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(photo credit: AP)
In a combative television interview on "Fox News Sunday," former President Bill Clinton defended his handling of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, saying he tried to have bin Laden killed and was attacked for his efforts by the same people who now criticize him for not doing enough.
"That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now," Clinton said in the interview. "They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try, they did not try."
Clinton accused host Chris Wallace of a "conservative hit job" and asked: "I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked, 'Why didn't you do anything about the Cole?' I want to know how many people you asked, 'Why did you fire Dick Clarke?"'
He was referring to the USS Cole, attacked by terrorists off the coast of Yemen in 2000, and former White House anti-terrorism chief Richard A. Clarke.
Wallace said Sunday he was surprised by Clinton's "conspiratorial view" of "a very non-confrontational question, 'Did you do enough to connect the dots and go after Al Qaida?"'
"All I did was ask him a question, and I think it was a legitimate news question. I was surprised that he would conjure up that this was a hit job," Wallace said in a telephone interview.
Clinton said he "worked hard" to try to kill bin Laden.
"We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody's gotten since," he said.
He told Wallace, "And you got that little smirk on your face and you think you're so clever, but I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden. I regret it, but I did try and I did everything I thought I responsibly could."
The interview was taped Friday during Clinton's three-day Global Initiative conference.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," also taped Friday and aired Sunday, Clinton told interviewer Tim Russert that the biggest problem confronting the world today is "the illusion that our differences matter more than our common humanity."
"That's what's driving the terrorism," he said. "It's not just that there's an unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict. Osama Bin Laden and Dr. al-Zawahiri can convince young Sunni Arab men, who have - and some women - who have despairing conditions in their lives, that they get a one-way ticket to heaven in a hurry if they kill a lot of innocent people who don't share their reality."