Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore

In Fixing Blame for 9/11, Start With Tom DeLay
By Joe Rothstein

After listening to two days of riveting testimony about 9/11, I’ve come to this conclusion about where to fix the blame: Everywhere, with everyone involved.

Primarily, though, I think it’s Tom DeLay’s fault.

From nearly the first day in 1995 that the Republicans gained control of the House, the hard-core right wing ideologues led by Tom Delay were on Bill Clinton’s case. Nothing he could do was right. Nearly everything he did, in their eyes, was wrong. Maybe even criminal.

On a parallel track, they kept pouring kerosene into the Starr-chamber inquisition that for nearly the duration of the Clinton administration was one expensive and mostly empty-handed search after another to get the goods on the President they despised. Until finally, the President was dumb enough to have sex with an intern in the White House and then lie about it.

I keep in my desk a button that simply says, Enough! I had bunches of them made at the time. Bumper stickers, too. They were very popular and did not have to be explained to any one. The Starr-DeLay campaign to get a duly elected President out of office on the most trivial of charges was all cable news-all the time. For a seeming eternity, the Clinton-Monica story wound its way through Starr’s hearings, the release of Starr’s pornographic transcript, the House impeachment hearings, and finally, the Senate’s partisan vote to let the elected President stay elected.

What’s all of this have to do with 9/11?

What do you think happens to a White House that’s under personal siege? For years the President and his staff were consumed with having to submit papers to investigators, showing up at interminable hearings and legal depositions, and answering charges about all types of accusations, some of them, if true, worthy of jail time.

It’s not as if people running the world’s most powerful office have a lot of time on their hands for these kinds of distractions. Worse, if you personally are caught up in such a situation as a presidential aide or advisor, and your reputation, honor, and assets (lawyers cost a lot of money) are at stake, where do you focus your thoughts and attention?

This was the environment in which President Clinton, his cabinet and staff had to work during a very critical time period in which Osama bin Laden was marshalling his forces.

On May 26, 1998 Osama bin Laden held a press conference in which he declared war on the United States. He said, "we have formed with many other Islamic groups and organizations in the Islamic world a front called the International Islamic Front to do jihad against the crusaders and Jews."

A few months later, on August 7, 1998, bin Laden’s new organization showed it had the will and the capability to launch deadly and sophisticated attacks. That’s the day they blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Clinton Administration responded by trying to kill bin Laden, firing missiles into a camp where he had been spotted. Republicans in Congress, led by DeLay, called Clinton’s response a “wag the dog” decision. In other words, just the President’s attempt to divert attention from more important matters--like the Lewinski story.

In February, 1999, the Senate rejected impeachment. Meanwhile, a much-weakened President Clinton asked the Congress for authority to participate in a NATO-backed air campaign to end the genocide that was going on in Kosovo. In April, the House Republicans, again led by DeLay, engineered a mostly party line vote to reject the President’s request--a decision that later got reversed.

Now, given this environment, how likely was it that the Republican Congress would have supported a Clinton declaration of war against Al Queda and provided the money and military needed to effectively combat the threat? Not very likely during impeachment. Not very likely when the House Republicans had even rejected involvement in Kosovo. And no doubt impossible when Al Queda attacked the U.S.S. Cole in October, 2000, just before the election.

That doesn’t absolve President Clinton or his key people from failing to make the effort. If you believe most of the testimony at the 9/11 hearings, the Clinton White House and the Defense and State Departments were all well aware of the growing danger. Their responses mainly were non-military, behind the scenes, and mostly ineffective.

And it certainly doesn’t absolve President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush administration. Documents and testimony seem to prove that they were given plenty of red flare warnings by the outgoing Clinton people and chose to minimize them for other priorities.

When Richard Clarke opened his testimony by apologizing to the families of 9/11 victims that their government had failed them, he said what most observers of this investigation are thinking. There’s plenty of blame to spread around.

But unspoken during the testimony and the investigation itself was the poisonous air in Washington, D.C. that overwhelmed the media, public attention and the workings of government during the latter years of the Clinton administration. Leading this sustained, venomous attack was Tom DeLay. He and his cohorts made it virtually impossible for the executive branch to react appropriately to the growing Al Queda threat with sufficient military and popular support needed to wage such a complex war.

Remember back in 1995 when Newt Gingrich was Speaker and the Republican House shut down the entire U.S. government? After a while, attuned to the public's anger at such irresponsibility, Gingrich relented and made a budget deal to let the government function again. Hearing about Gingrich’s deal, DeLay told a reporter that was the darkest day of his life. He wanted to keep the government shut down indefinitely.

He couldn’t do that. But he effectively shut down any opportunity for bold and aggressive actions we could have, and should have taken to derail bin Laden before he mobilized the Islamic terrorists of the world.

In that sense, Tom DeLay gets the prize as the person most responsible for 9/11. No congratulations are in order. Hold the applause.

Joe Rothstein, editor of, is a former daily newspaper editor and long-time national political strategist based in Washington, D.C.

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