Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2001 / 12 Teves, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- THE weekly strategy meetings at the White House throughout 1995 and 1996 featured an escalating drumbeat of advice to President Clinton to take decisive steps to crack down on terrorism. The polls gave these ideas a green light. But Clinton hesitated and failed to act, always finding a reason why some other concern was more important.
Repeatedly, the president was urged to use the motor vehicle laws to identify illegal aliens and possible terrorists to finger them for deportation. At a White House meeting in March, 1995, at two sessions in May, 1995, and again in March of 1996, detailed proposals were laid before the president to require linkage of state motor vehicle records with INS and FBI databases so that routine traffic enforcement could help identify potential enemies within.
The proposal called for a federal law which would require that drivers licenses expire when visas do for foreign citizens and that no permits be issued to illegal aliens. Traffic cops would be able to check to see if those they pulled over on the highway were in the country illegally. If they were, they would be arrested and sent to the INS for deportation.
Had the president adopted this common sense approach, Mohammed Atta would have been thrown out of the country - and barred from reentry after he was found driving without a valid license by Florida police, three months before September 11th.
The proposal had strong public support. In a poll taken by the president's political team on March 20, 1996, voters backed the idea by an overwhelming 71-21.
The president was interested in the idea and forwarded it to Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes to be vetted with the INS and the Justice Department. In a memorandum, Ickes later reported that it met with disapproval from both agencies.
The Justice Department feared that it would kindle resentment against the Administration from Hispanics and other ethnic groups with large immigrant populations.
The INS reported that its backlog of pending deportations had topped 100,000 and warned that it could not handle the additional deportation cases the proposal would generate. Ickes' memo warned of political embarrassment if the INS backlog were to grow significantly as a result of the drivers license plan.
Simply put, the INS didn't want to know about any additional illegal aliens. It couldn't handle the ones it had.
The president did act to reduce the backlog of deportation cases but never moved ahead on drivers license proposal.
Throughout 1995 and 1996, the president's also showed a surprising reluctance to impose sanctions on Iran to deter it from sponsoring terrorism. At White House strategy meetings in February and March of 1996 and at three meetings in May of 1996, there were extensive discussions of possible sanctions against Iran, none of which resulted in any action.
At a February 13, 1996 White House meeting, the president received and read a memo noting that "by taking aggressive action against Iran, we will rally public opinion for a fight against terror,"
With the president taking no action, Congress considered legislation sponsored by New York's Senator Alfonse D'Amato imposing sanctions on American and foreign companies or banks which provide aid or loans to the Iranian oil industry. These sanctions, barred such companies from getting export-import bank aid, becoming primary dealers in US bonds, or receiving deposits of government funds. It even barred US banks from lending these companies more than $10 million.
At a White House strategy meeting on May 16, 1996, the president was urged to impose the sanctions D'Amato was seeking by executive order. He demurred.
When Congress imposed the sanctions, he insisted that he be given the power to waive them in the interests of national security. Under pressure from Europeans who did not like US sanctions against their companies, Clinton repeatedly waived the application of these sanctions and eventually abandoned them entirely.
The administrative convenience of the INS and relations with Western Europe were more important than striking at terror sponsoring nations.
Something else always came
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George