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Bill Clinton’s Tango with Tehran

Posted by on October 7, 2015

In 1996, terrorists bombed Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and wounding hundreds more.  The Washington Times reported yesterday that the Clinton Administration had ample evidence that Iranian-trained and -funded terrorists carried out the deadly attack.  President Clinton, however, didn’t use this intelligence to implicate Tehran.  Rather, he “cut off the flow of evidence about Iran’s involvement to certain elements of the intelligence community.”  Why?  Because he cared more about improving ties with a terrorist regime than he cared about the truth or about justice for dead Americans (a disturbing desire he shares with his wife, but that’s a discussion for another day).

President Clinton operated under the delusion that Iran would quietly cooperate with the Khobar investigation in exchange for improved relations with the United States.  This desire for rapprochement with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism was nothing new for Clinton; in fact, he’d been looking to gain favor with the Iranians for years.  In April 1994, the president secretly changed U.S. policy in the Balkans, giving a “green light” to Iran to funnel weapons to Bosnian Muslims in direct violation of a 1991 UN arms embargo.  Clinton’s new policy was designed, at least ostensibly, to assist the militarily beleaguered Bosnian Muslims.  However, in light of the Khobar Towers revelations, it’s clear that the president was motivated, in part, by the desire to improve relations with Tehran.  What better way to curry favor with the mullahs than by giving them direct military and political inroads into overwhelmingly Christian/secular Europe?  (As thanks, the mullahs gave us a massive truck bomb and 19 dead U.S. Airmen.)

In both the Khobar Towers and Iranian arms cases, the Clinton Administration kept much of the national security apparatus in the dark.  Neither Congress nor the Intelligence Community (IC) were informed that the U.S. had decided to look the other way as Iranian weapons flowed to Bosnian Muslims.  Alarms sounded at CIA headquarters when what had been a “trickle” of arms entering the region suddenly became a flood.  Despite repeated and direct attempts to discuss the matter with Administration officials, then-CIA Director James Woolsey was not informed about the new policy for nearly six months.  And, it was only after a 1996 Los Angeles Times article on the Iranian weapons shipments that Congress began to understand the scope and repercussions of the Administration’s Bosnia policy.*

The Khobar revelations and the Iranian arms episode vividly illustrate the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy modus operandi (which mirrors the former president’s overall M.O.):  It’s the ends, not the means (in fact, the means are irrelevant); keep your circle small and your secrets close; when “caught,” deny, deny, deny; and, if all else fails, discredit (or even better, destroy) those who know too much**.  This strategy may have worked for Bill Clinton, but Americans have paid a heavy price for his unwillingness to strike back at terrorists and their sponsors in Mogadishu, Bosnia, and Khobar Towers.  Add the refusal to kill or capture bin Laden to the mix, and suddenly 9/11 seems less a surprise attack than a natural consequence of appeasement.


*Full disclosure:  In the mid-1990s, I was a professional staff member with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  In 1997, a colleague and I began an exhaustive investigation into the Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia.  For the full discussion of our findings, click here.

**Clinton Administration officials stonewalled then-FBI Director Louis Freeh at the time of the investigation and later attacked him for being “partisan.”  Similarly, the Administration leveled spurious “spying” accusations against a CIA officer who repeatedly raised questions about the Iranian arms shipments.

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