RICE BOILS OVER AT BUBBA
RIPS 'FLATLY FALSE' CLAIM ON BUSH'S BID
TO GET BIN LADEN
By IAN BISHOP Post Correspondent
September 25, 2006 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday accused Bill Clinton of making "flatly false" claims that the Bush administration didn't lift a finger to stop terrorism before the 9/11 attacks.
Rice hammered Clinton, who leveled his charges in a contentious weekend interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel, for his claims that the Bush administration "did not try" to kill Osama bin Laden in the eight months they controlled the White House before the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The notion somehow for eight months the Bush administration sat there and didn't do that is just flatly false - and I think the 9/11 commission understood that," Rice said during a wide-ranging meeting with Post editors and reporters.
"What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years," Rice added.
The secretary of state also sharply disputed Clinton's claim that he "left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy" for the incoming Bush team during the presidential transition in 2001.
"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice responded during the hourlong session.
Her strong rebuttal was the Bush administration's first response to Clinton's headline-grabbing interview on Fox on Sunday in which he launched into an over-the-top defense of his handling of terrorism - wagging his finger in the air, leaning forward in his chair and getting red-faced, and even attacking Wallace for improper questioning.
The "Fox News Sunday" show had its best ratings since the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research. Two versions of the interview were the two most-watched clips on YouTube yesterday, totaling more than 800,000 views.
In her pointed rebuttal of Clinton's inflammatory claims about the war on terror, Rice maintained the Bush White House did the best it could to defend against an attack - and expanded on the tools and intelligence it inherited.
"I would just suggest that you go back and read the 9/11 commission report on the efforts of the Bush administration in the eight months - things like working to get an armed Predator [drone] that actually turned out to be extraordinarily important," Rice added.
She also said Clinton's claims that Richard Clarke - the White House anti-terror guru hyped by Clinton as the country's "best guy" - had been demoted by Bush were bogus.
"Richard Clarke was the counterterrorism czar when 9/11 happened. And he left when he did not become deputy director of homeland security, some several months later," she said.
Rice noted that the world changed after 9/11.
"I would make the divide Sept. 11, 2001, when the attack on this country mobilized us to fight the war on terror in a very different way," Rice said.
Rice cited the final 9/11 commission report to substantiate her claims, while Clinton relied on Clarke's book as the basis for many of his rehashing the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I think this is not a very fruitful discussion. We've been through it. The 9/11 commission has turned over every rock and we know exactly what they said," she added.
Transitioning to the global war on terror, an animated Rice questioned, "When are we going to stop blaming ourselves for the rise of terrorism?"
Asked about recently leaked internal U.S. intelligence estimates that claimed the Iraq war was fueling terrorist recruiting, Rice said: "Now that we're fighting back, of course they are fighting back, too."
"I find it just extraordinary that the argument is, all right, so they're using the fact they're being challenged in the Middle East and challenged in Iraq to recruit, therefore you've made the war on terrorism worse.
"It's as if we were in a good place on Sept. 11. Clearly, we weren't," she added.
"These are people who want to fight against us, and they're going to find a reason. And yes, they will recruit, but it doesn't mean you stop pursuing strategies that are ultimately going to stop them," Rice said.
She insisted U.S. forces must finish the job in Iraq and the wider Middle East to wipe out the "root cause" of violent extremism - not just the terror thugs who carry out the attacks.
"It's a longer-term strategy, and it may even have some short-term down side, but if you don't look at the longer term, you're just leaving the problem to somebody else," she said.
She also said Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have a "major educational reform" effort under way to root out propaganda literature and extremist brainwashing.
In Latin America, home to outrageous Venezuelan bomb thrower Hugo Chavez, Rice said the U.S. approach is to "spend as little time possible in talking about Chavez and more time talking about our positive agenda in Latin America," including several trade agreements.
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