Bill Clinton on Homeland Security

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


On Benghazi: No outrage when 10 were killed under Bush

Q: One of the issues about America's role in the world is if we pursue a lighter footprint going into places, intervening, then that which we leave behind can become chaotic. I've always believed that is the larger question about Benghazi. Some have tried to make it about Secretary Clinton and her tenure. Rand Paul called it disqualifying for Secretary Clinton. You have a response for that?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: That's not a serious comment; Rand Paul doesn't deserve a serious [response]. When ten different instances occurred when President Bush was in office where American diplomatic personnel were killed around the world, how many outraged Republican members of Congress were there? Zero.

Source: Meet the Press 2014 interview by David Gregory , Jun 29, 2014

Foster renewable-energy projects in the military

The military can and should do more to speed our energy transformation. The US Army already has 126 renewable-energy projects under way. A task force was set up with a mandate to determine how the army can get 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

If our troops had had bases equipped with solar panels to run the air conditioners and keep the lights on, it could have saved money and lives and driven continued price reductions and technology improvements beneficial to the entire company.

Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p.160-162 , Nov 8, 2011

Clinton Doctrine: unilateral force for access to resources

Consider the first scholarly work on the roots of George W. Bush's preventive war doctrine, issued in September 2002 by the distinguished Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis. The core principle of the Bush doctrine is that "expansion, we have assumed, is th path to security." Gaddis traces this doctrine to the "lofty, idealistic tradition of John Quincy Adams and Woodrow Wilson."

The Clinton doctrine, presented to Congress, was that the United States is entitled to resort to "unilateral use of military power" to ensure "uninhabited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources." Clinton too was echoing a familiar theme. In the early post-World War II years, the influential planner George Kennan explained that in Latin America "the protection of our raw materials" must be a major concern--"our raw materials," which happen by accident to be somewhere else.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 23-24 , Jun 1, 2010

1993: treated WTC attack as a crime, not as terrorism

Their collective view [of 9/11 by the liberals] is, essentially, "What's the big deal?" They shrug their shoulders along with Michael Moore, who once said, "I don't know why we are making so much of an act of terror. It is three times more likely that you will be struck by lightning than die from an act of terror."

This trivialization of terrorism, essentially treating it like any other crime, is just how the Clinton administration handled the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. This policy--of failing to recognize that attack as an act of war, instead treating it like any other bombing or murder--led to the failure of both the Clinton and Bush administrations to take advance indications of future terrorist attacks seriously. And this attitude created institutional roadblocks that made 9/11 possible.

Source: Take Back America, by Dick Morris, p.133 , Apr 13, 2010

Stand up and talk about fear and hatred

From Bill Clinton's "Oklahoma Bombing Memorial Prayer Service Address": "Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it." These things take time to prepare and borrow much from the style of the preacher.
Source: The 100 Greatest Speeches, by Kourdi & Maier, p. 7-8 , Mar 3, 2010

Shrank military by 400,000 troops during 1990s

We shrunk our military by 400,000 troops during the 1990s, retired over one hundred ships from the navy, and decreased the size of our air force by more than a quarter. More ominously, we gutted our human intelligence capabilities, and never took any real steps to infiltrate the violent jihadist groups like al Qaeda that had declared was on America. At home, births to teenage mothers rose to their highest levels in decades, teenage drug use climbed, and pornography became the Internet's biggest business. Our dependence on foreign oil rose from 42% of our total consumption to 58% today.

I don't wish to challenges and hard times on this nation, even though I believe they have made us the country and people we are today. But neither do I fear them. My sole concern is that Americans will choose not to act, not to face our challenges head-on, not to overcome them.

