Mar 252004
Authors: Edward Guest

Kentucky Kernel (U. Kentucky)

(U-WIRE) LEXINGTON, Ky. – In an interview granted to “60

Minutes” last Sunday, former White House official Richard Clarke,

America’s former terrorism czar, laid out the most damaging case

yet against the re-election of George W. Bush. Clarke is only the

latest in a steady stream of government insiders to come forward

against the president.

You may remember former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, for

example. When he goes before the 9/11 commission to testify, he’ll

essentially be asked if Bush took the issue of terrorism seriously

before Sept. 11 and if the nature of the president’s response, post

Sept. 11, was appropriate.

Clarke has already answered these questions in his book, and he

has effectively condemned the president. But to this observer the

question remains: Will this have any impact on how Americans view

Bush, and if not, what does that tell us?

For liberals, progressives, Bush-haters and many Democratic

moderates, Clarke’s allegations are nothing new. Many investigative

reporters have asserted as much previously, but the main difference

is the source.

But the Democrats have failed in one regard — they have yet to

earn the implicit trust of the American people. They must prove

that this is not simply a campaign to smear Bush’s re-election

attempt, that this is more than playing politics.

Bush has thus far refused to answer any tough questions about

his administration’s actions in the early months of his presidency

and about precisely what plan his team formulated in the weeks

after Sept. 11.

He avoids doing this by portraying, or allowing his subordinates

and allies to portray, any substantive criticism as mere

politicking — even though the person in question was hired by

President Ronald Reagan.

This cannot go on.

If this president continues to campaign on his war presidency

and his decisive leadership in the aftermath of the collapse of the

World Trade Center, it stands to reason he’d be able to defend his

record. In truth, he cannot.

Democrats have increasingly focused on Bush’s handling of the

war on terrorism, believing that his imploding is inevitable if

Americans no longer see him as the figure of the man with the


That’s probably fairly accurate, but despite the concrete

evidence of Bush’s failings on terrorism, documented by Clarke and

others, the president remains strong.

Why? In part because Americans have known no other leader since

that fateful Tuesday morning, and many struggle to see John Kerry

in that capacity.

This leeway, unwittingly granted, has permitted the president to

stonewall without a real fear of repercussion because, after all,

Democrats are just playing politics with national security.

Unfortunately for Kerry, it is likely the only way he can

persuade Americans that he’ll do a more competent job on national

security than Bush is to actually administer in the office,

something he cannot do without being elected.

America does not want to admit that Bush has no real concept of

the terrorism problem, and no, it does not help that Kerry has

failed, thus far, to articulate his own doctrine.

We want to believe that Bush really did all he could, that he

didn’t ignore Clinton-era officials who warned his team of the

potential danger of al Qaeda and that he did not order an invasion

of Iraq because it had more targets than Afghanistan. But sometimes

we must face the reality.

The current administration understands but one component of the

war on terrorism: The necessity of purging al Qaeda operatives and

the like-minded from the face of the earth — but that’s it.

They have been the default option and have exploited that for

all it is worth, allowing them to sustain damning assaults on their

character and their ideology. But they will soon have a day of

reckoning on Election Day.

Americans give Bush high marks on handling terrorism because

they have no basis for comparison. They’ve believed for so long

that tough-minded, principled conservatives will keep them safer

than wimpy, frightened accommodating liberals.

This is a caricature that’s dominated American political thought

since Vietnam.

There are serious problems with this administration’s

disposition and reaction to terrorism, and Richard Clarke is merely

the latest contributor to this line of thought. Unfortunately, I

fear he may have been preaching to the choir.

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