The attacks of September 11, 2001 were carried out by Islamic jihadis passionately committed to the goal of killing as many infidels as possible within the domain of the proverbial Great Satan, America. But by no means was 9/11 their first strike against the United States. Muslim terrorists already had targeted American interests on numerous prior occasions, meeting each time with a weak – and sometimes nonexistent – U.S. response. Those impotent responses greatly emboldened the jihadis and, in conjunction with several ill-advised political maneuvers by the Bill Clinton administration, made the September 11th attacks possible.
An early steppingstone along the path to 9/11 was the February 26, 1993 al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York, when a truck bomb was detonated in the WTC parking garage and left a crater six stories deep, killed six people, and injured more than a thousand. It was the first major terrorist act ever to take place on U.S. soil. The planners’ intent had been to cause the 110-story tower to fall toward its counterpart and topple that structure as well, killing tens of thousands of people in the process.
President Clinton warned Americans against "over-reaction" to the incident. He also vowed that there would be vengeance, but there was none. Eventually six Palestinian and Egyptian conspirators responsible for the bombing were tried in civil courts and were each sentenced to life in prison, but the mastermind, Iraqi intelligence agent Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, escaped.
Nine months after the WTC bombing, al Qaeda forces in Somalia ambushed a contingent of American troops who were engaged in a humanitarian mission there, killing 18 and wounding 80. One dead U.S. soldier was dragged by his killers through the streets of the capital city, Mogadishu, in an act calculated to humiliate his comrades and his country alike. Under Clinton’s leadership, America made no military response to the unprovoked carnage.
Over the next two years, al Qaeda groups made unsuccessful attempts to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and other populated targets in the United States. A scheme to hijack commercial airliners and use them as "missiles" (in a manner similar to the 9/11 attacks) was likewise thwarted in the Philippines in 1995; the architect of that plan was the aforementioned Ramzi Yousef.
After this abortive plot, President Clinton assigned Vice President Al Gore to work on improving airline security in the United States. A commission was formed for this purpose, but under Gore’s leadership it focused heavily on protecting the “civil liberties” of terror suspects and eschewed any form of “profiling,” thereby diluting any effort to strengthen security measures.â€¨ According to political analyst and former Clinton confidante Dick Morris, in April 1995 Clinton's White House advisers exhorted the President to “warn the public against well-intentioned donations which might foster terrorism,” and to “prohibit fundraising by terrorists [most notably Hamas] and identify terrorist organizations.” Clinton ignored these recommendations. FBI agents would later report that the Clinton administration had prevented them from opening either criminal or national-security cases for fear that such a course of action would be seen as government-sponsored “profiling” of Islamic charities.â€¨â€¨
Dick Morris contends that "Clinton’s failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack [on the WTC] led directly to the 9/11 disaster.... Clinton was removed, uninvolved, and distant where the war on terror was concerned." By Clinton’s own account, Monica Lewinsky -- the young White House intern with whom Clinton carried on a sexual affair -- was able to visit him privately more than a dozen times in the Oval Office. But James Woolsey, Clinton’s first CIA director, says he was never able to schedule a private meeting with the President after their initial interview.â€¨â€¨
In 1996 a pro-Clinton, American Muslim businessman named Mansoor Ijaz opened up an unofficial channel between the government of Sudan and the Clinton administration. At the time, the State Department was accusing Sudan of harboring terrorists and was describing Osama bin Laden as “the greatest single financier of terrorist projects in the world.” According to Ijaz, who met with Clinton and his second-term national security adviser Sandy Berger:
"[Sudanese] President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted, offered the arrest and extradition of bin Laden and detailed intelligence data about the global networks constructed by Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, Iran’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. Among the members of these networks were the two hijackers who [would later pilot] commercial airliners into the World Trade Center. The silence of the Clinton administration in responding to these offers was deafening."
This was the first of three occasions on which the Clinton administration was given an opportunity to seize bin Laden and chose not to do so. That choice, says Ijaz, "represents one of the most serious foreign-policy failures in American history." According to Lt. Col. Robert “Buzz” Patterson, who served in the Clinton White House, “the Clinton administration was committed to the idea that most terrorists were misunderstood, had legitimate grievances, and could be appeased.”
In June 1996 – one month after bin Laden had moved his base of operations from Sudan to Afghanistan – a 5,000-pound truck-bomb was detonated adjacent to the Saudi Arabian Khobar Towers housing complex, which was being used as a U.S. military barracks. Nineteen American soldiers died in the blast. Responsibility for this act of war seemed to rest with a Shiite extremist group, Saudi Hezbollah, which was supported by high-ranking officials in the Iranian government. President Clinton vowed: "The cowards who committed this murderous act must not go unpunished. Let me say again: We will pursue this. America takes care of our own." But because Clinton, at that time, was trying to thaw U.S. relations with Iran, he never followed up on his pledge. As National Review’s Rich Lowry explains:
“It is difficult to warm relations with a regime at the same time as pursuing its connections to terror. So by 1998 the administration appeared prepared to forgive and forget Khobar Towers…. The administration softened the State Department warning about travel to Iran, waived sanctions against foreign oil firms doing business there, and removed it from the list of major exporters of illegal drugs…. FBI director Louis Freeh, and those around him, began to suspect that the administration didn't care that much about finding the perpetrators because if connections with Iran were established it [the administration] would be forced to take, or at least consider, action against Iran. This meant that getting to the bottom of the case would present what the administration hated most: a difficulty, a risk.”
When the President’s sexual affair with Lewinsky became public in January 1998, Clinton’s normal inattention to national-security matters became subsumed in a general executive paralysis. In August 1998, al Qaeda terrorists blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 245 people and injuring at least 5,000.â€¨ Clinton -- who at the time was preoccupied with preparing his grand jury defense vis a vis his perjury about the Lewinsky affair -- responded to the attacks in an ill-conceived and ineffectual manner. Without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff or his national-security advisers, the President launched cruise missiles into two Islamic countries which he identified as being allied to Osama bin Laden. One of those missiles hit and destroyed a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan.
On October 12, 2000, the warship USS Cole was bombed by al Qaeda terrorists while refueling in Yemen; 17 U.S. sailors were killed and 39 were injured. This, like each of the attacks cited above, was an act of war, yet the President and his cabinet refused to recognize it as such. Instead, they framed each incident as a crime that warranted a law-enforcement response rather than military retribution.
Apart from its weak response to every Islamic terror attack against the U.S. during the 1990s, the Clinton administration also hamstrung the government’s intelligence services in the name of civil liberties, most notably barring the CIA and the FBI from sharing with one another any information they may have gained regarding possible terrorist plots that were in the works. This policy played a major role in permitting 9/11 to happen. For details about this policy, click here.