They Had A Plan

Long before 9/11, the White House debated taking the fight to al-Qaeda. By the time they decided, it was too late. The saga of a lost chance

JERRY DRIENDL

Sometimes history is made by the force of arms on battlefields, sometimes by the fall of an exhausted empire. But often when historians set about figuring why a nation took one course rather than another, they are most interested in who said what to whom at a meeting far from the public eye whose true significance may have been missed even by those who took part in it.

One such meeting took place in the White House situation room during the first week of January 2001. The session was part of a program designed by Bill Clinton's National Security Adviser, Sandy...

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