The Importance Of Age And Experience: A Clinton Catalog Of Missed Opportunity
By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, September 11, 2008 4:20 PM PT
Another of our youngest presidents, Bill Clinton, was 46 when sworn in and became the first Democrat since FDR to serve two terms.
IBD Series: The Importance Of Age And Experience
Born in Arkansas, educated at Georgetown University and a graduate of Yale Law School, he was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He had weaknesses as well as strengths but was popular with the average man and woman, and especially with minorities.
He was a smart politician and a great salesman whose way with words earned him the nickname of Slick Willie when he was governor of Arkansas.
The economy was strong during Clinton’s term, benefiting in no small part from the collapse of the Soviet Union. It occurred during the Reagan-Bush years but paid a “peace dividend” in the ’90s in the form of huge defense cuts that helped achieve a balanced budget.
After Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, Clinton wisely moved to the center and agreed over liberal objections to what turned out to be a successful restructuring of the welfare system. But an unrealistic attempt by Clinton and his wife Hillary to have the federal government take over and run the entire medical and health care system failed.
The late ’90s saw the dawning of the Internet, a bounty of biotech start-ups and the rise to leadership of young, entrepreneurial companies such as Microsoft, Amgen, Dell, Adobe, Oracle, Cisco, Qualcomm, America Online and EMC, plus innovators like Home Depot and Charles Schwab. All had come public since 1982 during the low-tax Reagan-Bush incentive period. Stocks of these companies rocketed 25,000% to 90,000% from their offering prices.
It was a wild, anything-goes era much like the late 1920s. From September 1998 to March 2000, the NASDAQ composite index advanced 203%, or two and a half times the climax run in the Dow industrials from 1928 to the 1929.
Both markets blew up due to excessive speculation. Under Clinton’s watch from March 2000 to January 2001, the NASDAQ market that had led the run-up plummeted ____%, the sharpest decline since 1929. But the boom was great while it lasted.
Arguments about who or what is best for the economy go on and on. But since World War II, the United States has done pretty well in every cycle regardless of the person or party in power. Our free-market economy, after all, is driven not so much by government as by entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors who start new businesses, create new products and generate new jobs for all who are willing and able to work.
But when it comes to national defense and foreign relations, the age, experience and judgment of the person occupying the Oval Office become absolutely critical.
History teaches that no matter how attractive younger, less-experienced presidents may be, they simply exercise more bad judgment and make the kinds of mistakes that take years to correct and sometimes put our country in danger.
Take, for example, the threat to our national security posed by Osama bin Laden and the terrorists of al-Qaida:
• It was only a month into his first term that President Clinton was tested by al-Qaida. On Feb. 26, 1993, terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in New York, killing six and injuring 1,000. Some of the terrorists were trained at the Khalden terrorist camp in Afghanistan. They had hoped to kill 250,000. But this was treated as a local police matter.
• In October of that year, Somali warlords with al-Qaida trainers and weapons shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. Seventy-three Americans were wounded and 18 were killed, some of them shown on TV as they were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. But Clinton retreated and withdrew all U.S. forces. Said bin Laden later: “They planned for a long struggle, but the U.S. rushed out in shame.”
• In January 1995, Philippine police discovered that Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the Trade Center bombing, had another plan to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the ocean and crash a plane into CIA headquarters. Clinton’s government was made aware of the plot.
• In November 1995, a car bomb exploded at a joint Saudi-U.S. facility, killing five Americans.
• In June 1996, 19 Americans were killed and 372 wounded in a bombing at a housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where U.S. forces were stationed. The attack was carried out by Saudi Hezbollah, with help from Iran and al-Qaida.
• In July 1996, the U.S. received from senior-level al-Qaida defectors intelligence on the creation, character, direction and intentions of al-Qaida.
• In February 1998, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri issue a fatwa declaring “war on America” and making the murder of any American on earth the “individual duty” of every Muslim.
• In May 29, 1998, after a series of deadly bombings stretching back six years, and with bin Laden urging attacks on the U.S., Clinton’s CIA created a plan to raid and capture bin Laden at his Tarnak Farms compound in Afghanistan.
After months of planning and full rehearsals that went well, the raid was called off by CIA Director George Tenet and others who were worried about possible collateral damage and second-guessing and recriminations if bin Laden didn’t survive.
• On Aug. 7, 1998, al-Qaida blew up U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 200 and injuring 5,000. Clinton’s team decided to fire Tomahawk missiles at bin Laden’s training camp and a Sudan aspirin factory.
But they gave a 48-hour heads-up to Pakistan’s army chief of staff so that India wouldn’t think missiles were aimed at them. Forewarned, bin Laden and other leaders left, no terrorists were killed, and U.S. incompetence and ineffectiveness were on full display.
• On Dec. 20, 1998, intelligence learned that bin Laden would be at the Haii house in Kandahar, Afghanistan. But the U.S. passed on this opportunity, too, again fearing collateral damage and risk of failure. Clinton approved a plan by his national security advisor, Sandy Berger, to use tribals to capture bin Laden. But nothing happened.
• Next, the Pentagon created a plan to use a more precise HC130 gunship against bin Laden’s headquarters, but the plan was later shelved. Lt. General William Boykin later told the 9/11 Commission that “opportunities were missed due to an unwillingness to take risks, and a lack of vision and understanding.”
• On Feb. 10, 1999, CIA found out that bin Laden would be at a desert hunting camp the next morning. The military failed to act, however, because a United Arab Emirates aircraft was there and it was feared an Emirate prince or official might be killed.
• In May 1999, the CIA learned from several sources that bin Laden would be in Kandahar for five days. All agreed this would be the best chance to get him, but word came to stand down. It was believed Tenet and Clinton were still concerned about civilian collateral damage. A key project chief angrily said three opportunities were missed in 36 hours.
• In October 2000, the USS Cole was bombed, killing 17 U.S. sailors. No action was taken due to concerns expressed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
All told, the Clinton administration had at least 10 chances to get bin Laden but repeatedly could not make the decision to act. Too many departments were involved, creating too much confusion, and no leader was strong enough to make the tough call. All were timid and overly concerned about repercussions if they failed.
The Clinton administration also allowed the selling of vital defense technology and secrets to China. Now the Chinese have silent submarines we can’t track.
Contrast this unwillingness to confront an enemy to the willingness of a more experienced, 62-year-old Harry Truman to defend Greece, beat the Soviet Union’s Berlin blockade and stop North Korea from taking over South Korea. Or to the resolve of Ronald Reagan, who in his 70s defeated the Soviet Union and freed 20 countries and 240 million people.
Based on what these more seasoned presidents achieved, we rate Reagan as our fifth-best president, Harry Truman seventh-best and Dwight Eisenhower our ninth-best. Eisenhower entered office in 1953 when he was 62 and served two terms as a popular and productive chief executive until age 70.
Our three youngest post-war presidents — Kennedy, Carter and Clinton — were all intelligent and well-educated. But they were also inexperienced in matters of national defense and security and far from successful in dealing with America’s hardened enemies. In some cases, they also failed to place competent people in Cabinet or advisory positions.
So, who would you rather have deal with and stand up to Putin’s Russia, Iran’s nukes, China’s emerging power and al-Qaida’s radical Islamic terrorists — someone in his 40s with little understanding of the military or someone in his 60s or 70s with sounder experience and judgment?
This concludes a five-part series that is available in its entirety at www.IBDeditorials.com/specialseries.