Source: No Apology, by Mitt Romney, p. 9 , Mar 2, 2010

Warned public in 1990s that anthrax threat was coming

In the days before I or anyone else in public office knew that anthrax had been employed as a weapon, health officials made the case that the nation needed new vaccines, a stronger public health infrastructure, and doctors who were better trained to respond to bioterrorism attacks. In the late 1990s William Cohen, the secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, brought a bag of brown sugar to the ABC "This Week" television show. Holding it up for the camera and pointing to it, he said, "The next threat to America will look like this--and it will be anthrax." His message should have awakened us to how the world had changed since the most threatening days of the cold war, when nuclear missiles were the presumed agents of Armageddon. It also indicated, to the select circle of experts who were thinking about this, if anthrax is the new weapon, who is the new enemy, and how are we prepared to defend against it?
Source: The Test of our Times, by Tom Ridge, p. 39 , Sep 1, 2009

1990s terrorism commission concluded US would get hit big

A commission that was chartered by Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, two very different people covering pretty much the political spectrum, put together a terrific panel to study the issue of terrorism and report to the new administration as it began.

[Condi Rice said about the Commission report], "That commission said we are going to get hit in the US and we are going to get hit big. That's number 1. And number 2, we have big systemic problems. The FBI doesn't work the way it should and it doesn't communicate with the intelligence." The thrust of Rice's answer was that the president had been in office only 233 days. It was another way of saying Bush's watch had not really started.

In her answers to the commission, Rice kept steering the testimony back to the previous administration. "I think the question, is why over all of these years did we not address the structural problems that were there, with the FBI, with the CIA."

Source: Against the Tide, by Sen. Lincoln Chafee, p.135-137 , Apr 1, 2008

Response to 1993 World Trade Center bombing muted

The US had been hit for the first time by Islamist terrorists on February 26, 1993. Six people had been killed and more than 1,000 injured when a truck bomb exploded in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in NYC. Only later did authorities learn that the bombers had intended to level both of the twin towers. Bill’s reaction at the time had been muted, as his administration viewed the incident as a law-enforcement matter rather than an act of war. By spring, 1995, four Arab Islamist conspirators had been convicted, and the FBI had linked the attack to the al-Qaeda terror network. Still, when Mike Wallace noted in the 60 Minutes interview that “it cost the World Trade Center bomber. $4,000 for all of what was involved” and asked what the administration proposed to do about “terror on the cheap,” Bill mentioned only that he would “try to get the legal support we need to move against terrorism.”
Source: For Love of Politics, by Sally Bedell Smith, p.208-209 , Oct 23, 2007

Torture must only be hypothetical exception, not US policy

Q: You said the following on this show on September 24, 2006: “Imagine the following scenario: We get lucky, we get the #3 guy in al-Qaeda, and we know there’s a big bomb going off in America in three days, and this guy knows where it is. We have the right and the responsibility to beat it out of him. The president could guarantee a pardon of that sort of thing post-facto to the intelligence court just like we do now with the wiretaps.” Now, Sen. Clinton said, “As a matter of policy, torture cannot b American policy period. These hypotheticals are very dangerous.“ Doesn’t seem as if she’s for the exception that you were outlining.

A: I think she’s right. I think America’s policy should be to oppose torture, to honor the Geneva Conventions for several reasons. 1) It’s almost always counterproductive. If you beat somebody up, they’ll tell you what you want to hear. 2) It hurts us in the rest of the world & helps to recruit other terrorists. 3) It makes our own people vulnerable to torture.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series , Sep 30, 2007

Signed Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

In August 1957, President Eisenhower announced a proposal to ban the further testing of nuclear explosives, and faltering progress has been made since that time. While I was president, there were strict global limits on the testing of any explosive above 150 kilotons, which at that time was the smallest that could be monitored. Subsequently, it became technologically feasible to detect very small explosions, and a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was evolved. Although President Bill Clinton signed the treaty and pledged that it would not be violated, the most recent American budget refers, for the 1st time, to a list of possible US tests that would violate the treaty.
Source: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, p.142-143 , Sep 26, 2006

Our generation's enemies: terrorists & their state sponsors

A saber-rattling speech could put Clinton in the position of not being able to follow up. It could be a problem in the 1996 campaign if there was a terrorist incident and Clinton's deeds were not able later to match these words.

In June 2005, Clinton said, "Today we face no Hitler, no Stalin. Our generation's enemies are the terrorists and their outlaw nation sponsors: the briefcase or the car bomb." He went no further, proposed no action, pledged no retaliation, & the remarks went largely unnoticed.

