Sullivan vs. Conason

Readers respond to Andrew Sullivan's argument "While Clinton diddled," and Joe Conason's response, "Don't blame Clinton."

Published January 16, 2002 11:29PM (EST)

As a paid subscriber to Salon, I have to ask myself, "Why would the discerning editors of this rare voice of reason provide a venue for the wrathful, mean-spirited, hate-mongering invective of the likes of Andrew Sullivan?" Much as I tried, I couldn't come up with an answer.

-- Steve Hunter

Andrew Sullivan's column attempts to lay blame at former President Clinton's feet for the events of Sept. 11. We'll set aside a discussion of Sullivan's chronic Clinton hatred (from which he tries to inoculate himself in his first paragraph). To be utterly fair, I find after reading Sullivan's article that the blame lies more at the hands of the Republican Congress and Clinton hating commentators.

1) Sullivan finds the 1997 terrorism bill wimpy, but conservative Republicans in Congress, not Clinton, controlled the writing and passage of it.

2) As Sullivan admits, "To his credit, Clinton approved three subsequent attempts to kill bin Laden ..." And each time, he was railed against by the conservative media establishment. "Wag the Dog, Wag the Dog" was the right-wing mantra.

3) Sullivan also (very far down in the article) admits "Clinton was being persecuted by the Republicans and so was unable to function properly as president when the al-Qaida threat was looming. This, of course, has an element of truth to it."

More than "an element," Andrew.

-- Ken Schellenberg

Oh for cryin' out loud. Hindsight is sure nice, isn't it? If Clinton had devoted the kind of energy to catching Osama bin Laden that his successor has, you would've have bitched a blue streak about his wasteful speculation.

Wahh wahh wahh!

-- Chris Losinger

Isn't it amazing that somehow American military forces have been spectacularly restored to might and intelligence in seven short months under our Commander in Thief? The very military Bush the Lesser promised "help is coming" because they were in such a state of disrepair? Restored before he even had a chance to submit his first defense budget? How can this be so?

Andrew, Andrew, Andrew ... Let's be honest. Not only did you and your ilk do your best to depose the president for eight years, distract him best you can through what has been proved to be nonexistent scandals, now you are intellectually dishonest pointing fingers. Just as Waco was blamed on Clinton and Reno, despite its roots in the Bush Sr. administration, so too should your man stand and take the blame for Sept. 11.

-- Michael Neu

"If six dead and hundreds more injured were not enough to galvanize the new commander in chief, neither was the murder of 18 American soldiers in Somalia shortly afterward. The State Department confirmed that bin Laden had helped train the terrorists who killed these soldiers and dragged the body of one through the streets of Mogadishu."

To someone unfamiliar with the event in Mogadishu, Sullivan's two sentences above show the soldiers standing around, minding their own business when suddenly terrorists pop out of the brush and gun them down.

What's infuriating here is his neglect to mention the operation those solders were undertaking: a raid on a building, accompanied by attack helicopters and armored vehicles. It was a military operation and the Somalis responded militarily.

To use the story to bolster claims of unprovoked attacks only helps to distort our already poorly reported behavior overseas.

It's especially surprising, considering Mark Bowden's bestselling book on the incident ("Black Hawk Down") and the recently released movie.

-- Matt Ransford

Poor Rwanda,
Bill was preoccupied
With getting inside, and
Didn't much notice the genocide.

Poor Blackhawk down,
While Clinton diddled
In a Somalia town
18 were pretty much riddled.

Poor Nine One One,
The one Osama won
Bill got one job,
but Not the Other done.

-- Daniel Jereb

Thank you. That Sullivan article was pure unadulterated hubris. It was nice to see such a thorough trashing of it.

-- Aran Johnson

Amazing. Simply amazing. Joe Conason builds a very decent, credible case in defense of Clinton's efforts to combat terrorism -- only to dash it pieces at the end by comparing the people who criticized Clinton to the Nazis. A well-known maxim is: The debate is over as soon as one side or the other is called a Nazi. Less well known is that the first side to play the "Nazi card" is usually clearly the loser of the debate.

-- Grant Fritchey

Thank you for publishing Joe Conason's excellent rebuttal to yet another of Andrew Sullivan's disingenuous and insidious attempts to discredit Bill Clinton. I still believe that Clinton was, overall, the best president this country has seen since FDR, no matter how hard the right works to trash him. No matter how many millions, or billions, they've spent to dig up dirt -- and no matter how hard they work to prop Bush up.

I must add, however, that if you continue to publish Sullivan's rantings, I will cancel my Premium subscription.

-- Claudia Long

Whether Clinton should be blamed for failing to kill or capture Osama bin Laden will be discussed as long as there is Fox news. We've been at war for three months and it's still debatable whether the Bush administration has accomplished that feat yet, either. On the other hand, no one in intelligence has resigned. The CIA director now is the same man who served under Clinton. Republicans and Democrats are bending over backwards to let airlines ease themselves into tightening security. Instead of blaming Clinton, who is out of office and can only be judged by history, why not take a look at who is in office now who might also bear some culpability? Our intelligence system is screwed up. It needs to change. Heads need to roll. Let's get on with it.

-- Elizabeth Bass

Your two-part debate on the Clinton administration's counter-terrorism record was disappointing because it was written by two idiotic zealots. "Don't Blame Clinton" might as well be the title of everything Joe Conason has ever written. When I saw his byline, I should have realized that his essay would be a variation on the theme of "latter-day Nazis unfairly derailed the most effective, ingenious leader of humans since FDR or maybe Jesus." Andrew Sullivan's rabid "While Clinton Diddled" all but blames Bill Clinton for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with a dubious patchwork of sexy factoids. Nonetheless, both sides of the debate ignored other, more relevant executive branch contributions to Sept. 11, such as metastasized bureaucratic cultures in the foreign policy and national security communities.

While Conason can hardly be blamed for playing to type as an uncritical and formulaic Clinton defender, Sullivan failed to marshal better, more credible evidence to make more effective points about Clinton's counter-terrorism shortcomings. Indeed, Clinton's alienation of the foreign policy and national security communities by naively attempting to decide by fiat that foreign policy need not be a U.S. priority, as well as with numerous substantive and stylistic slights, is a matter of public record. Unfortunately, neither of these two writers can be trusted to rise above oversimplification and knee-jerk partisanship. Could please give us a real debate -- with adult participants -- on this topic?

-- Steve Lee

By Salon Staff

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