Sept. 26, 2006 — -- Today Sen. Hillary Clinton charged headfirst into the national security debate, arguing that before 9/11 President Clinton took al Qaeda more seriously than President Bush did.
"If my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report titled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,'" as the Bush administration was, she said, "he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team."
The Democratic senator's comments -- seemingly planned and written down beforehand -- came after her husband's contentious interview on Fox News Channel Sunday in which the former president defended his record in trying to kill bin Laden and attacked President Bush's record.
"They had eight months to try," the Clinton said. "They did not try. I tried."
This morning the Bush administration hit back. In the New York Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Clinton's allegations "flatly false" and said Bush was "at least as aggressive" as Clinton against al Qaeda.
The 9/11 Commission report described Bush's efforts to pursue al Qaeda, but unlike Clinton, Bush made no military efforts until after Sept. 11, 2001. "Before 9/11, [President Bush] had not seen good options for special military operations against bin Laden," it said.
Rice also claimed that Clinton did not leave them a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda. That is contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report, which described Rice receiving a "comprehensive" paper in January 2001 called "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Networks of al Qaeda."
Members of the 9/11 Commission today said the blame game isn't making the country any safes. Said 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer, a Democrat, "I wish we'd spend half as much time getting bin Laden rather than spending all our time blaming Bush or Clinton for what mistakes were made in the past."
Roemer said that "both the Bush and the Clinton administrations made mistakes. They tried, and they made mistakes. We need to move forward. We need to fix problems." Roemer said major problems included those in Iraq, Afghanistan, and serious national security issues within the United States.
Beyond this 9/11 finger-pointing lies the political question of whether the Clintons are leading their party into a debate that will help Democrats this November.
"When the Clinton political family and the Bush political families fight, it's bigger [than] the Hatfield and McCoys. It's bigger than King Kong vs. Godzilla," said ABC News political director Mark Halperin. "They set the tone. Now every politician around the country is going to be engaged on the national security debate. That could help the Republicans," who have historically been trusted more by voters to handle terrorism and national security issues.
It's been a winning issue for the GOP in 2002 and 2004. The question is, can the Clintons fight back so aggressively that they can break that streak? Or does it just bring attention to what's been a losing issue for their party?