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Who didn't 'get' bin Laden?

Hint: It wasn't Bill Clinton's fault the terrorists struck America

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The words filled almost a third of the TV screen, titillating the cultists of Fox's Bill O'Reilly with: "BIN LADEN AND CLINTON." Goodness, Betty Sue, does that mean Bill and Osama are buddies? It sure must, Earl, if Bill O'Reilly says so.

During the agit-prop-cast on Sept. 16, O'Reilly also chastised Clinton for his lack of "etiquette" in the former president's critical comments of George W. Bush. That frowning rebuke was rendered despite O'Reilly's only guest, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, explaining that White House residents often criticize their predecessors. Brinkley even singled out that Icon of the Delusional Right, Ronald Reagan, as especially spiteful about Jimmy Carter.

But, of course, a hand-waving O'Reilly dismissed intelligent discourse, and resorted to the neo-conservative diversionary tactic of impugning critics' patriotism. "I think it's a very dangerous thing," O'Reilly groused. "You could undermine the country if the opposition uses your words to attack the present administration."

As if Fox's Maximum Blowhard hadn't already played the "hate Clinton" theme overmuch, he next tried to bushwhack former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. After luring Albright into an interview ostensibly to talk about her new memoirs, the all-spin-all-the-time O'Reilly pushed really, really, really hard to get her to admit that Clinton hadn't tried hard enough to nail bin Laden.

"The Clinton administration missed a chance to capture bin Laden," O'Reilly attacked, and then ham-fistedly tossed a little gasoline (which Albright adroitly parried): "If you lost a loved one in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon or on those jetliners, you would say, with all due respect, you failed, Ms. Albright. You failed to protect my loved one from this vicious killer, Osama bin Laden."

What you have going on here is the White House disinformation machine frantically cranking overtime in response to a looming catastrophe. You can only fool all of the people, but only part of the time -- and the countdown on Bush's fib-time just hit zero.

The lethargic mainstream media has in recent days begun half-heartedly criticizing Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the other members of the junta for repeatedly insinuating that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9-11. In the alternative press, including on this editorial real estate, that deceit was being lambasted well before the tanks rolled. But for CNN, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and their brethren, asking impolite questions of the president, however glaring his falsehoods, is to be avoided as long as possible.

Saddam, of course, had nothing to do with bin Laden. They were bitter enemies, and only in the bloody chaos that Bush has created in Iraq could al-Qaeda have gained a foothold, as it now has. We have birthed the very terrorism we said we were fighting -- and 77despite administration shucking and jiving, the violence is already killing Americans (our troops) and it will likely reach our shores.

But in speech after speech in the run-up to the war and until just the last few days, the administration has repeatedly managed to insert "Saddam Hussein" or "Iraq" into sentences mentioning 9-11 or bin Laden. Bush, in his State of the Union address, exemplified the slithering subtleties of mendacity-by-implication when he said: "Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans, this time armed by Saddam Hussein."

But, of course, Saddam had no 500 tons of nerve gas, 25,000 liters of anthrax or 30,000 munitions to launch it all, as Bush swore he did. Nor is there a shred of proof or logic that Saddam would have given them to a hated rival, bin Laden.

Eventually, according to recent polls, more than two-thirds of Americans were bludgeoned into believing the White House yarn that Saddam played a role in the 9-11 terrorist attack.

But now, as the tsunami of dissent grows, we're hearing half-hearted corrections from Bush and Cheney. The sweet truth is that Bush and his capos in recent days have had to retreat -- more accurately, they've been routed -- on the three major justifications for the Iraq invasion. Nope, no Saddam-Osama link. Nope, no new nuke program (as Cheney has averred). Nope, no proof of WMDs (Rummy had claimed two weeks before the war, "We know where they are." Oh?)

In disarray, the administration called up the Jabbering Heads Ignorance Brigade, which began, as with O'Reilly, trying to pin the blame for everything on Clinton. With Clinton depicted as Dr. Evil -- or, in Orwell-speak, as our own Immanuel Goldstein -- the Bush flacks hope we'll forget the ocean of lies from the Bushies. After all, isn't Clinton's lack of etiquette a far greater crime than the regime making up fairy tales so we can invade a country that posed no threat to us? Sure it is.

There are two lessons in all of this: First, that Clinton did attempt to get bin Laden. Second, and far more important, that, as the nation wakes up to what the Bush family stands for, Clinton could run again and be elected in a heartbeat.

One of the real myths is that Bush is a great commander in chief who has built up our armed forces (even as he's slashed veterans' benefits). Not so. Bush inherited a great military from Clinton. That's not my opinion. It's Dick Cheney's, who said in an August 2000 forum at the Southern Center for International Studies right here in Atlanta: "A commander in chief leads the military built by those who came before him. There is little that he or his defense secretary can do to improve the force they have to deploy. It is all the work of previous administrations." (Thanks to Al Franken for digging up that quote for his book, Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them.)

The truth about Clinton and bin Laden? Even before the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, Clinton's top anti-terrorism people were assembling a plan to get bin Laden. They took the threat very seriously. And, let's not forget -- Clinton launched the cruise missiles at bin Laden's Afghanistan redoubt, almost killing the terrorist leader. That's a lot closer to writing bin Laden's epitaph than anything Bush has done.

Efforts were redoubled after the Cole bombing, and Clinton's anti-terrorism boss, Richard Clarke, authored a plan for military ops to take out bin Laden and smash al-Qaeda. But, as noted recently in one of the few daily newspapers that still has guts, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Because Clinton was to leave office in a few weeks, he decided against handing Bush a war in progress as he worked to put a new administration together."

What happened is that Clarke turned over the plan to Condoleezza Rice -- and the Bushies did almost nothing about it or about the tons of intelligence that made it very clear bin Laden was about to attack.

"The first high-level discussion took place on Sept. 4, 2001, just a week before the attacks," the Star-Trib commented. "The actions taken by the Bush administration following Sept. 11 closely parallel actions recommended in Clarke's 9-month-old plan. Who ignored the threat?"

George Bush did.

Well, if you believe O'Reilly and his squad, Bill Clinton must have gone around stuffing cotton in the ears of Bush and his Republican Guard so they wouldn't hear about the threat. And he must have put patches over their eyes so they wouldn't be able to read the plan he prepared for them to go after bin Laden. It had to be something like that. It's obviously Clinton's fault, right?

But Clinton didn't do that. And he isn't the reason our nation was left defenseless when bin Laden launched his assault.

Now, if you want to know some about the Bush family, and why all this is perfectly in character, read "Fishwrapper" next week.

Senior Editor John Sugg -- who says, "Only Dick Cheney can make Baghdad Bob look like a truthful man" -- can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at john.sugg@creativeloafing.com.

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