The thing that never happened and probably wouldn’t have mattered even if it did

Audio has been released of Bill Clinton telling a group of Australian politicians that he had a chance, while in office, to kill Osama Bin Laden — recorded September 10, 2001. Said the former president…

I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.

This isn’t new news. There’s been much reported about Clinton’s various opportunities to take out Bin Laden, but those who are excessively critical usually forget how different things were for presidents prior to September 11 and how this specific president, when he did take action against Bin Laden in the form of cruise missile attacks (remember cruise missiles?), was roundly accused by political opponents of trying to distract the nation from thinking about a little blue dress.

In any event, it’s an interesting alternative history experiment to think about. Personally, I doubt much would have changed. Sure, Bin Laden would have been dead (and surely deserved to be even then), but dead soon enough to keep Khalid Mohammed and Mohammed Atef from planning the attack anyway? A dead Bin Laden wouldn’t have closed the security lapses that allowed the hijackers on those planes.

So no, it’s not new news, but I’m quite sure it’ll be treated as some kind of smoking gun indictment of Clinton and, by extension, his wife. I’m sure it’ll be used to further obfuscate the eventual (mis)use of force in response to the September 11 attacks and distract from the Bush administration’s mishandling of Al-Qaeda intelligence (despite specific warnings by Clinton’s people during the transition).

There were no drones back then. There was no way Clinton could have put on the ground a team like that deployed under President Obama (neither logistically nor politically). All Clinton had were those cruise missiles. It’s hard to argue against his decision knowing what he knew at the time and understanding the environment in which he was operating. Can’t say I would have made a different choice.