Matt Lauer gave it the old college try, doing his best to lure Hillary Clinton into some Bush-bashing on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. But demonstrating savvy political instincts, or at least those of her advisers, Clinton held fire, not deigning to swing at the anti-Bush softballs Lauer served up on this morning's 'Today.'
Lauer: "Are we safer today five years after the attacks of 9-11?"
Hillary: "I think it is fair to say we are safer but not safe enough. We have a lot of work to do."
Lauer lobbed a couple questions inviting Hillary to suggest that our war on terrorism has made things worse:
"I am curious how you feel about this. Do you think there are more or less people today, more or fewer people today who want to bring harm to the United States than there were in the days prior to 9-11 and the actions we have taken post 9-11?"
And then: "Our response to 9-11 - has it created more enemies?"
Hillary's answers were guarded: "There are probably more. I think first of all, the copycat effect always happens. There is some kind of a tragic event, from our perspective tragic. From the enemy's perspective, explosive for worldwide attention. People want to be in that category unfortunately. I think also that we have seen actions take place in countries like our own, Britain, Spain and other places where are lots of local groups that share the idealogy.
Hillary couldn't resist a mild swipe: "I think there is certainly a very strong case to be made that in Iraq, people are now turning into suicide bombers. The insurgents and the Jihadists terrorist have learned a lot. They have acquired skills they didn't necessarily have before. We have seen suicide bombings in Afghanistan, something we never saw before. So the source of the hatred, the source of the conflict has probably spread beyond Al-Qaeda."
Lauer: "The president announced something most of us thought for a while. That the CIA had secret sites where they detained terrorists suspects and used alternative questioning methods. Are you comfortable that the United States did not break the law in conducting that kind of interrogation in those secret sites?"
Clinton was non-committal: "We just don't know. We are trying to learn more. What I am interested in is what is effective."
Hillary refused to give a stock liberal answer even when Lauer asked "do the ends justice the means?
Clinton: "It depends. We don't know what the ends are or what the means have to be."
No one should be fooled by Hillary's demure responses. She knows that while there will be places and times to give full throat to her condemnation of all things Bush, 9/11 is not one of them.
UPDATE: In answering similar questions on this morning's Early Show, Hillary was less restrained in her Bush-bashing:
CBS: "Has the country done enough, with the fighting in Afghanistan that has re-escalated. The Taliban has reconstituted itself in numbers even greater than before. How can that be five years later?"
Clinton: "We took our eye off the ball. We diverted resources and attention to Iraq and we didn't finish the job. That, to me, is one of the great missed opportunities"
CBS: "You were among those who advocated going to war in Iraq. We are in Iraq now, more than 2,500 americans have died there, there is still an unbelievable lethal situation on the ground day-to-day for Iraqi civilians. The president said this is the centerpiece in the war on terror do you believe that is true?"
Clinton [indulging in some creative revisionism]: "I did not advocate that. I voted to give the president authority to have the United States congress behind him when he went to the U.N. To put inspectors back in to figure out what Saddam Hussein had. That would not have been the choice, in my opinion, that we should have pursued at that time. But I thought it was reasonable to give him that authority."