Source: The Choice, by Bob Woodward, p.204 , Nov 1, 2005

Most millionaires don’t mind less tax cut to protect the US

Democrats tried to double the number of containers at ports and airports checked for weapons of mass destruction. It cost $1 billion. It would have been paid for by asking the 200,000 millionaires in America to cut their tax cut by $5,000. Almost all 200,000 of us would like to have done that, to spend $5,000 to make all 300 million Americans safer. The measure failed because the White House and the Republican leadership in the House opposed it. They thought our $5,000 was more important.
Source: Speech to the Democratic National Convention , Jul 29, 2004

Proposed more funding for terrorism defense

I asked for funds to guard computer networks against terrorists, and to protect communities from chemical and biological attacks and to reverse the decline in military spending that had begun at the end of the Cold War.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.843 , Jun 21, 2004

2000: Warned Bush that biggest problem was Al Qaeda & Osama

President-elect Bush came to the White House for the same meeting I had had with his father 8 years earlier. We talked about the campaign, White House operations, and national security. He was putting together an experienced team from past Republican administrations who believed that the biggest security issues were the need for national missile defense and Iraq. I told him that based on the last 8 years, I thought his biggest security problems, in order, would be Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; the absence of peace in the Middle East; the standoff between nuclear powers in India and Pakistan; and the ties of the Pakistanis to the Taliban and al Qaeda; North Korea; and then Iraq. I said that my biggest disappointment was not getting bin Laden, that we still might achieve an agreement in the Middle East, and that we had almost tied up a deal with North Korea to end its missile program.

He listened to what I had to say without much comment, then changed the subject to how I did the job.

Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.935 , Jun 21, 2004

1996: Effects of Agent Orange eligible for veteran benefits

When Admiral Zumwalt's son served in the brown water Navy, he was exposed to Agent Orange. After Elmo III died of lymphoma in 1988, Admiral Zumwalt began lobbying politicians to appropriate necessary funds to treat the 1000s of Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange-related diseases. His efforts proved successful in 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed an order that made such ailments eligible for medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Source: Tour of Duty, by Douglas Brinkley, p.257 , Jan 6, 2004

Better to be wrong & strong than weak & right

Without a strong position on national security, Democrats won't be listened to on other issues. We cannot overestimate the psychological impact of Sept. 11. Pulling together after the attacks, the American people felt a deep need for unity and strength. When people feel uncertain, they would rather have somebody who's wrong and strong than somebody who is weak and right. That's why Democrats bear just as heavy a responsibility to unite the nation on national security.
Source: Crossroads, by Andrew Cuomo, p. 35 , Oct 14, 2003

Established AmeriCorps as national service program

The notion that Clinton had no "core values" was becoming a Beltway cliche. And yet, most of the people who participated in the endless internal meetings about the budget were aware that there were lines that Clinton wouldn't cross, promises he wouldn't abandon. Two of his campaign proposals, both distinctively New Democrat ideas, were sacrosanct. He insisted upon EITC & the establishment of AmeriCorps, the national service program that had been the best applause line of his presidential campaign.
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 55 , Feb 11, 2003

1998: Accused of "wagging the dog" by attacking Bin Laden

A questionable strategy to turn the nation's attention away from the Lewinsky scandal. For nearly two weeks before Clinton's grand jury date, the Administration had been planning an assault on the guerilla infrastructure of Osama bin Laden. Early on the morning of August 20, three days after his testimony, Clinton approved a cruise-missile attack on a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan and on a guerilla camp in Afghanistan, both of which were said to have been linked to bin Laden.

These attacks had a distressing similarity to the plot of the movie "Wag the Dog," which had opened--uncannily--about the same time as the Lewinsky scandal did. In the film, political consultants concoct an imaginary war in Albania to distract attention from a presidential sex scandal involving a young "Firefly Girl." And there were suspicions, even among the President's own foreign policy team, that the scandal had influenced Clinton's decision to go after bin Laden.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.175-176 , Feb 11, 2003

Promise of national service watered down in AmeriCorps

In 1992, his best moments as a candidate--and his biggest applause lines--came not when he made promises or criticized the opposition, but when he proposed a higher calling for young people, a new form of national service. National service was an issue that helped distinguish an obscure governor of Arkansas from his opponents. Audiences loved it, especially young audiences. It reminded people of Kennedy and made Clinton seem larger--large enough, ultimately, to unseat the incumbent President of the United States.

