The big story this week has been Richard Clarke. He's been accusing the Bush administration of not being serious about al Qaeda before September 11th. This doesn't agree with things he's said earlier, but while he denies he actually lied earlier, he claims that because he worked for the administration, he spun it in Bush's favor. That explanation might work if the comments were not in direct contradiction.
When Bush came in, Clinton's ineffectual policy had been unchanged since 1998, and had accomplished nothing when it came to degrading al Qaeda. Bush decided to keep the Clinton policy in effect, even expanding it and increasing its funding, while his team put together a more complete plan, a plan whose aim was to completely root out al Qaeda. That plan took time to put together, and Bush approved it the week before 9/11. It was a three-year plan that began with diplomatic pressure, then slowly built up force to directly overthrow the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda. Then 9/11 took place, and the timeline was significantly accelerated.
This is all what Richard Clarke said in a transcript released by Fox News earlier this week. I'm not sure how you could explain away the differences between that and his current statements as just spin.
Here's the clincher, however. Even if Bush had started bombing the Taliban on the day of his inauguration (Something which, as I said earlier, would not have been possible without a public mandate. Such a mandate takes time to build, which is one of the reasons why the Bush's plan had such a slow pace.), 9/11 was already in motion. The principals were no longer in Afghanistan. I'll admit that there's a chance that if we had gone after al Qaeda then, we might have captured a higher up who could have spilled the information, but I think the odds on that are slim. (Most of al Qaeda would have slipped over the border to Pakistan, and as Musharaf didn't come around to our side until after 9/11, we would have had to go to war against Pakistan to get them.) Most likely 9/11 would still have happened, and those who are now saying we did too little would have said that 9/11 was in retaliation for our attacks on al Qaeda. You know, the same folks who are saying we should have pre-emptively attacked al Qaeda but not Iraq, that Clinton did everything he could to get al Qaeda, but what he couldn't do in 8 years Bush should have been able to do in 8 months, even if it took him five of those months to get all of his people through the confirmation process.
Of course, most of you aren't hearing anything new from me; I'm just giving a quick summary of the facts for those who are curious about my thoughts on the matter. If you really want to know more about this issue read through Instapundit, Captain's Quarters, or National Review's Corner.
Update: I've cleaned up this post considerably. There's one point I haven't made, and that's this: Clarke can make a legitimate argument that before 9/11, Bush did not see al Qaeda to be as dangerous as it truly was. The problem was that, before 9/11, no one saw al Qaeda for the threat they were, and that includes Clarke, who made a name for himself in the 90s sounding the alarm about cyberterrorism. Bush, unlike Clinton, at least developed a comprehensive strategy to dismantle al Qaeda, even if the planning did not have the urgency it should have.