and micromanagement. Trump unleashed the U.S. military… resulting in the rout of the caliphate.”
The media and far-Left will never give President Trump his due, but the American people aren’t fooled. Considering where we were 20 years ago—the same dilemma, same circumstances with the impeachment—it’s hard to deny: this is what real leadership looks like.
Tony Perkins's Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.