- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

It wasn't just that NBC's Tim Russert was throwing softballs last Sunday to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on "Meet the Press." Indeed, as the New York Times noted, Mr. Russert's questions "were not all softballs." This is true. Some of his questions were big, old shiny beach balls that Mrs. Clinton could lob back and never see followed up. Mr. Russert began his interview by quoting a recent statement by Mrs. Clinton regarding the Clinton administration's efforts against terrorism: "We did what needed to be done and could be done," Mrs. Clinton told a Syracuse audience, adding Clintonesquely, "but it was not near enough of what should have been done." Quite logically, Mr. Russert wondered what Mrs. Clinton had meant. "What more should have been done?" he asked.
Two hundred and three words later, Mrs. Clinton may have stopped talking but she hadn't answered that simple question. She was too busy elaborating on having already done "what needed to be done and could be done" to entertain notions of "what should have been done." The bottom line was this: "I know that fighting terrorism and going after bin Laden was a top priority of the Clinton administration," she said. Here was a whopper. Even the most die-hard Clintonista won't whisper that one in the dark. In a recent article titled "Why Clinton Failed to Stop bin Laden," USA Today, hardly a vast right-wing conspirator, intimated as much: "Even Clinton's defenders acknowledge that, for much of his tenure, fighting terrorism wasn't his highest priority." To be sure, fighting terrorism didn't have the urgency that fighting Kenneth Starr did.
"Clearly, not enough was done," former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick told the Boston Globe. "We should have caught this." Even former Clinton National Security Council aide Nancy Soderberg, still insisting that the Lewinsky matter never, ever distracted her former boss, admitted, "In hindsight, [the effort against terrorism] wasn't enough, and anyone involved in the policy would have to admit that."
Mr. Russert let that go by, and later asked a final terrorism question. After the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, he wondered, should the United States have declared war on terrorism? "A lot was done," Mrs. Clinton replied, grasping at straws rather, citing a trip she said her husband made to the United Nations and "several" supposed summits on the subject. "But, you know, if you go back and look at the context, there was not the support in this country for the steps that were needed," she added.
Eureka. Mrs. Clinton, despite herself, had finally said a mouthful. She's absolutely right that public opinion was not behind a war on terrorism in the mid-to-late 1990s. Unhappily for the nation, we had the kind of leadership that followed public opinion instead of molding it.

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