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Homeland Security

Bush Administration Under Fire for Early Handling of War on Terror
Stephanie Ho
21 Mar 2004, 22:12 UTC

The White House was under fire Sunday for allegedly ignoring the overall global threat of terrorism and focusing on Iraq in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden told ABC television he believes the Iraq war detracted from U.S. efforts against the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan. "What the pre-occupation with Iraq did was they didn't want to put more forces in [Afghanistan]. They wanted to reserve them for Iraq. We should have had many more forces," he said.

Senator Biden blames the Bush administration for taking the focus off the problem too soon. "I am much more concerned about the safety of my granddaughter in school here in Washington because of al-Qaida than I am with 10 Saddam Husseins. And we took our eye off the ball because of a preoccupation with Iraq," he said. The senator's comments come amid accusations by former White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke that the Bush administration ignored the threat from al-Qaida.

In an interview [that will air] Sunday evening, Mr. Clarke says almost immediately after the September 11 attacks, President Bush directly asked him to find out whether there was a link between Iraq and the suicide hijackings.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel told ABC Television he is concerned by Mr. Clarke's allegations that the Bush administration did not give adequate attention to al-Qaida. "Without bringing this to the highest levels of government and putting the appropriate focus on it, with the responsible players, then it is going to get lost. And according to Clarke's book, or at least what I read of it, that's much of what he charges here, that it did get lost, that it wasn't a priority, and that's a very serious charge," he said.

Meanwhile, another Republican senator, John McCain, defended the Bush administration on Fox News Sunday. Senator McCain said he believes U.S. actions showed that Washington did pursue the right policy. "My reaction is in the days after September 11, I hope there were thousands of discussions about various countries and the threat that might be posed to the United States of America - including Iran, including Syria, or others. But I know that this administration did the right thing by going to Afghanistan, taking out al-Qaida in Afghanistan," he said.

A new book by Mr. Clarke goes on sale to the public Monday. In it, the former senior White House counterterrorism official details his observations after 30 years in government service, including time as head of the secretive Counterterrorism and Security Group, which includes representatives from the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and armed services. Mr. Clarke retired last year.

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