Clinton Was Tougher on the Saudis


A few final words. First, my apologies if personalizing the 9/11 tragedy offended you. I guess for me it was one of those episodes where national security became far, far more than an abstract concern.

I hate to end by pointing out our areas of disagreement, but yes, I believe Clinton was far tougher on the Saudis than Bush was—and that, of course, was before the horrors of 9/11. And it was precisely in the area of Saudi financing of terrorism that Clinton cracked down on Saudi Arabia, giving enormous leeway to Richard Clarke, even over the protestations of such a powerful and highly regarded official as Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin. These actions by the Clinton administration were even said to lead to the nationalization of part of the Saudi banking industry. To the extent Clinton was not more aggressive, it was because he lost all his political capital in the Lewinsky scandal. Clinton and Sandy Berger were well-aware of the dangers of al-Qaida and gave Richard Clarke a free hand. Bush spent much of his time on vacation and had little time for terrorism even after being shown the famous Aug. 6 memo saying that Bin Laden planned to attack inside the United States.

That is where we disagree most. I frankly think you are giving a free pass to Bush—you don’t cite anything he has done to crack down on the Saudis. And meanwhile, he’s made it almost impossible for any moderate Arabs—even his close family friends in the region—to openly ally with the United States. Unfortunately, we will probably be paying for that for the next generation.