A curious thing happened when the program was implemented, though. AmeriCorps turned out to be a worthy venture, one that Clinton's successor, George W. Bush, wisely shoes to continue. But it lacked the drama and importance--the centrality--of Clinton's original campaign proposal (in part because the legislation was watered down, the opportunities for service made more peripheral, after pressure from the public employees unions).

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.214-215 , Feb 11, 2003

1999: Pardoned FALN Puerto Rican terrorist group

In August of 1999, Bill Clinton exercised his presidential clemency power in favor of a group of Puerto Rican terrorists euphemistically referred to as “separatists” in the same sense that Timothy McVeigh is a separatist. The action caught everyone by surprise--there seemed little legitimate reason for his action.

Most of the Puerto Rican recipients of the president’s unexpected grace were members of FALN--the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional--a Marxist group responsible for a reign of terror that included 130 bombing attacks in the United States from 1974 to 1983.

Source: The Final Days, by Barbara Olson, p. 16-20 , Oct 25, 2001

1993: First visited Vietnam memorial with veteran Sen.McCain

[Based on his poor treatment as a POW], most men would be bitter, vengeful. Yet despite this inhuman treatment, Senator John McCain led the effort to normalize relations with Vietnam. In 1993 he privately told Bill Clinton, the leader of the other party and whose evasion of the draft during the Vietnam War infuriated more than a few veterans, that "I'll provide any cover you want for Vietnam." When President Clinton first journeyed to the Vietnam Memorial he was accompanied by John McCain.
Source: Profiles in Courage For Our Time, by Caroline Kennedy, p.258 , Oct 1, 2001

Gays in military issue resulted in disrespect from soldiers

General Wes Clark had mixed feelings about Clinton. He liked him, but he said the reason most Republicans--and that meant a lot of soldiers--hated him was that when he became President he did gays in the military, and he used to say Wes was a friend of his as a way of trying to buy some cred with the military. But it did Wes a lot of damage inside the military. He thought he would have been a runner for the top job but for that.
Source: The Blair Years, by Alastair Campbell, p.390 , May 11, 1999

Explosive inspection machines for all airline baggage

On July 25, 1996, in response to the recent tragedy of TWA flight 800, President Clinton ordered heightened security measures for the nation's airports. The President outlined the new security regulations that would be mandated by the FAA to better protect airliners and passengers from terrorist bombs:The president also developed a plan for deploying new high-technology inspection machines capable of detecting the most sophisticated explosive.
Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p. 29 , Aug 1, 1996

Steep fines on convicted terrorists to help victims

Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, Congress provided better tools and tougher penalties for the war against terrorism. Clinton signed into law the first antiterrorism measure of its kind, which authorized $1 billion in funding for federal law enforcement agencies to use in combating terrorism.

The new law expanded the government's power to exclude suspected foreign terrorists from the US and established grant programs from funds raised, in part, by steep fines on convicted terrorists and others to help victims of terrorist attacks. It also imposed unprecedented curbs on federal appeals by death-row inmates.

Despite the passage of the bill, the President admitted that it was not as tough as he wanted. For instance, Congress dropped a provision that would have made it easier to wiretap all phones used by suspected terrorists. Congress also dropped from the antiterrorism bill a provision that would have required chemical markers in some explosive materials, making them easier to trace.

Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p. 34-35 , Aug 1, 1996

START II: 25% reduction in nuclear arsenals

Under the Clinton Administration, START I, an ambitious weapons reduction treaty that reduced US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons by 40%, went into effect. With START II, the Clinton Administration was able to put into motion a further 25% reduction in each country's nuclear stockpiles.

At the 1994 summit between Clinton and Russian president Boris Yeltsin, the two leaders hammered out an agreement to accelerate the shrinkage of nuclear arsenals beyond what was called for by the START treaties. By mid-1996, the US had eliminated 750 strategic nuclear missiles, and about 800 strategic nuclear missiles in the former Soviet Union had been eliminated. The two countries also agreed to remove enough nuclear missiles from active service to get down to the weapons level specified in START II without waiting until 2003, as the treaty provides. This would remove 5,600 Russian warheads and about half that many US warheads from active duty years ahead of schedule.

Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p. 46 , Aug 1, 1996

Cut the $245B defense budget

The 1995-96 defense budgets--$1.4 billion higher than the previous year's spending--totaled $243 billion. While supporting a strong national defense to secure America's role as the "world's peacemaker," President Clinton has nevertheless sought cuts to control unnecessary spending for defense as he has in other areas of government. In mid-1996, the Republican-led Senate and House each passed its own version of the 1996-97 defense appropriations bill that called for $10 billion more than the Clinton Administration wanted.

While supporting his pledge that the "men and women who serve under the American Flag will remain the best-trained, the best-prepared, and the best-equipped fighting force in the world," he threatened a presidential veto if the $245 billion proposed defense budget wasn't cut. The White House explained that the bill was simply not affordable at a time when the nation faces "serious budget constraints."

Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p. 51-52 , Aug 1, 1996

Reduce US forces in Europe to 100,000 troops

PROMISE: to cut military personnel by offering voluntary early retirement and prorated pensions for those who have served 15-20 years.

STATUS: Benefits were offered to certain military personnel classes to cut levels.

PROMISE: To reduce US forces in Europe to 75,000-100,000 troops, but maintain commitment to NATO.

STATUS: A reduction of troops has been made close to the promised 100,000 level.

PROMISE: To maintain 10 carrier battle groups instead of 12.

STATUS: As a result of bottom-up review of the military, it was decided that 11 carriers were required even though the White House fought for 10.

Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p.116-117 , Aug 1, 1996

OpEd: Counterproliferation failed; Iran got nuke from Russia

The administration's performance in the export control arena belies its commitment to counterproliferation--especially on the critical issue of achieving a successor regime to the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM). By putting into place an effective multilateral control regime over the export of critical nuclear, munitions, and dual-use technologies to the then Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and China, COCOM was instrumental in asserting the economic and technological pressure that helped accelerate the breakup of the Soviet empire.

The Clinton administration developed a scheme to dismantle COCOM and replace it, in 1994, with a new counterproliferation regime. Although the administration has criticized COCOM as being "based on Cold War principles", there is serious question, with existing US leadership, whether any effective control regime will ever emerge. Indeed, Moscow's sale of nuclear reactors to Iran shows exactly how meaningless the new system is.

Source: Agenda For America, by Haley Barbour, p.242-243 , Apr 25, 1996

Decrease force size but increase quality

I have kept my pledge to maintain and modernize our defense capabilities. We completed a comprehensive review of our military needs for the future and restructured our forces. Even as the size of our forces decreased, their capabilities, readiness, and qualitative edge have increased.
  • As a result, our military and intelligence forces are more mobile, agile, precise, flexible, smart, and ready than ever before. Today the mere threat of our force can deter would-be aggressors.
    Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p.148-149 , Jan 1, 1996

    Finally, not a single Russian nuke is aimed at US

    The dissolution of the Soviet Union created 4 nuclear powers-Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, & Ukraine-where once there had been just one. I saw it as my highest responsibility to continue the work of my predecessors to reduce the threat from Russia and to eliminate it entirely from the other 3 newly independent states. Today, for the first time in decades, not a single Russian nuclear missile is aimed at an American city. We are cutting Russian and American arsenals by 2/3 from their Cold War height.
    Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p.154-155 , Jan 1, 1996

    Build a sensible missile defense, not “Star Wars”

    It only takes a lump of plutonium the size of a soda can to build a bomb, and rogue states are an ever-present threat. It will be more than a decade before any such state will have the ability to launch a long-range missile attack against the continental US, but in the meantime we must build a sensible national missile defense program. There are some in the Congress who want to revive the recklessly expensive and extreme “Star Wars” scheme-a costly system that is neither necessary nor prudent and that would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. What we need is a practical, smart missile defense based on real, not theoretical, threats, and that is exactly what we are getting. We’re already spending $3 billion a year to develop such a defense by 2000, one that will be deployable by 2003, if needed-well before the threat becomes real. In addition, we are beefing up programs to defend against existing threats such as short- and medium-range missile attacks against our troops and allies.
    Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p.156 , Jan 1, 1996

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